To speak or not to speak: a dilemma of a migrant researcher on a migration project

By Ewa Jamroz, our policy, data, and development officer for Communities up Close

After living in the UK for nearly 15 years, I thought I long passed the stage of worrying about my accent and being cautious about speaking in public.

When I was asked to get involved in the Communities up Close project and take notes during focus groups with host communities, I agreed without hesitation. ‘The project looks interesting, I get a chance to travel around the region, I am in!’

I wasn’t thinking much about it until the day of the first focus group. While waiting for participants to arrive I started to feel a bit anxious. I wasn’t sure whether I should talk to anyone beforehand, as hearing me speaking with an accent might alter what they say about migrants and ultimately affect reliability and validity of the research.

Despite being a bit of a chatter box, I managed not to speak at all at the most focus groups. However, there was one, where I slipped and said more than just ‘thanks for coming’ to participants, after the focus group ended. And there it came. Not a dreaded ‘so where are you from’, but ‘your English is very good’, followed by a justification that they had no problem with migrants who speak English. I guess I was one of the good ones in their eyes.

Me being me, I could not really let the comment go, could I? So, I explained that, actually, I have been in the UK for a long time and went to Uni here but couldn’t really speak much before I came.

A reaction wasn’t quite what I expected – a second look at me and shrug of the shoulders. I guess some kind of an acknowledgement. Not really a victory, but maybe, just maybe, a seed of doubt was sown in their mind that a migration debate is much broader than just ‘worthy and unworthy migrants’.

Reflecting back, as a note taking researcher on the project, I should not have got involved in the conversation with the participants. Yet, it is hard to stay silent and impartial when the research topic is so personal.


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