Group Formation by Participants
in the Mott Community College Fiji Study Tour
Mara J. Fulmer
December 13, 2001


Introduction

In July, 2001, a group of 22 individuals joined this writer, Mara J. Fulmer, Assistant Professor for Graphic Design at Mott Community College, on an overseas study tour to the South Pacific’s Fiji Islands for an educational and cross-cultural program. Prior to working at Mott, this instructor had served as Art Director for the University of the South Pacific in Fiji from 1991 through 1997. As a result of recent research from materials gathered such as photographs and video tapes taken during the July tour, as well as surveys completed by a large portion of the participants several months after the tour, this researcher concludes that the tour participants both perceived and in actuality created a group that defined itself as simply the "Fiji Study Tour" group. But their perceptions, as indicated by open-ended survey questions, redefine the concept of "Group" to one that often encompassed family-like qualities: a mother and father figure, and many siblings, aunts, uncles, etc. The most interesting aspect about applying this concept of "family" to this group is the diversity of the group’s demographics.


The Original Hypothesis

The hypothesis that was originally advanced was as follows: Tour participants who began as individuals with little or no relationship to each other, apart from their varied relationship to the tour leader and a heightened curiosity about their destination, began to form a tightly knit group as a result of their two weeks together, and that this group formation has been maintained to some degree beyond the end of the trip. The more general hypothesis is that when individuals, even from varied subcultures, are brought together under challenging and sometimes adverse experiences, group formation will occur. The final results will demonstrate a variation on this original hypothesis.

The Collection of Data

Both quantitative and qualitative research was conducted and occurred under various conditions, some anticipated and some changed from the original proposal for this project. Originally, I had planned to contact as many study tour participants as possible for individual interviews and small groups using a questionnaire I had prepared. However, individual interviews proved to be impractical due to time and schedule constraints. Instead, surveys were handed out or mailed to all of the participants. Completed surveys were returned by 71 percent of the participants (See Appendix A -- Figure 1). Basic demographic information was also available from data sheets created on each participant prior to the trip for the participants who did not return the survey. In one case, a participant who had suffered from a serious mental breakdown during the trip later committed suicide before a survey could be completed. Demographic information for that person was obtained from the personal data sheets the instructor had collected from all participants. The diversity of the participants backgrounds can be seen in the results of the data (See Appendix A -- Figures 2 through 10).
In addition to the demographic data and open-ended answers collected from the surveys and earlier data sheets, approximately 15 hours of videotape along with literally over a thousand photographs were reviewed. The videotape was looked at fairly closely and a basic system for noting group formation was created. Whenever distinct groups seemed apparent, a notation was made regarding four criteria: 1) Who, 2) Proximity, 3) Body Language, 4) Voice/Volume. In addition, for clarity, notes were made on time of day, date, place and activity being undertaken. The first criteria "who" was finally charted to determine if there was any pattern to the groups being observed in the videotapes (see Appendix C -- Figure 16). These were compared against the groups that might be predicted based upon the demographic data collected. In general, no obvious pattern of sub-groupings could be observed from the videotapes. Upon further analysis some observations could be made to account for major gaps that appear under certain participants in this chart. This includes gaps for the following participants: FST-1007 – Person removed from general group for safety reasons; FST-1021 and FST-1022 – Spouse and daughter of instructor who often did not participate in general student activities; FST-1023 – Person had made own arrangements for air travel, departing on 7/24. Two other individuals who had gaps in their participation, FST-1019 and FST-1017, had spent much of their time filming the video tape. Their high level of participation is confirmed by review of still photographs and, when deemed applicable, they were noted with a group. FST-1006, who often expressed her desire for a more missionary role, was also often observed either alone or with some members of the local population. The data proved to be too complex to analyze in depth during the timeframe allotted. Further study of this data may provide some interesting results. Overall, however, it can be observed that the participants in the tour were highly interactive across major demographic characteristics.
Additional charting of data was performed upon the demographics in order to illustrate potential groupings based on groupings of two or more characteristics (See Appendix B – Figures 11 through 15). These were then compared against the video data chart. Although many of the new "shared characteristics" groups could be seen within the chart in Figure 16, it appears that even more often there is much interaction across shared groups indicating the potential for mixing of groups by age, ethnic identity, profession, etc. Visual observations confirm the data along with written statements received in the surveys (See Samples in Appendix D).


Data Analysis

Generally speaking, although many of the participants did not know each other at all or at only a cursory level prior to the trip, many did share some basic demographic characteristics. In addition, by comparing the possible demographic groups and shared characteristics to the actual groups that formed, as well as from statements made in written surveys by about 75 percent of the participants, it is the conclusion of this researcher that the individual participants in this study tour began to perceive themselves as one large group, with an almost "family-style" mix of relationships encompassed within it.

Problems Encountered

Among the problems encountered in the completion of this research were the difficulty in pulling together any formal small group or individual interviews. Much informal discussion was held over the last four months and was used only as a stepping stone to compare the perceptions being expressed both in person and in written statements to the photos and videotapes (See Sample photos in Appendix E). Another challenge to deal with was the death of one of the participants who had suffered an emotional breakdown during the tour and who finally succeeded in committing suicide in late October. His death was followed by a large group meeting on two occasions: a) his funeral – where approximately eight participants attended, and b) a meeting at the Art Center under the oversight of the instructor and the Studio 205 Graphic Club where many of the study tour’s participants had originated. During the second meeting about 14 participants from the tour were able to meet to discuss their grief and concerns. The meeting demonstrates to this researcher the depth of the relationships formed within this group.

Over Thanksgiving break, one member of the group who lived out of state made the effort to come and visit with the instructor and a total of eight participants were able to reunite for the holiday weekend.

Still to be met is the challenge of really doing justice to the data that was collected. In attempting to map out the volume of data, this researcher came head to head with her own inexperience in crunching statistics and creating databases. Knowing what I wanted to review but not knowing how to find an efficient way of making the data sort easily, lead this researcher to taking on a visual approach instead. Being a visual artist, I chose to display the groupings observed in the video data visually. The results, seen in Appendix C -- Figure 16, led one observer to state that it resembled a DNA string. Not having seen one, I do acknowledge its resemblance to something very organic. And maybe that is a good result since it is my conclusion that the results of this research indicate a very human, organically created group formation.

Conclusions

Under the conditions of this overseas study tour, where participants were living with each other under close conditions in a foreign country and "strange" culture, experiencing new experiences, and eating new food, their only major shared characteristics really could be best defined in three ways: A) American, B) A Mott Community College Fiji Study Tour Participant, and C) Having some basic or established relationship with the tour leader/instructor (See Appendix B – Figure 15). With that in mind, the participants began to perceive themselves as one large diverse but connected group lead by the tour leader and, by association, her spouse who took on the role of "den father". Behavior observed on the videotapes and in photographs confirms this conclusion and indicates a high degree of friendly behavior for the majority of the participants took place fairly quickly upon the commencement of travel. Comments from the written surveys indicate a high degree of tolerance and caring for one another. They appear to all perceive their relationship as one of a shared and special experience where they could "be themselves" while being their best (See Appendix D – Samples from Survey Statements).

What does this study offer to the field of Anthropology? Possibly this: the experience of taking people from diverse backgrounds and placing them in conditions that are unfamiliar, leads them to behave differently than they may have in their home territory. This then could lead to the formation of a cohesive, interactive and familiar group based upon the most basic common denominators. The results could be extremely valuable for planning educational programs that enhance interaction and understanding among diverse groups of college students (of which the majority of participants in this group were) and appreciation for cross-cultural issues in their own country as well as internationally.