Research in Portland

7 February 2019

Angelos finished off his year abroad with an additional short-term opportunity which took him to Portland, Oregon to conduct research for his final year dissertation.

angelos blog 3

I was told by my conscience to record every beat of the ride 

As if that would help make sense of my mind’s encounter
with the vast landscapes of North America 

As I am looking outwards my brain is pulling me inwards
and I am expanding while I am shrinking 

I kept asking the landscape questions but they just bounced back

Upon the end of my study abroad at the University of Toronto, I embarked on a bus trip across the United States. My final destination being Portland OR, where I planned to carry out fieldwork for my dissertation on the tiny house movement.

The trip took me through Michigan, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Idaho and finally Oregon. A journey that was definitely not as comfortable as a flight would have been, but one that gave me the chance to self-reflect on what I had learned about myself during my year in Toronto. And the greatest lessons were not prescribed through a textbook nor through a professor’s slideshow, but they were the result of the sum of hardships and joys that I experienced in that new place. I learned how to accept myself, how to embrace serendipity, how to express myself through writing or creating art, how to tame my anxieties and how to love the slow passing of time, the in-betweens, the waiting on the platform, the endlessly beautiful potentialities of greyness to erupt into red and blue and green and orange.

And those were lesson’s that really helped me navigate my way around Portland during the three weeks that I spent there for my dissertation fieldwork. I started planning out the project half-way through my second year at UCL and continued the planning throughout my year abroad. I had the mind-set that since I had spent so much time planning the project in advance, everything would work out the way I had in mind. And the reality was that it didn’t. Well, it didn’t up until the very last minute. 
Instead of panicking and trying to force things to go my way, I decided to take it easy, be flexible and allow for things to unravel in ways that I perhaps had not planned beforehand. And that proved the best strategy in the sense that I maintained my sanity while working on this important project which gave me the mental space to be able to enjoy the beautiful city and to take time to rest after what had been a very intense year.

So despite all the obstacles I faced on the way, I made it to Portland and ended up carrying out five in-depth interviews with tiny house residents, I lived in a tiny house for three days and I also attended the Great American Tiny House Show where I got to speak to tiny house builders. My initial project proposal was all about understanding the relationship of tiny house residents with the physical space of their house. However, after arriving in Portland and getting a feel for the city I decided that I also wanted to write a section of my dissertation in the ways that tiny houses are partaking in solving the housing crisis in Portland and how the state can also employ them as a way of alleviating homelessness.

Writing this blog post from my home country of Greece, I am now distanced enough from my experience in Portland to be able to say that I loved my time there and that I would love to visit again. The whole city is like a botanical garden with a lot of quirky places to visit and a visible resistance to capitalism through the support of locally owned businesses. As far as my dissertation project is concerned, I am so glad to all the people I met in Portland who gave me time from their busy days and I honestly consider their time as a gift that I will return to them in the form of accurately representing their experiences in my final report which will hopefully help legalise tiny houses in the US.

Anyhow, this blog post marks the end of my year abroad. It was a beautiful year and I wish to all students embarking on a study abroad next year to get out of it as much as possible and to cherish both the ups and downs of their year!

By Angelos Angelidis