The British system is quite different from the American system so what I describe here may be quite different than what you've heard other people talk about. Even within the US, I've heard of very different procedures for obtaining a degree. Because John does not live in Oxford, most of his degree involves research. He doesn't go to classes at all. He is required to be in Oxford six weeks every year. While he is there he attends seminars presented by other students, but he doesn't go to classes at all.
So, here are some of the things John does in his work towards getting a degree.
Lots and lots of reading, studying, and taking notes. He has accumulated quite a library of books on worship, music, and Songhai history.
We've visited and observed in lots and lots of churches.Sometimes the pastor asks him to come sit up front with the other important people (and the flower decorations).
He interviews lots and lots of people. Some of these interviews have involved staying overnight in a village. Some of the interviews are in English, some in Songhai or Zarma (dialects of the same language), and some in French. Doing research in three languages is really quite complicated! John records the interviews and then we have to write out a transcript of the recording. This sounds easy, but believe me, it's NOT! Next time the TV news is on, try typing out everything that is said. That will give you an idea of what it's like....now complicate that by putting it in another language and with noise in the background like planes taking off and goats bleating.
I've been helping him with some of these transcriptions, but I don't get nearly as many done as he does!
Once we have an interview transcribed, he goes over it with his research assistant who is an English student at the university. Zarma is his mother tongue, but he also speaks excellent French and English. He really helps to catch some of the mistakes we make....things we thought we heard, but didn't really.
Once all these interviews are transcribed, his assistant will also help him translate segments of them into English.
Some fun things we have done is attended a concert of a local well-known musician whose band is called Mamar Kassey.
We have also visited the musical instrument museum in Niamey to research types of traditional instruments.And John would like to take lessons on a traditional musical instrument.
As he goes along, John is writing, submitting, and presenting parts of his dissertation. So it's a continuous on-going process. I'm pretty sure we'll both be glad when it's over!