Back to WhereThereBeDragons.com
Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

SO… WHO AM I?

A young arriero leads a mule across fresh snow in the Peruvian Andes. Photo by Benjamin Swift (2016 Fall Semester Photo Contest Finalist), South America Semester.

Hola from the heart of the Incan Empire.

Your favorite Peru 6 week course is currently approaching our midway point, which happens to be hitting a few of us kind of hard. Midway points are a time for reflection, as my 50 year old parents might agree (right guys?).

Today, my lovely instructor Matt recommended that midcourse would be a good time to think about the following question in particular: “Who was I before I got to Peru, and who will I be after I go home?” As standard as this question may seem, Matt, I’m kind of mad at you for making me look so deeply inside of myself… because I found quite a hefty amount to unpack.

But even so, my answer came to me pretty instantly: Before I left for Peru, I lived in the United States… When I return, I will live on planet earth.

The difference is incredibly substantial, and not to be overlooked. I have met so many incredible people here, and they have taught me that we are part of a shared seven-billion person family that transcends borders, as cliche as that may sound. We hear a lot about the importance of our place within our country: how to serve it, how to better it, how to learn about it, and all of these things are certainly important… but they also leave billions of brothers and sisters out of the equation.

For as long as I can remember, I have been passionate about social and humanitarian work, and I looked at this work in two categories: at home, and abroad. At home, I saw opportunities to actively participate in politics and tackle systems of injustice. Abroad, I saw a different kind of set up: “service” trips, “development” work, that whole lot. I now understand that these two categories have no basis in reality. There is no need for there to be a difference.

To serve individuals in one country is to serve the entire world, because all humans are connected. Right now as I write this post, my host mother is across the room playing with her two year old son, and when I look at them I know that we are connected in a way with which borders can not meddle. To participate in mutual acts of kindness with her will not only benefit the two of us, but the entire world. Perhaps our good energy will seep into interactions with others, perhaps she will teach me something that I will use positively for the rest of my life, or perhaps there will be a positive effect that is too abstract for us to even wrap our heads around. But no matter what, that goodness is going to spread far and wide.

These effects may seem relatively small, but the catch is that this global human connection is not only true on a metaphysical and emotional level, but on a systemic and institutional level as well. For one thing, institutions and individuals come intertwined in a knot that can not be broken; social systems and personal emotions exist to define each other. Always. But to speak even more specifically, the past century has seen an incredible rise in globalization, and because of this, choices that I make in the United States touch every corner of the globe. I notice this the most every time that I reach for my wallet. This is something that I think American culture has us doing a little too often, which was made clear to me when I saw what my consumer’s footprint looks like in the Amazon Rainforest. There, I saw the trees that were destroyed in order to bring me the dinner table that I frequently find myself missing, and I learned that along with those trees fell entire cultures, economies, well beings, and ways of life.

The fact is: every action that I do touches every stretch of the earth, and within that statement comes incredible power. I can use it for good and I can use it for bad, and it might take me an entire lifetime to figure out what that looks like… But to get back to Matt’s prompt: my time in Peru has made me a person who is going to embrace that journey with open arms.