Entitlement has extremely negative connotations, and most of us would not like to think of ourselves as entitled. Personally, up until now I would have associated entitlement with someone who is spoiled and has never had to work a day in their life. But that is just an extreme. Entitlement can manifest itself in many different ways, and accepting that you may be acting that way is at least the first step in working towards being a better community member rather than just a guest.
Being entitled can simply mean acting without thinking of how your actions may affect someone else, and a general unawareness of others’ hard work and their feelings. In a country like Bolivia, it is easy for us Americans to act entitled without even realizing we are doing it. But being unaware of it is part of the problem. We cannot go on living like Americans when we are not in America, and perhaps when we return to America we can bring back what we have learned.
So what makes us entitled? First , we must realize that we have chosen to come to this new place on our own and thus we are responsible for ourselves. No one should have to clean up after us. No one should be expected to prepare us meals. No one should be expected to chauffeur us around and listen to us chatter loudly in an unknown language while they’re at it. And if people are kind enough to do any of these things for us (as most Bolivians are), then we need to reciprocate by doing the same for them, and if we cannot then by at least taking the time to say thank you and maybe talk to them in their own language rather than bombarding them with ours.
Sometimes, things that we take advantage of as natives to the United States can be things we may not even think about differently in Bolivia. For example, it is probably not seen as entitled to eat the last piece of bread in your American home, and even though doing the same in Bolivia may not necessarily be looked down upon, maybe think about all the work your homestay family had to do to afford this bread. Before you take it, think about whether you are eating out of genuine hunger or just boredom? If you just filled up on a 15 boliviano ice cream cone an hour ago, you probably don’t need it. Or what if because you bought so many snacks during your ISP in Cochabamba, you aren’t hungry enough to finish the plate of food your homestay mom worked so hard to prepare? She may have even stayed up all night making queso and woke up after an hour of sleep to go to the market to buy meat and vegetables. But you just really needed those Doritos, right?
It’s easy to critique our actions, but it’s harder to change them. We are privileged and we cannot necessarily change that, but when we are guests in another country we should feel it is a privilege to experience a new culture and learn from it, and we should not try to escape to our American comforts. It is little things that can take you from entitlement to enrichment. Clean the whole kitchen. Finish your plate. Say “Buenos dias” to everyone. Don’t speak in English when you could instead converse in Spanish. Take up less space and have deeper conversations. And don’t forget that you are here to learn, and there are so many people eager to teach you.