Hi everyone! My name is Katherine and I’m from Cornwall, Vermont (just outside of Middlebury). I’m taking a gap year before attending the University of Wisconsin-Madison. My family owns an apple orchard, I like to Nordic ski, and I am very excited for the next 3 months! This is my third summer working in the Laundry Department at Middlebury College, and it’s pretty much as boring as it sounds, but I have fun coworkers and sometimes get free food from the dining halls. I chose this program because it combines a little bit of everything I am interested in, as well as a few things that I know will challenge me and push me outside of my comfort zone. I liked that it emphasizes building cultural awareness as well as exploring and appreciating the natural beauty of Bolivia and Peru. I also studied Spanish throughout high school, and I wanted to travel some place I could practice and improve the language. When I think about my culture I think about growing up on an apple orchard, though I’m not totally sure if that counts. I think about how much of my family’s life revolves around the seasons, and even the days of the week, like how the fall is super busy and the winter is almost dead, and Friday nights are always long because Saturday morning is the Farmer’s Market. This is the case for others where I live; on farms and in ski areas the rhythms of life are also determined by the seasons.
Individualistic cultures prioritize individual needs over the common good. Personal identity and self-fulfillment are considered most important. Collectivistic cultures, on the other hand, emphasize relationships with others. Strength, assertiveness, self-reliance, and independence are seen as admirable qualities in people of individualistic cultures, while dependability, generosity, and self-sacrifice are valued more in collectivistic cultures.
I think my culture is mostly individualistic. In the US in general, personal achievement is seen as the pinnacle of success. So many of the ways we prove ourselves is based on action. Personally, I feel compelled to tell stories of my individual accomplishments rather than my hours-long conversations with friends. If someone asks me what I did today, I would tell them about how I wrote this blog post, not about having lunch with my mom.
I learned that the concept of ‘the good life’ in Bolivia revolves around maintaining strong social connections. This supports the idea that it is a collective oriented country. In the United States, on the other hand, ‘the good life’ is often characterized by personal growth.
After reading Chapter 1 of The Hold Life Has, I do think that nature can be part of the collective. The Runakuna view nature as a sacred home. They place the environment and the Pachamama at the center of all life, and humans are considered equal to, and not above, all other entities. The Runakuna believe nature reacts and responds to the actions of humans, so they take into account how their behavior will affect the natural world. For example, misunderstanding the Tirakuna’s individual personalities can “bring on all sorts of accidents, major and minor-a stumble on the path, falling rocks, drowned sheep”. In the US, people assert that they want to “save the planet”; even this language shows that we believe we have power over the natural world. And our motivations for “saving the planet” come from our own self-interest, not from the belief that the earth is an animate being.
Ethnocentrism is the inability to rise above our own assumptions about the world to understand the beliefs and values of other cultures. The structure of this Dragons trip will not allow me to stand outside Bolivian culture; I will be immersed through the language, homestays, and rugged travel. This level of engagement will allow me to be empathetic toward the ways of life in Bolivia.