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Two Dragons welcome the sunrise with an improvised dance atop the Andes. Photo by Ryan Gasper.

Hello!

Hi everyone! My name is Eliana Ornelas and I am from Reno, Nevada. I’m seventeen and I graduated from high school this past June. I am taking a gap year before going to Dartmouth College next fall. So far my summer has been pretty relaxed which has been nice after four years that were largely consumed by either school or running cross country and track. I’ve used the time to hang out with friends, family, cat and dog, and read and watch TV and movies. I’ve also had the opportunity to go camping and hiking at Yosemite, Lake Tahoe and Lassen National Park, all of which has been a lot of fun.

Despite being half Latina, I would describe my family’s culture and my own upbringing as stereotypically American. My mom doesn’t speak Spanish and I couldn’t until I started taking it in school. However, my dad and grandparent’s backgrounds motivated me to take Spanish so that I could communicate better with my relatives. A desire to improve my Spanish is one of my goals for this trip.

Since, I was raised in a more American-style environment, I would describe my culture as individualistic. Individualistic cultures are usually defined by an emphasis on personal growth, self-achievement, and self-sufficiency, something that my parents and teachers have emphasized. This is perhaps particularly the case for me because, as an only child, there are no siblings whose goals need to be taken into account when planning my future. While collaboration is considered important, I’ve noticed that it’s generally because it will benefit all individuals involved. I have, though, been involved in groups, such as my running club, where I would describe the culture as more collectivist, with a larger emphasize on supporting each other rather than focusing on our own goals.

On the other hand I would describe Bolivia as a collective culture. Like many collective cultures there is a larger emphasis on the good of the group rather than the good of the individual, particularly when the group is the family unit. Bolivia has even declared a National Family Day.  However, the collective culture mindset seems to extend beyond the family to the larger community. Because communities are smaller and often more self-reliant than those in the U.S., I read that it is often expected for all members of a community to know each other well and to value the needs of the whole community over those of any one individual.

This collective mindset extends beyond the human members of the community to the natural world. At one point in the assigned reading, the author remarks that knowing the personality of the surrounding natural environment is often viewed as important as knowing one’s neighbors. However, just as it is expected that one takes into account the needs of other members in a collective community, is also expected that the natural envirnment, if treated with respect, will help the community survive and thrive.

The differences between the collective culture in Bolivia and the individualistic culture I am accustomed to means that I am going into this course with an ethnocentric mindset. While I have tried to avoid creating expectations for this trip and have told myself to keep an open mind, I know that part of me will be comparing what I see in Bolivia to my culture at home, sometimes in a negative way. I hope to stop myself from making these negative comparisons and use what I learn in Bolivia to more critically evaluate my own culture.