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

Hey!

Hey everyone! I’m Ella, and I’m so excited to finally meet y’all and go on this adventure:) I was born and raised in Austin, Texas, I’m 18, and just graduated high school. After we get back to the U.S. I’ll be attending Middlebury College as a Feb student (starting in February). My culture is defined by living in a big city in the middle of a state famous for its hill country and cowboys. While I don’t feel traditionally “Texan”, Southern values like friendliness, hospitality, and even the community of my church are all a part of my life. But the people I’ve gotten to know in this unique city have made me aware and accepting of a range of views and backgrounds, and I’m really grateful for that.

Even though I don’t ride a horse to school, I do love Tex-Mex, barbeque, all sorts of music, and escaping the crazy heat by swimming in Barton Springs. I care about hanging out with my little brother and sister, exploring this country’s beautiful national parks, putting peanut butter on just about everything I eat, and becoming fluent in Spanish. I’ve been hanging out in ATX this past month, teaching swim lessons and saying goodbye to my friends.

I chose this program because I love Spanish, and am super excited to speak it and be immersed in the indigenous cultures of Bolivia and Peru. I’m also doing this for the adventure, to challenge myself and learn more about who I am through living in indigenous communities, climbing beautiful mountains, and traveling with this group.

  1.   An individualist culture emphasizes independence, assertiveness, and standing out. People are more self-interested, and will focus on their own needs over the needs of the group. Personal identity is the sum of someone’s personal qualities. A collectivist culture emphasizes selflessness and loyalty to the group. People see group decisions as more important than individual ones, and have more concern for others. Personal identity is about knowing your place in the group and your role in relationships.
  2.   My culture as an Austinite leans towards individualist. People tend to support themselves and their immediate families before looking outwards to see how they could help the city. Even in my own family, my siblings and I are close, but we each go to different schools and live pretty independently of each other.

As I grew up, becoming independent was an expectation. Whether that was dealing with school on my own, starting my first job, or traveling alone, my parents were watching to see if I could handle things independently, which was something to be praised. And if someone asked me about who I was, I’d talk about my personality traits and experiences before bringing up my relationships with other people.

There’s something about being Texan, though, that leans towards collectivist. There’s a sense of pride in where you’re from, and politeness and warmth are common here. But in a city with stark contrasts between neighborhoods and a lack of closeness with people passing each other on the street, my culture tends to be more individualist.

  1.   Bolivia struggles to be unified as a whole, which discredits the idea that it’s collectively oriented. When people are asked how they identify themselves, they are more likely to say “Quechua”, “Aymara”, etc., than Bolivian. The minority who call themselves Bolivian may view members of indigenous groups as not culturally Bolivian, because they don’t natively speak Spanish and lead a different way of life. This view divides rather than unites groups of people within Bolivia.
  2.  The landscape people exist in can be as much a part of the collective as the people themselves. The Runakuna regard the world all around them, the hills and fields closeby and mountains far away, as full of spirit and lifeforce. By treating these Places with the same selflessness and loyalty they treat people of their group, they broaden the collective to include the land they live on. The Runakuna thank the Earth for allowing them to use her resources, and give offerings in return. There is no entitlement, no taking without giving back. Just a balanced relationship, an awareness of the factors (human and nonhuman) contributing to their way of life.
  3.   My approach to this course is ethnocentric, even if I wish it weren’t, because I will always interpret and understand other ways of life in reference to my own. I want to go into this experience with an open heart, unbiased and ready to take it all in. But I’m biased. Even with the intention of observing without bias, my specific way of life has formed who I am. I will see the world through the eyes it has given me. I hope that I can catch myself when I unintentionally compare what’s happening in front of me to what I know back home. I hope that in those moments, I keep my heart and mind open to what my eyes are failing to see.