Hello all my name is Leah. I am nineteen and from Durham, North Carolina. I graduated from high school in May and am going to Middlebury College in the spring. Being the third child, the culture around the house for me is lenient and casual. My parents expect me to learn from my own mistakes and take advantage of opportunities for myself. This trip is a great example of that. My hobbies include pole vaulting, poetry, yoga, and food! This summer I have been traveling and babysitting (together and separately). When looking for things to do this fall I wrote down interests that I wished to further explore. My top two were backpacking and Spanish. The South America program caught my eye because it offers those interests, and more. While Latin American culture was not on that initial list, it has been an interest of mine since 2016 when I went on a trip to Nicaragua.
When I think of individualism, words that come to mind are: western, competitive, self-reliant, internal locus of control, insecurity, creativity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines individualism as “the habit or principle of being independent and self-reliant.” A society that values individualism, the US for example, produces people who focus on success, self-promotion, and things that will put themselves above others. This is because in extreme, individualism is every man for themselves. In contrast, collectivist societies prioritize the needs of the group, or community at large. People in these societies tend to be more self-sacrificing and interested in intention over product of a given situation.
Whilst the specifics above are true for the general idea of these two ways of living, everyone has a different combination of collectivism and individualism in their life. I find myself thinking of my future in an individualist way. I want to do well in school so that I can get a job that will bring me happiness and success. I often dismiss the fact that as my family members age, they might look to me for help. A collectivists view of success may be to well serve their community; this would include staying closer to elders and treating them as the source of “wisdom” of the group. However, for my past “successes” I give a huge amount of credit to small communities that have supported me. For example: schools, sports teams, and family. These groups are little examples of collectivism that I have in my life.
An article written at American University describes the Bolivian culture well by saying, “Americans are doing oriented… Bolivians are being oriented.” The external loci of control is well explained by their deep relationship with and respect for the land. Unlike Americans, and other individualist societies, Bolivians do not think they are above the land, they see themselves as one with the land.
“The Hold Life Has,” by Catherine Allen, describes how intimate a relationship with the natural world can be. As said above, I view believe in and loyalty for something greater than yourself as a value of collectivism. Allen’s explanation of the power that coca holds in the Sonqo community. The fact that coca connects the people to the earth is a great example of how the people value things outside of themselves. The collective in the Sonqo community ranges from the people before them that lived by the moon to the future after them that may be nonhuman. They have a deep respect for every breathing and non breathing entity around them.
As Catherine Allen reminds us, we always look for ourselves in other people. It is easy to approach a new culture and see the differences as stark. Ecocentrism is not being able to fully understand another culture because of the deep values and habits in your own culture. I realize that I have unavoidable preconceptions of Latin American culture, some true and some false. The full immersion we will experience will help in putting ourselves in the shoes of those we meet. I hope to see people’s differences as inspiring as opposed to lesser.