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Abroad Experience: Adina Menashe '12 The Challenge of Globalization in the Altiplano

Posted on August 20, 2011

Adina Menashe, ‘12 writes of her semester on the School for International Training Program in Bolivia:

Before I came to Bolivia, all I really knew about the country was that an indigenous leader, Evo Morales, was president.  My only requirements for going abroad were that I wanted to study with the School for International Training (SIT) and I wanted to go somewhere Spanish-speaking.  Jim Shultz, director and founder of the Democracy Center and author of many books including “Dignity and Defiance: Stories of Bolivia’s Challenge to Globalization” came and spoke to my program after we had only been in Cochabamba for one month.  He told us that to decide to come to Bolivia, you have to be a “privileged freak”.  By this he means a freak with a plane ticket.   Whether or not this classification is true, I ended up choosing to study in Bolivia and I’m glad I did.

One of my most notable and difficult experiences this semester was spending four days in a rural village in the Andean mountains surrounding Lake Titicaca.  Not only did this high-altitude lake permanently earn a spot on my list of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, but participation in village life was a complete change of pace, requiring flexibility and patience.  The Aymara family I stayed with in the Altiplano was quiet and reserved and the daily work was challenging.  Only the younger members of the family spoke Spanish and most of the communication with the rest of the family was in hand gestures or awkward smiles. Shifting attitudes and high poverty levels in the community have caused many younger village members to migrate to Brazil in search of better job opportunities.  Seeing some of the changes and struggles that come with an increasingly interconnected world showed me first hand how dynamic cultures often have to adapt in order to survive in a modern context.

Because I had so few expectations before I left in January, I found that I learned most through using Spanish in conversations with my host mother and taking crowded bus rides to and from school.  Sure, my classes are stimulating, my fellow “privileged freaks” (classmates), are smart, and the articles assigned are relevant.  But the anthropological perspective I acquired at Wheaton, combined with what I have learned in Bolivia through personal interactions with people, proved to me that the realities of globalization can also be seen on a cultural and human scale.

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