Please enjoy this Yak of the Week posted by the Instructors of the South America, Andes & Amazon Group A Program: "From our students, to those who they love dearly: some thoughts on departing from our space here in Bolivia and re-integrating into an environment that may now seem foreign."
In South America, I…
In South America, I learned that there is more than one way to live a “rich” life. I learned that indigenous groups can be a powerful voice in political movements. I learned that not every bathroom has toilet paper. I learned that dogs can be scary. I learned that we don’t need verbal language to communicate. And I saw a vast variety of new and beautiful climates.
In South America, I gained clarity on some things and became much more confused about (or at least more aware of the complexity of) other things. The term “big picture” gets tossed around a lot. I think what I’ve really found are thousands of small pictures, like flaming sugar butterflies offered to the Pachamama and a perfectly intact sheep fetus and happy people living with less wealth than is lavished upon your average American golden retriever, which have interwoven like the figures in an Andean tejido and left me with the vague image of a massive tapestry whose meaning and purpose I’m still not totally clear on. Even if I never fully figure out the meaning, to be in possession of clues to forbidden knowledge is still a powerful thing.
In South America, I learned to love a new culture, ate new foods, stayed with many incredible host families, developed new relationships, grew personally, learned about indigenous cultures, rediscovered my love for music and dance, began learning an indigenous trade, became more spiritual through the Pachamama, and began questioning my purpose in life.
In South America, I learned of different ways to live life. I learned to much about the basics of living and where things come from. I learn there is so much to learn!
In South America, I learned about things I didn’t know I needed to learn or could learn. In South America I learned how to truly be a good guest and how to make real relationships with the people here. I learned how topics like child labor and child discipline aren’t black and white and how American solutions or responses aren’t helpful or understanding. I actually understand the dangers of monoculture and its harm. I learned how to be uncomfortable but more importantly how to not be. Like how to fit in with the different rhythms of living. I learned just how amazingly nice Bolivians are.
In South America, I walked and walked and walked over some of the highest mountains in the world. I figured out the best juice combination to order in the mercado. I became a part of a family that didn’t speak my native language. I confronted my own privilege countless times and was humbled and inspired by diverse indigenous communities. I learned how to do my laundry in a sink, and I also learned hot to not do laundry for weeks at a time. I healed a cut on my finger with an eggshell, held a cayman on a boat in the Amazon, and rode in the front seat of a military vehicle while pooping myself.
In South America, I felt a strong connection with the environment. I learned to live with less, climbed mountains, and knew where my food came from.
In South America, I I challenged myself in ways I never had before. From learning how to cook to making new music on the guitar to trekking for over a week at high altitude, I had an unforgettable experience.
In South America, I made great friends, saw cool sights, learned culture, grew as a person and stepped out of my comfort zone.
In South America, I learned how to weave, sleep on a bus, use sarcasm in Spanish, tie a trucker’s hitch, harvest, peel, & eat hella potatoes, catch reptiles, be sick, talk to strangers, get lost & unlost, chew coca, dekernel choclo, decolonize my body, and live with less. I learned about reciprocity, Pachamama, matrifocal societies, Evo, cacao & quinoa and what they look like when they grow, neoliberalism, how much I consume, and seeds. I learned that tuna isn’t just a fish, strangers are kind, the World Bank is pretty evil, cholitas are badass, poverty is relational, and I want to come back someday.
In South America, I started with grand expectations, as first-time travelers often do, and instead the experience I found was rather grounding. I found that questions were easier to seek than answers, and that behind cultural difference there is always human similarity. I found that being overwhelmed by a place is a response to feeling like there is too much I don’t know, and being underwhelmed by a person means I haven’t asked enough questions. If I had a good experience here, it’s because I tried, not because I showed up.
In South America, I learned how to be okay with being by myself. I learned how to navigate foreign markets, transportation, and language barriers. I don’t panic now when I’m alone and not sure which direction to head towards or how to communicate with body language to non-English speaking locals. I am confident now in my own skills to take care of myself, at home and abroad. Virtually, In South America, I grew up.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know…
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I’m going to miss this place. I’m going to miss market breakfasts and coca culture, fumbling over my Spanish, and being wholeheartedly welcomed into strangers’ homes like family. Please be kind and patient with me as I figure out how to be in the U.S. again; listen to me, laugh with me, & cry with me.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that Peru is more than just a country. Peru, Like Bolivia, is made up of dozens of different indigenous groups and the dozens of different cultures that complement them.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know I refuse to be materialistic and environmentally-ignorant. I will learn where my clothes and food come from, and if I don’t like what I find out, I will change my habits.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that it’s very hard to express all of the things, concrete and non-concrete, that I have learned during this trip! This may be frustrating for me at first, but I’m sure with time and perspective my thoughts and actions will become more clear. With new views on life back home, it is also likely I may appear critical or withdrawn during the transition, but I still love and appreciate those close to me just the same.
A I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know how much this trip changed me. I learned so much about Peruvian and Bolivian culture, but more importantly, about myself. I learned a lot about who I am and why I am the way I am and will bring this knowledge back home with me.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I’m excited to live now. I’m so much stronger. I’m so much more competent. I can’t wait to be actively curious.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that coming home will mark the last and probably most difficult stretch of the entire trip. In some ways I’ve changed, in others I’ve unchanged; I’ve even kind of changed the way I change. I’m nervous and excited to be a little different while doing largely the same things in the same place with the same people. I just hope there’s more synergy than friction—I think there will be.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I am growing but I am more confused than I used to be. My mind has expanded which means it is more excitable but more scattered and conflicted than it was before. I want you to know all of the strangers who have shown me kindness and landscapes that have left me speechless, but I know these things will be impossible to communicate.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I am excited to come home but I don’t really know how to go back to American life after this. I might not be the same girl who left 3 months ago. I had an amazing time and memories to last me forever, and I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this grand adventure.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I don’t really know how to integrate back into U.S. society and that I might need a bit of patience while I re-learn my place in it. I also want you to know that I want to share my experiences in some way with you all but I don’t really know how to do that.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I will be coming back to South America. I’m going to take Spanish classes and save up money to try to come back before this year ends. I want you to know that it is the most diverse place, in every single way. I want to learn way more about Peru. I want this country to be familiar to me. I want to be able to call it home.
As I prepare to leave Peru, I want you to know that I am so grateful. I am grateful for this opportunity to get to know different South American cultures, and also for the chance to get to know myself better. My eyes and my mind have opened up in unimaginable and unexpected ways. I am also grateful for the life I will come back to in the US. I am grateful for the 4 years of college I am about to undertake. I am grateful for the supportive family I am coming home to. And to Bolivia and Peru, I am so grateful for helping me to realize why I am and why I should be so grateful. Thank you!