What I Study When I Study Abroad
When people talk about “studying abroad,” most of the studying they refer to takes place outside of the classroom. Of course, the whole semester doesn’t take place without the university and the professor and the class and the learning, but it’s the “abroad” bit that is supposed to provide the most important lessons. Getting to know new people, a new country, a different system of transportation or educati, etc. That said, while I’m studying abroad, the classes I’m taking are important. It’s a unique experience; most of my classes aren’t offered in the States and if they are, they’re more relevant here.
Take my anthropology class, Extractive Industries and Rural Societies, for example. The United States has extractive industries – copper in Arizona, for instance, and coal in West Virginia – that have led to the creation of rural mining societies and subsequent ghost towns. But our country’s economy is primarily productive, not extractive. Many Latin American economies, on the other hand, are based in extracting non-renewable natural resources and sending them to other countries that then produce (hence, productive economies) goods with said resources. 35% of Chile’s economy, for example, comes solely from exporting copper, while over 90% of Venezuela’s exports are petroleum related. And Peru has a wide variety of extractive industries: gas, gold, silver, etc. And these industries have always been and will continue to be highly contentious – they often bring promises of “development” that they do not deliver. They’re often lucrative, though not for the general population, and a quick look at the history books will show a cycle of nationalization and privatization that continues to this day.
Enough of showing what I’m learning, though. It suffices to say that studying extractive economies takes on a whole new life when you’re in a country where these economies carry weight, where people decide who they’re going to vote for based on who raises or lowers various taxes on resource extraction, or who will (not) nationalize these industries.
Extractive Industries and Rural Societies becomes even cooler when you look at my other anthropological course, Fieldwork 2 (they let me skip #1). Fieldwork is exactly what it sounds like – we study research methodology and then go into the field and conduct our own investigations. It’s a mini-thesis class, and in just three days I will be going to Huamachuco where a famous gold mine is located. It’s called Cerro el Toro, and it has affected the community for yearsand continues to affect it today; just a few weeks ago, several individuals working informally in the mine suffocated. The fieldwork helps to ground the other anthropological class by showing you what the other tells you.
On the other side of campus, I’m taking an altogether unrelated course: Contemporary Hispano-American Narratives. The class has been focused on the pre-boom, boom, and post-boom periods of Latin American literature. From the pre-boom we read Borges, and now we’re reading Julio Cortázar, an author who straddles the line between pre-boom and boom-boom. Then we’re moving on to Juan Rulfo, a boomer, and from there we’ll be reading Gabriel Garcia Márquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, and other well-known authors from the region. The class expects us to produce one major analysis, and I plan to use my strength – English – to write about the influence of William Faulkner in the writings of Rulfo.
The last two classes are important for future members of IFSA, because these classes, it seems, won’t be changing anytime soon. That is, they are obligatory for IFSA students. The first is “castellano,” although this Spanish is taught more fluidly than a typical grammar course. Peruvian literature is assigned every week, and students learn about various aspects of Peru’s culture and history while picking up new words and phrases.
The other class is called Peruvian Social Reality, and this class is mandatory even for Peruvians in La Católica. After a minimalist review of Peru’s history pre-1980 – that is, two hours which cover the pre-Colombian era, the Spanish invasion, three centuries of colonial rule, a war of independence, and nearly two centuries of the “republican” era – the class begins to take on the monster that is the Shining Path and, later, Alberto Fujimori. Later we’ll discuss all sorts of issues that affect all sorts of societies: racism, classism, sexism, politics, religion, economics…
In the end, it’s amazing to see how my study abroad classes and my study abroad experience are so integrated. Just today, for example, I had another argument about the existence of spirits and energies and such. I had similar discussions in Venezuela, where I felt like I was going crazy as nobody shared my skepticism, and that people accepted at face value that somebody had friendly spirits visit her on her birthday. But as I read more and more Latin American literature and discuss fantastic stories and magical realism, I’m starting to see that life in Peru and Venezuela and, I assume, Latin America, is much more connected to the (possible) world of spirits than any world I’ve ever lived.