Some days ago we closed our SIT Chile: Political Systems and Economic Development study abroad semester. During November I had been working hard (or hardly working?) towards the thirty-page research paper that we submit at the end of a semester abroad with SIT. I have to admit the month of research was an incredible opportunity to test out my ability to work independently. The only deadline to keep in mind was December 4th.
November was full of activities and my schedule looked busy even though I did not have classes. I needed interviews for my research and when you are in Latin America scheduling interviews/any meeting situations with people will prove to be a difficult process. I also chose a topic for my research that I had not studied through classes at Richmond or study abroad. It was a critical analysis of community-based tourism in Valle de Elikura within a mix of post-colonial/anthropological/orientalist theoretical frameworks. I spent half of the month simply looking for articles and reading as much material as I could so I developed a strong background before I started the actual writing.
I sometimes wonder what will happen with the thirty-three-page research paper I wrote in Spanish. It is difficult to convince myself that it will be useful for a class in Richmond since I know the rest of my time will be devoted to fulfilling business class requirements. If I want to use the paper anywhere in the US I would need to translate the entire thing to Spanish. So I sometimes ask myself “Why did you chose to do something ‘irrelevant’? Why didn’t you choose something that is more related to what you study at UR? Chile is would have been a fantastic country for research in any neoliberal related topic.” I am lucky I do not have to think very far to find my reasons. The truth is that I absolutely loved my topic. More importantly I enjoyed the journey of learning something entirely new, processing it, and then applying it as analysis to my fieldwork. I realized I was also wrong to refer to my work as “irrelevant”. This may sound cliché but I understood from personal experience how seemingly distinct areas of study are actually not as unrelated as we sometimes imagine. My research project gave me an opportunity to relate tourism, anthropology, orientalist theory, post colonial theory, Foucault’s notions of relations of power, and basic demand-supply relations within a capitalism economic structure. My study abroad experience allowed me to step back and explore the relationships between different disciplines. I would strongly argue that a study abroad experience is essential to a liberal arts education.