The transition into adulthood comes with a lot more responsibility, obligations and work. It also however brings a lot of freedoms. One of those freedoms is the ownership of your own education. What I mean by that is that possibly for the first time in your life you get to decide what is important to spend your time learning. In most traditional educational settings teachers have set curriculum they need to deliver. These foundational skills of math, science, English, history, etc are crucial to our development as individuals and as a society but the way they are delivered can sometimes build a distrust or dislike for learning.
At the beginning of every course I always ask my students, “So why are you taking this course?” Year after year I hear the same response from many students, “I just needed a break from school.” At first this made me nervous because I thought they wanted to spend their semester with Dragons just relaxing and partying and I was like ummm you know this is an intensely educational program, right? However I quickly realized that these young adults had a deep desire to learn but were just burned out from the traditional educational models they grew up in that favored calculus over learning how to harvest potatoes with your host family. A system that favored studying history through statistics, dates and the names of old dead white men over experiencing history, colonialism, imperialism first hand by living in a place like Bolivia.
The independent study project (ISP) encourages us to reconnect with our own personal educational process. The access to formal and informal schooling is one of the greatest privileges we have. A huge percentage of people in the world don’t have the means or opportunity to finish high school, let alone attend university. We need to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity we’ve been given but also still look at it from a critical eye.
So what exactly is an ISP? An independent study project is an academic theme or tangible skill that each student decides they personally want to study over the semester. Students can overlap and have similar themes if they share the same passions but even within those same passions each student will be having their own unique experience. Students are responsible for doing independent research about their topics and taking advantage of connecting with the extended Dragons community here in Bolivia and Peru. We have an amazing community of educators, activists and artists that are excited to share their knowledge with our students.
The role of Sandy, Erick, Raquel and myself in this process is to be a bridge between students and our local community of educators; to be mentors throughout this learning experience; to be translators when needed.
Here in their own words are explanations of why each student decided to pick their specific ISP. A few students decided to keep their responses private.
Chris- I chose cooking and Bolivian cuisine to both learn about a culture and take a useful skill home. A culture’s cuisine has always been defined by what was available and then altered by immigrants who bring their own typical dishes and flavors. Through learning about cooking, I can learn one aspect of Bolivian history. One savory and delicious aspect.
Izzy- I chose to do mosaics because I love art and I am interested in South American art specifically. I have a family friend who has done some amazing mosaics. Her work has inspired me to explore the topic more.
Asa- I’m really excited to be studying the culture of soccer here (and hopefully playing as well). Even in the couple of times that we were able to play in Peru, it was obvious how different soccer is here than in the US. The teams, the level of fandom, the style of play, the playing surface, the rules, the importance of each game, even the altitude (I can’t vouch for anybody trying to play against the Nacion Q’eros team at 14,000ft!). I played for the first time in Bolivia earlier today and it was cool to see how everything is a little bit different from Peru. I’m really looking forward to playing more and talking to more people about soccer here and finding out not just the obvious things that make soccer different from the US but the less visible things that make this soccer distinctly Bolivian, and maybe even Cochabambino.
Teresa- I chose to base my ISP on the African descendent community of Bolivia (Afro-Bolivians) to learn about the struggles for recognition, assimilation and acceptance that have marked the history of the population and the efforts of the Afro-Bolivian youth to maintain their culture through art and activism. I hope to make connections between my African heritage and that of the Afro-Bolivians to gain a better understanding and appreciation for this society.
Annabelle- I have chosen for my ISP to study the ancestral and traditional process of giving birth. Birth is a beautiful and sacred time for women, and the institutionalization of it is threatening women’s health even more than a complication during homebirth could. In Bolivia, where many women in native communities are afraid of hospitals there is a growing number of women who have decided that they reserve the right to take control over the birth of their children. No longer will they allow their choices to be influenced by doctors who prefer to do Cesarean sections over natural birth. Once a woman has one C-section, she no longer has the option to give birth any other way, so thus she has been roped into a cycle that will take more and more of her money. C-sections are more expensive and require women to rest and heal for weeks, prohibiting them from working and properly being able to care for their new baby. This is one huge example of why I have chosen this topic. The encroachment of western medicine and its twisted values can only be stifled by knowledge. I aim to educate myself and others about the beauty of traditional birth processes, with the hope that with this knowledge comes empowerment.
Mary Ren- Our time in Nacion Q’eros and Peru made me realize the importance of food- how it’s made, where it comes from, the traditions behind it, and the values it reveals in a culture. The Pachamanka ceremony was important for many reasons- spiritually, economically and culturally. It was a sacrificial gift to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth), an expensive and indulgent meal, and an event that brought the Japu community together. I chose cooking for my ISP to try and find the intentions behind food and meals in Bolivia. I want to learn how to prepare and serve meals that have intention- that have a history, a significant meaning and that make others happy. Food is something anyone can relate to. I would love to further immerse myself in Bolivian culture and be able to share it with others via food.
Libby- For my ISP, I chose to pursue the topic of Andean Cosmovision and spirituality. I most likely would not have chosen this topic at the beginning of the trip, but my experiences in Peru left me wanting to know more about the way Andean people view the world. I partook in some rituals and ceremonies during our time in Peru, but during these three weeks in Tiquipaya I’m hoping to further my knowledge on the history and reasons for these rituals, as well as gain a more academic overview of Andean spirituality.
Charlotte- Art has always been something close to my heart. Something that everyone witnesses, whether they choose to or not, while in any city is graffiti. I’m interested in this ISP because graffiti is an art that is more in your face than other forms because you can’t choose to see it or not. I’m interested in the culture behind it and the thoughts of the people who do it.
Jack- I decided to focus my project on film and photography in Bolivia. This was driven by an interest in the culture and history of these mediums, having knowledge of famous American and European photographers, my goal is to gain a global perspective of the artform and investigate its integration into political movements.
*The mural in photo was painted by Charlotte´s ISP mentor El Puriskiri