Part of my SIT study abroad program is getting the opportunity to travel throughout the country, and stay with host families of different cultures. The first of these trips was to the northern Chilean town of Putre, where I got the opportunity to stay with an Aymara family for several days. The Aymara people are an indigenous group that lives in northern Chile, southern Peru and Bolivia. I learned so many amazing things through this experience, especially about the Aymara world view.
In Aymara culture, a lot of emphasis is put on reciprocity, the idea that when someone does something for you, you ought to do something for them in return. As a group, our first experience was a cultural exchange with the indigenous community living in Guallatire. They shared several of their traditional dances with us, and in exchange we shared a poem (“The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein) and a song (“Stand By Me”) from the United States.
This attitude of reciprocity really hit home for me, especially as I approach the half-way point of my study abroad experience. I’ve learned so much from my host country, host city and host family, and I think it’s important that I give back to the community that has received me with open arms. Spending quality time with my host family and participating in volunteer work through my program are some of the ways in which I try to give back. But, expressions of gratitude and reciprocity are different for every exchange student. The important thing is to make sure that, as an exchange student, the exchange isn’t one-sided!