Rachel Potter, an Integrated Studies major in Anthropology and Spanish, is in the middle of a three-month anthropological investigation in Bolivia, researching the way globalization is affecting the youth who are of Aymaran and Bolivian descent.
During a normal workday, Potter stops to talk to Elsa, a Bolivian street vendor. Potter asks Elsa what she thinks about the government’s efforts to make the Aymara language more prominent in Bolivia.
The anthropological method requires that Potter stay out of the way of what Elsa wants to say, allowing her to guide the flow and direction of her response, rather than being driven by Potter’s preconceived ideas or motives. Elsa tells Potter that although learning Aymara might be culturally significant, it doesn’t improve her economic situation. If she could communicate in English, even rudimentarily, she could run her small business more effectively.
Language is a major lens through which Potter studies the effects of globalization. According to Potter, linguists predict that “90 percent of the world’s languages will disappear completely in 50 years” due to the rapid pace of worldwide technological expansion.
Copacabana, Potter’s home base for research, is a small tourist town along the Bolivian leg of the Gringo Trail, and makes for a perfect microcosm of the worldwide effects of a more global economy.
Inhabitants of Copacabana, like Elsa, are almost purely of indigenous descent. Most speak Aymara, an ancient tribal language, as well as Spanish. But with the constant flow of tourists, residents of Copacabana feel the need to learn another international language, especially English. Potter has noticed this in the common conversations she initiates with Copacabana residents.
Conversing with residents is a major tool in her research. From the conversation with Elsa and others of its kind, Potter monitors cultural shifts due to globalization.
When asked how her summer research has gone, Potter quotes the motto of the International Language Program, for which she used to work.
“One year of traveling is worth 10 in the classroom. And after being here in Bolivia, I can definitely say that that is true,” Potter said.
Although they may study in different fields, Potter encourages all students to take what they’ve learned in the classroom and study abroad.