Peru alumna wins award from home university for research project with SIT

SIT was thrilled to learn that alumna Gillian Thornton was a first-place recipient of University of Oregon’s 2012 Judges’ Choice Awards for her Independent Study Project (ISP) on mythology and cosmology in an Andean community. Gillian studied abroad on the SIT Peru: Indigenous Peoples and Globalization program in fall 2011. Written entirely in Spanish, her ISP is posted in the SIT digital library: Las montañas respiran: La cosmovisión de la comunidad de Rayampata representada a través del mito Pitusiray-Sawasiray


Gillian Thornton shows photos to children during her time with SIT in Peru

“Living in Peru was an experience that can hardly be summarized fully in a few sentences or paragraphs.  After four months abroad, when somebody back home would ask me how my travels went, my response generally would be a wide-eyed shake of the head and an indecipherable mumble of positive adjectives.

I have learned, in the five months I have been home, how to express my emotions in a more articulate manner, and if I had to narrow my experience down to a single word I would have to describe it as life-changing.

Studying globalization and indigenous populations in urban and rural Peru opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of the world. I learned that the parts of the world are connected not only through travel and political relations and trade, but also through spirituality, shared ideas, similar goals, and energy.

My time abroad changed my life by introducing me to this concept of interconnectedness (or ayni, as Quechua-speakers would call it) and also set me on course as an anthropologist, helped me to learn Spanish, and to build beautiful relationships with new friends from around the world.

My Independent Study Project was focused on indigenous cosmology, especially in terms of mythology.  I chose a popular myth that held special meaning for the small mountain community of Rayampata, outside of Cusco, and spent one month at the end of my program conducting personal interviews, surveys, and participating in activities with the community on how the myth related to their daily life and cosmology.

I found that the world view that exists in Peru is extremely complex, especially in light of recent globalization and religious changes. However, traditional cosmologies are not dead but rather live on in near harmony with modern perspectives through mythology, spiritual practices, language, and ritual.

I had already been in the US for more than four months when I presented my ISP (for the first time in English) at the University of Oregon’s annual International Projects Fair. I chose to participate out of a desire to share my experiences and to encourage others to travel abroad.

Children in PeruI found myself feeling fairly neutral about the experience as I prepared a ten-minute speech and my poster. What I did not expect was the wave of enthusiasm and energy that I felt as I recounted my story to the Projects Fair judges. I felt rejuvenated by talking about it in an academic fashion, bombarded with memories that had lain dormant upon my return to the States, and revitalized by my own potential to conduct future anthropological studies.

Since then, I have been doing a lot of deep thinking on what I want to do after I graduate next term. I am overwhelmed with my options. Grad school seems to be in my future, without a doubt, but until then?

The world is open and I have a craving for adventure! One thing I do know for sure: I will go back to Peru.  I lost a bit of my heart to the silent mountains and deep beauty of the Andes, and, one day, I will return.”

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