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Burning Dummies

USA | Sunday, 22 December 2013 | Views [421]

As I am preparing to leave for Ecuador, I cannot help but to be curious about the Ecuadorian culture. If I’m going to spend three weeks in a foreign country with a family that I do not know, surrounded by things unfamiliar to me, I want to at least try and understand the culture. I’ve read about Ecuador and it’s people, clothing, customs, and arts; I’ve heard about their traditions and tried to familiarize myself with the environment. However, I still feel unprepared. I'm slowly realizing that culture is more than a definition and is not learned by reading a textbook; culture is supposed to be lived and experienced. For this reason, I am excited to escape the comfort of the United States and to fully experience the Ecuadorian culture.

Part of immersing myself into this new culture will mean ridding myself of stereotypes and assumptions about Ecuador. When thinking about South America, it’s easy to compare its countries to other countries that we do know the characteristics of, like Mexico. As citizens of the United States who have little intercultural experience, we have a naïve vision of different countries. It gives us a narrow view of the world, and little to no conception of what the rest of the world is actually like.

I also have this assumption that Ecuador is an indigenous country where people live in less than adequate houses and get pleasure out of simple things. My knowledge of Ecuador tells me that this is certainly not true, however, my strong stereotype keeps the thought there. I worked with a girl last semester that was from Ecuador, and she talked about how bad her parent’s experiences were in the country. This helped confirm assumptions that I had developed from movies and other people; all of which I’m going to have to work very hard to diminish.

Although the stereotypes and assumptions are going to be difficult, I have a feeling that they’ll be quickly taken care of once I actually get to Ecuador. Once really getting to know people, it’s easy to change opinions. However, it’s not easy to change our own cultural traditions and behaviors that we’ve grown up with our whole lives. One thing we value in the United States is success, particularly monetary success. I’m under the impression that this is not the case in most other cultures. This success is often accompanied by other values such as faith, individuality, and pleasure. These values are instilled in our holiday traditions, our every day work lives, and our family lives. It is culturally acceptable to be immersed in ourselves and to do what it takes to keep it that way. I’m anxious to see if that is the same in Ecuador. Part of me hopes that it is not, as it is nice to escape the high-paced lifestyle everyone once in a while.

Accordingly, I researched the lifestyle in Ecuador, including traditions. In my research, I learned of an interesting New Years tradition. In America we celebrate the New Year by partying the night away, and if lucky, kissing someone at midnight as the ball drops in New York City. In Ecuador they do it a little differently. According to the travel guide, This is Ecuador, Año Viejo is a celebration where people make scarecrow-like dummies of people they dislike, mainly political leaders and other famous figures, and burn them to the ground. Often a list of sins is attached to the dummy reminding the people of the figure’s shortcomings in the last year. It is a symbolic ritual that reminds people that amidst the ashes, there is hope in the New Year.

This tradition is certainly different than those we see in America. Like many of the other carnivals celebrated throughout the year in Ecuador, there seems to be a focus on community-like activities. People enjoy celebrating together through rituals and large-scale celebrations. I’m so excited to take part in the joyous activities while learning what it's like to be a real Ecuadorian. Hopefully while burning dummies, I can also burn away a few of my misguided assumptions and stereotypes.

This trip is going to be an adventure. It’s going to take me out of my comfort zone, away from my easy life, and into an unfamiliar culture. I hope to be shaken and changed; I want to be morphed into a better person. Hopefully this experience of intercultural communication will achieve exactly that.





Matheus, Carolina. "The Transforming Powers of Masks." This Is Ecuador. Web. 22 Dec. 2013. <http://www.thisisecuador.com/component/content/article/15-handmade-in-ecuador/100-the-transforming-powers-of-masks.html>.

Tags: ecuador, five days, get ready

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