No matter what your major is in college, you have to take certain core classes. Luckily, here at Carolina, we get a wide variety of options that fulfill those requirements. Last semester I decided it was about time to get my social science credit out of the way. Since I am an international business major, I decided to take Anthropology 102: Understanding Other Cultures. Little did I know that this class was going to fascinate me and show me a whole new way of thinking. Over the course of the semester we read four books: The Dobe Ju’Hoansi by Richard Lee, White Saris and Sweet Mangos: Aging, Gender, and Body in North India by Sarah Lamb, Laughter Out of Place: Race, Class, Violence, and Sexuality in a Rio Shantytown by Donna Goldsterin, and Go Nation: Masculinities and the Game of Weiqi in China by Marc Moskowitz. Each one was an anthropological study of a certain group of people, from the elderly in India to women in favelas, or urban shantytowns, in Rio de Janeiro. They were fascinating glimpses into the everyday lives of people from around the world. During class lecture time, we learned the vocabulary and concepts that we needed in order to talk more in depth about these topics. We also learned about lots of other cultures and traditions not mentioned in the books. What was life like as a Hopi Indian? How do they bury their dead in Taiwan? I was totally engrossed in the different topics, and couldn’t wait to learn more. This is the class that I recommend to everyone I meet at USC. I am sure my friends and family got sick of me constantly telling them fun facts from what I was learning.
Some of the facts weren’t fun at all, though, particularly while reading Laughter out of Place, about the Shantytowns outside Rio. It was a rude awakening to see the injustices that Gloria, her family, and many other families like hers, have to live with every day. It was hard to not distance myself and say “this is wrong and bad, and aren’t I glad that it isn’t happening to me?”. That wasn’t the point of learning about it, however. The point was to become informed, to feel involved, even if there was little I could do about it. Learning to care about others’ struggles, even halfway around the world, helped me to grow as a person.
Through this class I got to travel to far-flung destinations without getting travel shots, and it let me see how interconnected our world has become. Because, even though I thought it was incredibly strange that the Ju’hoansi eat giraffes, learning about their lives was like meeting a new neighbor, one who I share a lot in common with. Because ultimately, that is what cultural anthropology is about; it is the study of human beings, the things they do, and the ways they interact.