Krista Rittenhouse, Summer 2013

Spanish minor, “Understanding a culture of violence and responses in Colombia”

What type of work did you do?

I and one other intern completed a research project that looked at the experiences of displaced persons in Colombia, South America. After personally completing three interviews, and transcribing twelve, we analyzed the stories they had given, looking to answer questions like what their major difficulties had been and how the church had been a support. The hope is that the document that we created will be given the the leaders of the Anabaptist churches in Bogota to help them know how to better serve the displaced people in their community.

What were the highlights that occurred during the period?

One of the biggest highlights for me was going to church with my host mom. She was the pastor in one of the worse-off neighborhoods outside the city. On a typical Sunday, there would be anywhere between 15-30 people in attendance, and I felt so welcomed by everyone. The worship was participatory, genuine, and everyone wanted to share their testimony even when it didn’t seem they had anything particularly out of the norm to share. Also, it was a joy to see the ways that all generations participated fully, and leadership was given to some as young as 13!

What was the most creative experience you had during the period?

Once when reading at a park, I was approached by a young man working with a reforestation program. When he promptly jumped into asking me whether I had a boyfriend, I lied and responded yes…because I was not interested in where the conversation would go if I said no. He proceeded to ask me all kinds of questions about him-all of which I had to come up with answers for on the spot. I hope he didn’t catch my bluff(s).

What theoretical concepts/material obtained from class did you apply or identify during your internship experience?

Although I still do not have a complete understanding of the conflict in Colombia, I saw that conflict stemmed from many different sources. I have a minor in peacebuilding, so looking at the structural challenges and the theories of motivation behind people acting in violence was interesting even when there are not answers per se. Also, in completing several interviews I used concepts from a mediation course on how to form good questions, making sure that they were open ended and not leading to any certain conclusion.

Please comment on how you developed during this past period—what in this experience has helped you discover yourself, gain more knowledge about yourself, etc.?

Multiple times in three months, I had to/got to accept hospitality and generosity from people less fortunate than myself. This challenge to let myself accept a gift from someone else confirmed that I can be a bit stingy with both my resources and my time…which is something that I want to work on. Also, I realized that I have romanticized other cultures. I have frustrations and criticisms of my own culture, but that does not mean that other cultures are perfect either. While I understand this at a head level, it has taken me some time to be able to be critical of the customs and assumptions of Colombians, for example.