Lurking in the rainforests of Brazil are real dangers—animals
and insects unlike those many Purdue students have ever, or
will ever, encounter.
Try as they might to avoid the more dangerous of the
Amazon’s treasures, there is one bug in particular likely to
bite a few of the students in Laura Zanotti’s ethnographic field
school. When bitten, they come down with a fever that’s hard
to shake: the anthropology bug.
Junior Kaitlin Harris attended the field school last year,
spending three weeks working with the Kayapó. Initially
majoring in environmental and ecological engineering, she had
recently added a second major in anthropology after taking
Zanotti’s environmental anthropology class. Though she went
into the rainforest seeing engineering as her primary discipline,
when she came out, she knew that anthropology would
feature heavily in her future plans.
“I’ve been telling people for a year now that engineering is
what I came to Purdue to do, but anthropology is what I was
meant to do,” Harris says.
Ellen Gruenbaum, department head and professor of
anthropology, says she’s seen this before. Students take an
anthropology class as an elective or out of curiosity and wind
up hooked. “It does happen a lot,” Gruenbaum says. “In the
case of engineering, there’s the opportunity to look at global
engineering, and anthropology gives students the chance to
look at opportunities in other countries or other cultures.”
That’s exactly what happened to Harris. She planned to go
into sustainable building design before she trekked into the
far reaches of Brazil. Now she wants to use her engineering
knowledge to help build sustainable communities, much like
what the Kayapó are doing. “The more I’m taking engineering
classes, I see those classes as useful tools. I want to use that
knowledge to build sustainable communities,” Harris says.
Gruenbaum says the anthropology course of study was
designed so that it can be added as a second major or a
minor without much difficulty, adding a new perspective to a
student’s studies. With its emphasis on deeper understanding
of other cultures, anthropology fits well with Purdue’s goal of
encouraging students to think on a global scale.
“Anthropology is the one major discipline that studies
multicultural issues and other countries in depth,”
Rosy Garibay, a senior majoring in photography when
she took the trip with Zanotti last year, also caught the fever.
Garibay was already minoring in anthropology and couldn’t
shake the idea that she had to do something with her
experience with the Kayapó or other indigenous peoples when
she leaves school.
“I’d like to make an exhibition or raise awareness with
a gallery about topics like the construction of the Belo
Monte dam, which will have a huge impact on the rainforest
ecosystem and displace many people, including the Kayapó,”
Garibay says. “If we take action and come together to raise
awareness of situations like these, we can make a difference.
I’m not going to be one of those people who comes out of this
experience and doesn’t do something with it.”
THE UNEXPECTED PERIL OF STUDYING ABROAD
A Kayapó instructor for the course relaxes on the water. Photo by Palmer Durr.