WSU English Department Newsletter

Ashina Sipiora: Salsa Dancing on a Whim

Going out in Peru

Tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been at WSU?

Born and raised in Boise, Idaho I just finished my third year at WSU. I chose WSU for the business program and partly because my parents bribed me. One day it just seemed like the right decision—for no apparent reason. Eventually the tides turned however. As I sat under the trees in front of Avery Hall, summer of 2008 (in efforts to save them), it quickly dawned on me that I was dreading all of my business classes-and I don't dread school! The next day I e-mailed my advisor about switching to English, and have never looked back.

Why did you choose Peru for your study abroad experience?

Much like my school decision, I made it on a whim. I knew of Peru scantily through how people talked about the country, and what I had heard about the different accents in South America (i.e., Peruvian being one of the easiest to understand). Had I known more about the country, my decision would have had even more of a foundation.

Ashina with her host sister

Where were you living and what were the living circumstances?

My first semester abroad I lived in the barrio San Isidro, in Lima, Peru. I lived in a house with two live-in maids, a grandmother, a father and mother, a 24-year-old sister and a 28-year-old brother. My families both semesters in Peru were wonderful! So it was sad to leave. Though the plumbing wasn't very advanced—you couldn't ever flush your toilet paper, and we only had a couple hours of hot water a day.

My second semester I did a multi-country program, so I spent my first two months in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and then I returned to Lima, Peru. According to the Human Development Index, Chile and Argentina are the only first-world countries in South America so it wasn't surprising that Buenos Aires was completely different. I lived in an apartment with a 60-year-old woman. I had hot water 'till my heart was content, and it was nice to be able to flush my toilet paper, but the culture in Buenos Aires is so drastically different with a much colder approach to people, so I was happy to return to Peru.

In the Amazon with girls from a tribe

What was the most surprising thing you experienced during your year abroad?

The most surprising thing for me was probably the huge differences between Buenos Aires and Lima. Lima and all of Peru is very typically Latin American, with great salsa and meringue music, lots of food and family, and just a warm and loving culture. Buenos Aires on the other hand is not only different in appearance with heavy European influenced architecture, and city outlay, but also it is the world capital of Tango, and you could rarely find a salsa club. The food was mediocre, and the people, while nice, had a very cold nature and weren't as family oriented compared to the rest of South America. However, the city is beautiful, more so than Lima, and a wonderful place to visit, because it is such a unique culture with fantastic museums—it's just not my ideal place to live.

I suppose the other thing that surprised me a lot, is how obsessed all of Latin America is with Che Guevara, as a pop culture icon, and political savior! In one semester I watched "Motorcycle Diaries" THREE times, each in a different class!

How important do you feel it is for students majoring in English to travel not just travel abroad but travel in general?

Traveling for any major is beneficial, I think it's essential to expanding a person’s perspective on life. But especially for an English literature major, it not only helps you learn the structure of other languages, but it also gives you a better perspective on how literature outside of the USA is influenced. While I was in Argentina, I studied Argentine literature and learned a lot about the culture and history from the class and the books we read. In Peru my classes on Peruvian culture gave me better insight into the way their literature has progressed.

Machu Picchu

Did your travel sharpen your perspective in such a way that it spills over into your writing your creative writing and your academic writing?

It's interesting, because having been abroad, and taken classes that weren’t really of the same caliber as my WSU classes, I didn't end up writing very much (if at all) for my classes. Frequently I was inspired to do my own writing about my experiences in all the places I traveled, or just about something that struck me as interesting that day. I can't be sure how it will affect my academic writing, but coming back I feel so much more “aware in basic subjects” that my writing perspective has surely changed.

You are majoring in Literary Studies. What do you plan to do with your degree?

To be honest I'm not sure, but while I was abroad I did determine that the next step after I graduate with my B.A. is to get my master's degree in something, maybe English Literature, or maybe just English so I can be a teacher. Whatever I do, it will be something that I love.

Washington State University
English Department Newsletter
Volume 3, Number 1,
Fall 2010