Making Decisions for “Me” and “We”


The United States is a country that is heavily surrounded by the concept of individualism. They are big on giving personal space, independence, and emphasizing competitiveness. In a typical individualistic household, the children of the family are accustomed to moving out at the age of 18, whether that be for higher education purposes or to pursue other dreams. In comparison, Latin American countries and societies revolve around collectivism. Where some of the norms include moving out once you get married, prioritizing family needs, and achievement of group goals. In the United States, it is often customary to greet someone with a handshake or a simple wave, and in Latin American countries greetings are done with a kiss and a hug.

Growing up as a daughter of immigrants, my parents raised me in a collectivist household in a country where individualism is encouraged. My values and beliefs often get mixed and to this day I find myself trying to figure out whether to prioritize the “we” or “me” in my life. The “we” being making decisions for a group or in this case, my family and the “me” being making decisions for myself. The collectivism i was exposed to was in the same household where my parents chose to make one of the hardest “we” decisions of leaving behind what they knew for the future of their children. My parents’ choice to move to the United States is the biggest “we” decision I value. I have continuously come upon situations that have challenged me to choose “we” or “me.” For example, moving out for college, solo traveling, and choosing to keep some areas of my life private. The decision to study abroad 6,000 miles away from where I call home and my family was definitely a “me” decision. My academic success and education are equally as important to me as it is to my family. Therefore, I often think about whether my goals are also my family’s goals and studying abroad in the end will add to the “we.” Before leaving for study abroad I felt my decision was selfish as my parents raised me in a collectivist household. However, living in Chile has made me realize that I am achieving the goals my parents set out for their children. Thinking about my “me” and “we” goals has brought me encouragement and success during my study abroad experience.

Growing up in an environment with exposure to both individualism and collectivism has brought me several positive traits that I have found helpful for my time abroad.

Individualism taught me to prioritize self-care and value alone time. With the chaos that comes with living in one of the biggest cities in Latin America, quiet moments have kept me sane. Whether that has been finding the closest park to my host home, enjoying some of the best ice cream I have ever had, or morning walks. My individualism has taught me to listen to myself and understand what I need in order to be successful. This self-awareness and individualism have allowed me to not be afraid to try new things, take on solo quests in the city, and be self-reliant. For example, I am often traveling into the city alone to explore markets, restaurants, and new sites. My individualism has encouraged my growth in the new city.

At the same time I have developed key traits from a collectivist household by being able to look at the bigger picture instead of hyper fixating on the small details. As much as I have prepared and hoped for a smooth study abroad experience, challenges have come about. Whether that was missing the bus in the morning, losing my “bip!” card to scan onto the metro, or getting lost in the city. One bad moment did not ruin or change my perspective on the day. Realizing that each day here in Chile was not going to be perfect, but instead enjoying what the city has to bring.

Spending these 4 weeks in Santiago, Chile has allowed me to connect with a collectivist society and understand the culture my parents grew up in. While 4 weeks is not nearly comparable to the 30 years my parents spent in a collectivistic society, I will forever value the experience I have gained here in Chile. My new perspectives will aid me in continuously making decisions for both “we” and “me.

Image #1 caption: Ice cream in Valparaiso, Chile

Image #2 caption: Empanadas at el Restaurante La Veguita