Rising fourth-year Ann Chandler Tune spent summer 2019 in Colombia conducting research for her thesis project. We corresponded with her about what drew her to LACS as a major, her fieldwork this summer, and why she chose to focus on Colombia for her thesis.

What drew you to Latin American Studies as a major? Are there specific disciplines you wanted to explore using Latin America as a lens?
I did not begin my first year at the University of Chicago with a specific major in mind, but rather felt drawn to many disciplines at once. I decided to major in psychology due to my interest in mental health, but alternated between potential additional majors that caught my attention, such as human rights, public policy, Spanish, and anthropology.

I took my first Latin American Studies class during the Autumn Quarter of my second year, and was thrilled to discover that this major would allow me to explore Latin America through each of these diverse academic fields, as well as others. Rather than looking to explore a specific discipline using Latin America, I was drawn to the opportunity to learn about (and learn in) a part of the world that both surrounds and forms the United States.

Tell us a little about your project. What are you working on?
I am currently engaged in two different projects in Medellín, Colombia. First of all, I was hired for the summer to support the psychology team at an organization called Corporación Hogar, a residence for children and adolescents aged 10–18 who have been placed under state care due to situations of vulnerability, including abuse, neglect, and abandonment. These young people live, attend school, participate in extracurricular activities, and receive health services (including psychological attention) at Corporación Hogar for a period of roughly 1–18 months, until their home situation has been resolved or a more permanent placement has been found. My responsibilities at Corporación Hogar include assisting with individual, family, and group therapy, and completing clinical documentation and reports. Furthermore, I plan and teach an extracurricular English class of my own, as well as supporting all English classes at Corporación Hogar’s secondary school.

In addition to this internship, I am conducting research this summer for my BA thesis on the uses of music therapy and art therapy to address psychological trauma in Colombia. When I secured this position in Medellín and finalized my thesis topic around the same time this past spring, I realized I had been presented with a fantastic opportunity to take my thesis research even deeper and conduct interviews with various mental health practitioners throughout Colombia. The questions I hope to better understand through these interviews include: How are expressive therapies used to address trauma, at both the individual level and the community level? What roles do expressive therapies play in the process of peace and reconciliation? What do the experiences of mental healthcare providers reveal about (a) the impacts of recent conflict on mental health and (b) the intersections of mental health treatments with music and art in the Colombian context?

What led you to this topic? And why Colombia?
I believe the arts can be an incredibly powerful tool, and was fascinated to begin learning about the basic science behind this idea in high school after a friend recommended Oliver Sacks’s book Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain. In fact, for several years I considered pursuing music therapy as a career, and spent the “career week” of my senior year of high school shadowing several music therapists. Although I ultimately decided not to pursue this specific career path, the intersection of music and psychology once again grabbed my attention when brainstorming ideas for my Latin American Studies BA thesis this past spring. I chose to geographically focus my project on Colombia, primarily due to the history of armed conflict of the past half-century. Particularly in the aftermath of the peace accords of the past several years, there has been a great effort to address and reckon with the trauma that many Colombians have experienced, providing an opportunity to investigate where, how, and why the arts can be used to aid in this process.

How do you think this field research has contributed to your understanding of Latin America?
The truly independent and immersive quality of my experience this summer has been invaluable, as it has contributed to my understanding of Latin America in ways that cannot be learned in a classroom. While my previous experiences living in Latin America had been through organized programs, I did not have an orientation meeting or host family upon arrival in Colombia. Working at Corporación Hogar and conducting this field research in Colombia has been, to borrow a saying from my father, a bit like drinking from a fire hose. In the best way possible, it is all I can do to keep up with the amazing learning opportunities I have encountered both during and outside of my daily work. While challenging in some ways, this immersiveness has ultimately allowed me to deepen my understanding of Latin America and feel more connected to my field research.

What has been the most challenging aspect of conducting fieldwork in Colombia? What has been the most rewarding?
Despite my previous experience counseling young people at similar types of organizations in the United States, tackling such a role in Colombia has presented quite a learning curve. I was prepared to face some of the typical challenges of working in a different country, such as being unfamiliar with Colombian slang and having an outsider’s perspective on the region’s history. However, I was not entirely aware of the nuanced cultural knowledge that is necessary for this kind of work in the social services. When working in the United States, I have taken for granted an implicit understanding of the socio-cultural-economic contexts of different neighborhoods, familiarity with local laws and (even more important) their enforcement, and knowing what is and what is not considered a sensitive topic. Noticing these gaps in my knowledge and taking the time to educate myself about the subtle understandings I may be lacking has certainly been one of the more challenging, but nonetheless fascinating, aspects of my work this summer.

One of the many rewarding aspects of conducting fieldwork in Colombia has been connecting with individuals who have devoted their careers to the very ideas I am researching, especially when this connection occurred at unexpected moments. For example, during the second week of my internship, my tasks involved accompanying a child residing at Corporación Hogar to a specialized psychology appointment at an outside organization. Upon arriving at this organization and chatting with the staff, I discovered that the organization’s model is based entirely on the use of expressive therapies (play, dance, music, and art) with children who have experienced sexual abuse. One of the psychologists I met at this organization was eager to hear more about my thesis and ultimately agreed to participate in my research, all due to a chance encounter. Accidentally finding folks like this in Colombia who choose to use the arts in the healing process was an extremely fulfilling and rewarding part of my experience.

You’ll come back to UChicago this year and will write your thesis. What’s next for you after graduation?
A few years into the future I would like to pursue a master’s degree that will allow me to do social service work at a higher level, such as an MSW, but I plan to first get some more work experience under my belt. I wouldn’t mind moving to a city with less harsh winters than Chicago, so I am applying to various fellowships and jobs all across the United States, Mexico, Colombia, and beyond. When I envision my future work, skills developed through the Latin American Studies major and my fieldwork in Colombia such as openness, adaptability, bilingualism, and a global perspective are key. I look forward to bringing my interdisciplinary knowledge from the Latin American Studies major to what I hope will be an equally interdisciplinary career.