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Raising children across cultures

UMBC professor discusses recently released book on children raised in Sri Lanka

Ashley Parks

Staff Writer

 Dr. Bambi Chapin is an anthropology professor at UMBC. Over the summer, her book, Childhood in a Sri Lankan Village, was published. The book describes her observations of childrearing among Sinhalese families.

The lights were dim and gentle conversation permeated the silence of the library gallery. People were filtering in to take a seat in front of the podium or to deliver a hello and a handshake to Dr. Bambi Chapin. Chapin glided over to the podium to invite the guests to enjoy the refreshments before she began the discussion of her recently published story, Childhood in a Sri Lankan Village.

The reading and signing of Chapin’s new work was held for an intimate gathering of faculty and students in the early evening of Wednesday, Oct. 22. Currently an assistant professor teaching classes in psychological anthropology at UMBC, Chapin has researched the interactions and socialization of young Sinhalese children with their families. Her book, which was released over the summer, is the culmination of her time spent in a Sri Lankan village.

During her talk, she recounted observations of a stubborn young girl and her family. The girl, who was just a toddler in the story, was given anything she desired if she demanded it enough from her mother. Chapin said, “People felt they had to give. This is a cultural pattern I had been seeing for years.”

She later uncovered the meaning of these behaviors. The Buddhist families that she observed believed that desire was the root of evil, and exerting personal desires can place strain on relationships. Though the mother would always give what was demanded, she would hesitate or show reluctance before conceding to her daughter. The young girl’s brother developed feelings of agitation towards her as well. Chapin said, “I connected this to lessons children learn about desire growing up. It helps me to understand the interactions.”

She describes returning to the village several years after her initial visit and once again seeing the girl who had been spoiled during her younger years. At 11 years old, she had become shy and reluctant to receive gifts that Chapin offered her. Chapin connected this evidence to the observations of the girl’s early childhood socialization.

Chapin seems to have made an impact on her students here at UMBC. Natalie Macasa, a junior global studies major, is enrolled in Chapin’s medical anthropology class this semester and decided to attend the talk that evening. She said, “When she mentioned this talk, I really wanted to go. She is an amazing professor.”

Chapin has drawn conclusions about social behaviors in Sinhalese culture and has made comparisons to her own understanding and practice of child rearing in the western world. In reference to her own son, she said, “It made me aware that I’m passing on my own cultural awareness.” She continues to do this, not only for her son, but for her students and anyone else that is inspired to read her story.