Alina, studying abroad at the Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
I know this sounds like a bad travel advertisement but, the Peruvian people are by far the most genuine and lovely human beings I have ever met in my life. One perfect example of that is the woman in charge of my university halls. I am one of I think five international students in my university. I am the only one that lives in the university international student house. When I arrived Rosita, the woman who takes care of the house and now me, was there to greet me. She is a 5-foot tall, ball shaped, 60-year-old woman with a loud laugh and a profound level of patience. There have been many occasions where she has had to repeat herself, quite honestly, 10 times. It’s really cute, she can now tell from my face when I actually understand and when I just pretend to. As most foreign students will relate to after saying “what?” and “I’m sorry I don’t understand” so many times, you just give up, nod, smile and hope they leave you alone. She really goes far beyond for me so I had to put a little bit about her in here, cause really, she’s just the best.
It’s one of the things I really love about the Latin culture; people really make the extra effort to open their home to you. In Peru everything revolves around the family and they quickly make you feel like you are a part of it.
My everyday life is going to class so instead of telling you about that… cause really it will take too long and I am already at three pages with this so instead, what I will do is tell you about what I really enjoy about being here.
1. FOOD. As anyone will tell you Peru is famous for its food. Lima houses some of the top restaurants in the world. People love to talk about it, everywhere I go one of the questions they ask me is, “So what have you eaten?” “What Peruvian food do you like?” Apparently it has arrived in London too, there’s a restaurant called Ceviche I have wanted to try in Soho. When I do, I will let you know if it holds up to the real thing.
Some of the wonderful things you will expect to find are: ceviche, papa huancaina, espagetti verde (literal translation green spaghetti), cuy (guinea pig), tacu tacu, cerdo seca, alfajores, anticuchos (pig heart), a large assortment of exotic fruits (I think I’ve eaten 5 different types of passion fruit alone) and picarones (Peruvian doughnuts)
Guinea pig was definitely a first… and I think a last, but apparently some people like it. I do not find myself to be one of them.
2. HISTORY. Literally I think that if I saw one new thing every weekend I still wouldn’t make it to everything that I want to see while I am here. There’s so much to see, its mind blowing. It’s like walking around an archaeologist’s dreamscape. Most things are yet to be discovered. And most places you visit are not yet completely excavated, which just means I have an excuse to come back!
3. LANDSCAPE. So ya, basically I never run out of things to do. Peru is a seriously diverse landscape. From most places along the coast you can see the sea, the desert and the mountains all at the same time. I have seen sand dunes, rain forests, huge valleys and steep cliffs along the sea, each one just as astonishingly beautiful as the last. I think the best thing I saw which is just so cool, I don’t know why it makes me so happy, but it does, was this old temple – only half uncovered by the sand for the desert on one side, on a cliff next to a river which was a wildlife reserve 5 meters from the sea. I’ve put a picture in because quite honesty I don’t know how to explain such a thing. I still am constantly amazed by what nature does sometimes.
4. LEARNING. This is a weird one. And I think more of a general studying in country where you don’t speak the language thing. When I first got here I basically became a 5 year old all over again. I could barely form sentences or really grasp what was going on around me so I just nodded along and went for the ride. Classes were no different. There was really no better accomplishment then walking into a seminar class and A.) following what everyone was saying, B.) Raising my hand and explaining the physiology of the adrenal gland on a cellular level in Spanish. – ok well it was Spanglish – but after hours of reading and practicing I learned something and could prove it. And damn it felt good.
This is not me saying it was easy or that I am the top student in my class, but for a few seconds I was queen of the world – my 15 seconds of fame as it were.
5. SAN MARTIN DE PORRES. It is the poorest district in Peru, and being in medical school kind of takes up my schedule a bit. Despite that, one of my favourite things about my course is that we worked weekly with two families in San Martin de Porres. I had the privilege of getting to know their life story, their struggles, their concerns, their illnesses and teach them as much about preventative health care measure they could take to improve their day-to-day lives.
The idea is to prevent illness through education which is a big problem in Peru as most places lack clean water, access to good health care, and little to no information about basic hygiene, food care, sex education and nutrition.
Working with my family in Manchay in San Martin de Porres
Some things I have learned about the year abroad so far:
It will push you:
Do not be mistaken it is not a year to lounge around and do nothing while you breeze though classes and visit new places unlimited by the confines of parents and university, it is hard. It is so hard. This year will push you in ways you would have never imagined. And I cant tell you what you will experience there is nothing and no one that can really prepare you for what you will have to overcome. And I don’t say this a cautionary warning to keep you from committing to a year abroad. But rather to say that this is a convenient way to discover your limitations and gain crucial life lessons in an amazingly short amount of time.
It will make you a stronger person:
The best part of the experience is that after all the crap that is thrown in your face and you stumble through every awkward situation you can handle pretty much anything that life will hit you with.
You will gain insight and understanding:
The result of your first hand experience and gained knowledge is respect. You will find yourself able to relate to every non-native English student, every lost tourist and every refugee alone in a city they don’t understand.
If you have any other questions or want to learn more about my year abroad you can visit my blog or email me, I’d be happy to answer any questions!