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A Continent Away

Time December 18th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Well, I’m home.

It’s hard to find the right words to sum up my experience in Peru. All I can say is that it was an experience with its ups and downs, like any other, yet somehow unlike any other I have ever had before.

Several people have asked me whether, if I could go back in time knowing what I know now, I would choose it again. I don’t have an answer. I am in a different state of mind than I was when I made the decision and I can’t conceptualize going back in time and making that choice. All I know is that it was an experience that helped to shape me, taught me lessons, and opened my eyes and heart a bit to the unknown.

I miss my host parents. I miss the sound of the Spanish language. I miss the paltas, granadillas, aguaymantos, maracuya, galletas, jugos, arroz con leche, locro de zapallo, causa rellena, and chicha morada. I miss the deer on campus, the dogs in Villa el Salvador and the cats in the park. I miss nighttime yoga in Parque Reducto. I miss never having to wait more than 10 minutes for a combi. I miss bodegas. I miss days at Kulca, nights at Luz Roja and late-night Lucha trips. I miss lying on the grass in Sociales with friends between classes. I miss being able to walk to the ocean. I miss the daily excitement of navigating new experiences each time I walked out the door.

I don’t miss being an outsider. I don’t miss asking people to repeat themselves, más despacio por favor, otra vez?  I don’t miss being constantly honked at by taxis and catcalled by strange men on the street. I don’t miss nearly falling over with each jolt of the combi. I don’t miss living in someone else’s home and all of the uncertainties and awkwardness that came with it. I don’t miss being far from my family and friends. I don’t miss the gray Lima skies (though they’re starting to get sunny and blue now).

I do miss the people I met there, and I am holding out hope that I will see them again someday through our travels.

At our re-entry talk, we were given a quote from a former IFSA student, which ends with:

“Eventually, the foreign becomes familiar, the familiar the past, and home only gets bigger and bigger.”

For me, the familiar is not the past; returning to it I find it very much alive and present and changing, just as I am. But my home keeps expanding, and there’s no better way that I can sum up this return than with that quote, and this one:

“Still, there are times I am bewildered by each mile I have traveled, each meal I have eaten, each person I have known, each room in which I have slept. As ordinary as it all appears, there are times when it is beyond my imagination.”

– Jhumpa Lahiri

¡Gracias y hasta luego, Perú!


Palabras de Dina

Time December 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

Confession: this post has been drafted since September and never posted.

I need to tell you all how much I appreciate my host parents.


Klaus is Danish, and is quiet but has a great sense of humor and is friendly in his reserved way. He makes bread. Very good bread. And cooks lots of tasty things. Mostly meat, but also some great sauces and such. He has three degrees in three different types of engineering, and can fix just about anything. He built the top floor where he and Dina live, on what I believe used to be the roof.

Dina is native andina (from the Peruvian Andes). She is what I would call a “renaissance woman”. She has studied architecture, ceramics, dance, language, and who knows what else. She is the president of an NGO (though now retired) and has worked in various other capacities, including for the Peruvian government, throughout her life. She speaks Quechua, Spanish, Danish, some English, some French, and possibly more that I haven’t heard. She loves literature, poetry, art, photography, music, film… just about any form of artistic expression. She cooks delicious, varied, and mostly healthy food. Now that they are both retired, they host students, visitors, etc. in their home, turning it into a kind of bed-and-breakfast. It keeps her so busy that I’m not sure she can truly call herself retired. But she handles it all quite well, even when she has to wake up at 5am to let guests in or walk to the store at 9pm to get bread for the next morning’s breakfast.

The other thing that I really appreciate about them, and which assuaged my greatest concern about living with a host family, is that they are very straightforward about what they expect from me, what I can expect from them, what I am allowed to do, eat, etc. If I offer to help with dinner, do the dishes, etc., there’s no ambiguity or back-and-forth, Dina will either say yes or no. All of this means that I feel very comfortable and relatively certain of my place in the house, my duties and privileges. That’s huge.

Dina is endlessly interesting. Our daily conversations range from what we did that day, to the history of Miraflores’ architecture, to differences between cultures, to life in general and advice. The other evening, at dinner, Dina started giving me advice on what is important in a significant other. “Palabras de Dina,” she said ceremoniously, and smiled to herself. She told me that when she or Klaus would say something didactic, they would say “palabras de Dina (or Klaus)” and the other would say “Amen.” Their little way of laughing at themselves and not taking themselves too seriously.

So, some palabras de Klaus:

  • Tus notas, tu carrera, tus clases no importan. Lo único que importa es tu diploma y el primer trabajo que tienes. Esos deciden tu futura, nada más. / Your grades, your major, your classes don’t matter. The only thing that matters is your diploma and the first job that you get. Those decide your future, nothing more.

and palabras de Dina:

  • Siempre comer algo cocido con algo crudo. / Always eat something cooked with something raw (for vitamins).
  • Escoja alguién con un buen sentido de humor. / Choose someone (a significant other) with a good sense of humor.
  • Una mala experiencia, tambien es parte de la experiencia que nos sirve en la vida. / A  bad experience is also part of the experience that serves us in life.
  • Eres jóven; ¡disfruta la vida! ¡Puedes dormir cuando estás jubilada! / You’re young; enjoy life! You can sleep when you’re retired!



Celebrations and Feasts and Goodbyes

Time December 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

It’s time to give thanks.

It started with Thanksgiving, which we celebrated in the IFSA office with a big potluck feast. I made 2 pumpkin pies, 2 chocolate-pecan pies, and a peach pie! Despite some obstacles and mishaps, they turned out pretty well.

The next night we had our goodbye dinner-show at La Candelaria! It was a showcase of various forms of traditional Peruvian dance. It was very touristy, and they were aware of that — at the end, they asked all foreigners to come up on stage and do a dance that represented their countries. Needless to say, IFSA represented the U.S. pretty well with the YMCA dance 😉

Sunday was my host dad’s birthday! We celebrated with a brunch on the newly finished rooftop patio. It was an absolutely lovely afternoon. I made a coffeecake, which despite some difficulties with the oven was a huge hit among the guests, and Klaus (host dad) himself. There was wayyyy too much food.

Then, this Thursday, we had a talk about going home and “reverse culture shock”, then the despedida (farewell) in the IFSA office. The students and our host parents came, and several of our NGO directors and co-volunteers stopped by as well. Hannah, Michelle, and Roxana from CEDED came with a poster drawn by some of the kids to thank us, and t-shirts printed by the adolescent group.

Friday, our beloved directora del programa left. :(

From now on, students will be slowly trickling out as they finish their finals and catch their planes home.

So now it’s time for me to give thanks.

Thanks to Lali, nuestra directora muy querida. You have done so much for us, from the first hug to the last… from welcoming us and feeding us and scaring the hell out of us about safety and then reassuring us that it’s not all bad, to picking us up from Barranco at 5am when we got robbed (I still owe you an ice cream for that)… to helping us deal with problems and miscommunications and obstacles every step of the way… thank you for everything.

Thanks to Mama Laura and Maria Elena, for always being there with a hug and a kind word and a smile, and for doing all the work behind the scenes to make sure everything went smoothly.

Thanks to all the patas, for introducing us to Peruvian life and helping us with translations and turning in two essays for me when I couldn’t make it to PUCP in time (Diana) and showing us your favorite spots and generally being good friends.

Thanks to the CEDED folks (employees, volunteers and kids) for making my volunteering enjoyable! You are all great.

Thanks to my Peruvian friends and acquaintances and professors for being kind and understanding to my gringa self.

Thanks to the IFSA gringada for being your chévere selves. We had a great semester. Keep in touch!

Thanks to my yunta, Drew, for going through just about everything with me, good and bad, and still being my yunta through it all.

And to my host parents… they get their own post.

Just over a week until I board my plane home. Aside from doing 4 projects and a final exam, I’m going to try to make the best of it!


The Last IFSA Trip: El Carmen

Time November 25th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last weekend we went on our final IFSA trip of the semester, to the El Carmen district of Chincha, in Ica province. Chincha, and specifically El Carmen, has a rich Afro-Peruvian and indigenous history, and to this day El Carmen is a hub of Afro-Peruvian culture.

We stayed at Huaranjapo – a former hacienda (plantation) turned into a hotel/resort. It’s a beautiful place, but uncomfortably reminiscent of its past — it is still owned by a light-skinned woman and staffed by mixed, indigenous and Afro-Peruvian workers who do the cleaning and cooking.

We spent some time learning about the history and culture – a talk by Carlos, director of the Afro Peruvian NGO Cimarrones and the coordinator of the trip; a lesson in Afro-Peruvian musical instruments such as the cajón, lessons in zapateo (an Afro-Peruvian style of tap dancing) and festejo (another Afro-Peruvian dance), and a visit to a huaca (indigenous ruin) nearby.

We spent the rest of the time lounging by the pool or in hammocks, walking through the town, and enjoying the magnificent sunshine (a little too much – I’m still sunburned a week later) and each other’s company. It was a very relaxing weekend.


Things We See in Lima: Part 2

Time November 15th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

  • a taxi containing one man and several very large bags of frozen raw french fries
  • a party micro with scantily-clad women dancing in the aisle
  • a taxi with the word “DANGEROUS” (in English) emblazoned in large white stylized decal letters on the windshield
  • a taxi with “SUCCED” in decal letters on the windshield
  • all seen within 15 minutes in Villa El Salvador:
    • a mototaxi with a strobe light hanging near the driver’s head, because that’s really safe.
    • a taxi with a blacklight inside
    • a combi with a blacklight inside
  • a serenazgo walking through Parque Kennedy blowing bubbles
  • a man holding a pooper-scooper up to his dog’s behind to save the step of picking up the poop from the ground
  • a man lying back and steering his motorcycle with his feet
  • this:  dscn4577



Savoring Lima

Time November 12th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Now that parciales are over, I have a few more interesting things to tell you about my life in Lima.

IFSA has started offering cooking classes in the office with the wonderful Señora Maria! There have been three so far, and I attended all of them. In the first one, she taught us how to make papa a la huancaina and arroz con pollo. In the second, we learned causa rellena and lomo saltado. In the third one, we made quinoa pesque and arroz con leche. All Peruvian criollo classics, all delicious! And of course, we got to eat the results.

There have also been some nice visits! A family friend, who is Peruvian but lives in the US now, came to visit her brother in Lima for a few days. It turns out he lives a few blocks from me! So I met them for dinner at La Lucha (a great sandwich joint by Parque Kennedy) one night. It was great to see someone from home and to meet someone new here.

I also met some of my friend Drew’s family friends, who came to Peru on vacation and stayed in Miraflores for a few days. Showing them around Miraflores made me feel a bit more like a local, or at least a bit more like this is my home.

I finally started buying all of the unknown fruits I see in the grocery store! I’ve fallen in love with aguaymantos (goldenberries in English), granadillas, maracuya (passion fruit) juice, and lucuma-flavored things! Lucuma isn’t really eaten raw but it has a wonderful, light, sweet flavor perfect for ice cream and other desserts. Another cool thing I’ve discovered is plátanos de isla, which look like a shorter plumper version of the bananas we’re used to, but are peachy-orange on the inside! They have a slightly different flavor, too. I tried a chirimoya once, a bizarre fruit that’s green on the outside with white, creamy flesh inside, and I didn’t like it. I’m not sure if that particular one that wasn’t ripe enough or was somehow off, but I haven’t been brave enough to try another one since.

I discovered (thanks to my friend Ciara) yoga classes in a nearby park for 5 soles, every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday evening. Yoga in the fresh night air, with the sky above and grass below my feet, with the instructor’s rich, deep, soothing voice, is a magnificent experience. I plan to go twice a week from now on.

Only 6 weeks left! Time has flown. It’s time to start checking off some things on my Lima bucket list… and doing all of the projects and essays and presentations that come with the end of the semester! But for now, I’m savoring a more relaxed side of life.


Parciales and the Ironic Communications Fiasco

Time October 28th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hello! I have emerged from my parciales (midterms) cocoon. The amount of time spent in cafés studying and writing over the last 3 weeks… well, let’s just say I’ve become acquainted with every café within a 1 mile radius of my house, and patas with the waitress at my favorite café.

I had my IFSA exams first, and they were not bad. The Spanish class exam was 2 essay questions on a story by Peruvian author Julio Ramón Ribeyro. The Peruvian Social Reality exam was 2 short essay questions about the readings for the class. I did well on the Spanish one, and haven’t gotten the other one back yet.

Then I had an exam for Legislation in Communications. That one was scary. Being the only gringa taking a test about the Peruvian government system and legislation, and not knowing what level of detail the professor would ask us for, I was nervous. I still don’t know how I did on it, but I felt like I knew at least a passable amount of the answers. And that’s all I need, to pass, since these classes won’t affect my GPA.

For my Ethnicity class, there was an essay due, so that just left Communications for Development. And that’s where it got interesting.

This midterm was a group project, which he assigned 2 weeks before its due date. We were to create a communications plan to help Peru achieve the Millenium Development Goals, writing 10-15 pages in groups of 5 people.

I formed a group with my Peruvian friend (we’ll call her F) and 2 others. Plus, apparently, one more who I never met and who wasn’t in class that day. We exchanged contact info during class and agreed to read the background material and then contact each other to meet up and do the project.

Thursday, 5 days before it is due:

I have still heard nothing. F messages me on Facebook about meeting on Saturday. I tell her I’d be able to. I look at the contact info I had been given, and it turns out that I only have the email address of one other group member. So I ask F to please contact the others and let me know what is decided.

Friday (T-4 days):

I send F a Facebook message asking if we are still planning on meeting on Saturday. No answer.

Saturday comes and goes. I send F a text message. No answer.

Sunday (T-2 days):

I send an email to the two addresses I have. F responds that she has done the whole project herself. Well, at least someone has done something.

Monday (T-1 day):

The other girl (we’ll call her M) responds. It turns out that M had sent a couple of emails to my PUCP email only (even though I gave her 2 email addresses and a phone number) and I had completely forgotten to check that one. M tells me that the other 2 (whose names to this day I do not know) have split off and done their own project after not hearing anything from us. She wants to meet Tuesday morning with F and me at 8 am, before we have to turn it in between 10 and 12.

After calling F, M tells me that I should help F, and that “Me dijo q hizo d tuberculosis” which means that F was doing the project on the topic of tuberculosis, but somehow (knowing that F was sick) I take to mean that F had tuberculosis. I email F to see what I can help with. No response.

Tuesday morning, 8 am (T-4 hours):

I arrive at the university. I call M to see where she is. No answer. I call F. No answer. I go to the library to wait, figuring that because of la hora peruana they are probably still on the way. I send a Facebook message to both.

8:45 am:

I receive a message that M is on her way.

9:50 am:

M arrives. She asks what I’ve been working on. Nothing, since I had no clue what had been or needed to be done. F is still nowhere to be found. After clearing up the tuberculosis misunderstanding, M and I start frantically researching. And calling F.

11:50 am:

We receive an email from the professor saying that he is still awaiting our project and that if it arrives after 12:00 it will be a zero on the midterm. Although we’ve only managed to put together 1.5 pages because M seemed more concerned about formatting than content, we rush to the building, and M goes to print it while I run and try to explain to the professor what’s happening and beg for more time. Thankfully, the professor is merciful and grants us until the end of the day to complete the project and turn it in to his secretary.

12:30 pm:

We see F. She has just turned in her version of the project, with all of our names on it.

We stare dumbfounded at each other for a while.

Finally F goes to explain the situation again to the professor and he allows us to put our parts together and turn in a final, complete project by the next morning. So we do.


Somehow we managed to turn in a decent project. But ironically enough, this communications project was the biggest communication disaster of my life.

This project, with the same group, will evolve into our final project. Everyone please cross your fingers that I pass this class.


The Time We Discovered the Limits of the Mototaxi

Time October 21st, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

On Saturday night I went to a meeting for volunteers at CEDED, the organization I’ve been working for in Villa El Salvador. It was a good and productive meeting, in which we discussed strengths and challenges for the team, and how to improve our work. Then we went for pizza at Inkafe, a short ways away.

Now, the way that everyone gets around in Villa El Salvador, especially in the parts without paved roads, such as where CEDED is located, is by mototaxi. They are cute little 3-wheeled vehicles that look like this:



So, for some reason someone had the idea that all of us could fit into 2 mototaxis to go the 10 minutes to the restaurant. That meant putting 5 adults and a baby in one mototaxi. Three of us sat down and two others climbed onto our laps, and we set off. A few hundred feet down the dirt road, the driver hit some sort of bump or hole, and the next thing we knew we were sideways. The mototaxi had tipped over. We all climbed out, with the assistance of several kind neighbors who had come out to help, and luckily all were unharmed except for one young lady, who had landed on the bottom when it fell, and complained that her shoulder was hurting. She had broken her collarbone. She went immediately to the hospital and is now awaiting surgery.

Two of us got into another mototaxi to meet the rest of the group at the restaurant. They had arrived just fine, despite having just as many people (but several were kids). We were assured that this kind of thing does not usually happen. I think I just have bad luck with motorized vehicles.

Sending best wishes for a speedy recovery to my dear Michelle.

(Note to IFSA people: this is NOT the Michelle from IFSA.)

P.S. Stay tuned for an update on parciales (midterms).


The Culture Shock Curve

Time October 11th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

During orientation, we had a talk about culture shock. It’s what happens when you enter a new culture for an extended period of time and are suddenly confronted with cultural differences. And they say it’s a curve that looks like this:



Well, the robbery plunged me down to the bottom of the curve. For the next week or so, I wanted to go home, I felt like everyone here was against me, like everything was unsafe, like just about everything was bad… I may or may not have caused a scene on the combi when I thought the cobrador was trying to cheat me out of my little bit of remaining money (it turned out that I had, in fact, actually pulled out a 10 cent coin and given it to him instead of the 5 sol coin that I’d thought was the only one in my pocket)…

Now I’m past all that, in humor phase and going upward.

But while I’m here, I’ll tell you about some cultural differences that can be shocking for U.S.-ians (I use the term U.S.-ians because America includes a lot more than just the United States – Peruvians are Americans too!):

  • Most Peruvians walk veeerryyy slowly. I often find myself maneuvering around them to go twice their speed. And that’s just when I’m walking normally.
  • They talk very quietly. Their version of speaking up/yelling is quieter than the average U.S.-ian’s speaking voice.
  • Personal space is a very different concept. The clearest example is the combis; someone may be literally smushed against you and it doesn’t seem to faze them.
  • Traffic in Lima: Lane lines are mere suggestions. Stoplights are slightly stronger suggestions.
  • Students generally live at home through college rather than living on/near campus, which changes the college environment. Sometimes they live at home for many, many years beyond college. It’s not so rare for a 30-some-year-old to be living with their parents.
  • There is no schedule for the combis. You just go to a paradero and wait until one shows up. What’s great, though, is that you’ll rarely have to wait more than 5-10 minutes for one, whereas in the U.S. it could be an hour. Also, fun fact, I realized the other day that despite leaving within the same 15 minute window almost every day, I have yet to take the same vehicle to school more than once.
  • Toilets. You can’t put toilet paper in the toilet, you have to put it in the trash can. Apparently this is because of low water pressure.
  • Peruvian time. Class officially starts at 10? That means it might start anywhere between 10:00 and 10:40. Friend says they’re meeting you at 6? They leave their house around 6. (I personally love this because it’s a lot closer to the way I function, and I find it much more relaxed.)

So, it can all be a bit shocking. But I’m starting to appreciate all of these things more and more. And I certainly would never say that my culture is objectively better, or vice versa. It’s just a learning curve.


(P.S. I have to correct something I said in a previous post, while I’m at it. When I mentioned the guys with clipboards who write down info about the combis — I called them frecuenciadores, because I saw one wearing a hat that said frecuenciador — I was wrong about exactly what goes on. According to our Peruvian Social Reality teacher, they’re called dataderos, because they keep data on the combis that pass. When a cobrador pays them a few cents they relay some numbers to the cobrador, who usually yells them to the driver. I’m still mystified by what these magical numbers mean — it’s 3 in a row, sometimes with the word “libres” at the end. E.g. Cuatro, siete, tres libres! If anyone finds out what they mean, please tell me!)

(P.P.S. My Peruvian friend told me that only the smallest vehicles are actually called combis, and the medium-sized ones that I usually take are called microsWe IFSA people just refer to them all as combis. Oops!)


The Long-Awaited Cusco and Machu Picchu Trip!

Time October 8th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

6 days and 453 photos later, I’m back from the long-awaited Cusco trip!

It was packed with beautiful sights, heights, ruins, animals, markets, food, and fun. Even though many of us were or became sick during the trip, we all enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

On Wednesday we flew into Cusco, took a bus to our hotel to drink coca tea (coca leaves increase oxygen in the blood and help prevent altitude sickness! and yes, these are the same coca leaves from which cocaine is made, but no, they are not a drug in their natural form), enjoy some quinoa soup, and rest for a while, then hopped back on the bus to tour some ruins! We visited Sacsayhuaman, Coricancha, Qenqo, Pucapucara, and Tambomachay.

The next day we were originally supposed to head out of Cusco by bus again, but there was a huge strike in Cusco and its surroundings that prevented transportation out of the city, so we switched Thursday with Sunday, our scheduled free day. I went with a friend to the craft market that had been recommended to us, and bought a bunch of lovely gifts at good prices. Along the way, we saw the strikers marching. We returned to the hotel to rest, then had dinner at a great vegetarian restaurant, El Encuentro.

Friday, we visited Pisac, Ollantaytambo, Urubamba, and Aguana Cancha. We befriended some llamas and alpacas, learned how their wool is processed into yarn and woven into fabric, went on a lovely hike with fabulous views, ate at a buffet of local cuisine, climbed up the ruins of Ollantaytambo, and finally made our way to the train station for a ride to Aguas Calientes, the town at the base of Machu Picchu.

Saturday was Machu Picchu day! We headed up at 6am in the hope of seeing the sunrise. Alas, it was not to be, but we were still glad to get there before the hordes of tourists started to overwhelm the place. We took a bus up, walked around, took the obligatory photos, waited out some rain (which actually may have just been a cloud passing through us), explored the ruins, and then hiked up Huayna Picchu, the mountain behind Machu Picchu in all the photos! It was a steep but enjoyable hike, and I felt like I was on top of the world when we reached the peak. After making our way down in the early afternoon, we had lunch in Aguas Calientes and some (not I) went to the baños termales (hot baths/springs). Finally, we returned by train to Cusco.

Machu Picchu was absolutely stunning, magnificent, everything I had imagined and so much more. I gazed at it and tried to envision living there long ago when the city was in its heyday. I could imaging kids playing on the big open grassy spaces, people greeting each other, going about  their lives. I have no idea what their lives were like, but it was fun to wonder. The mountains and valleys spread out below us in all directions, clouds hovering nearby, rivers flowing, and everything seemed simultaneously so ethereal yet so absolutely real. It is truly a wonder of the world.

The next day was our last, and we arose bright and early to pile into the bus and set off into the countryside. Around 10am we reached our first destination: a completely organic, sustainable farm cooperative in beautiful Yanaoca. They served us a second breakfast and showed us their gardens and animals. We also visited the Instituto para una Alternativa Agraria, where we learned about some innovative, sustainable, environmentally friendly farm equipment and solar ovens! After that, we went to lunch – another homegrown feast – nearby, which unfortunately we were still too full from second breakfast to fully appreciate, but we tried little bits of everything and it sure was delicious. Finally we headed up to la Casa Hogar de María de Nazareth, an orphanage and home for girls. The girls, ages 2 to 18, live and study there, either because they have had troubled home lives, their parents could not afford to keep them at home, or their families live too far from the nearest school. They danced and performed for us, and then we sang for them and danced with them. We then presented them with gifts from each of their “godparents” through ADENAR, the organization created by Lali, our program director, and Brenda, one of the patas. After listening to Britney Spears and Barbie Girl in Quechua with the girls, we said goodbye to them and to two of our own – Drew and San – who stayed for a week with the girls, and returned to Cusco. We flew home to Lima the next morning.

It was a lovely trip! It made some wonder why they chose gray urban Lima rather than beautiful Cusco for the semester, but it also gave some of us a greater appreciation for Lima vs. the tourist haven that is Cusco. I must admit, at times I felt uncomfortable riding around in a big tour bus through small rural towns and entering people’s homes. And in Cusco itself, people viewed us as just another gringo tourist, often spoke English to us even when we tried to speak Spanish, and it just generally felt like a vacation rather than a home. So as much as I enjoyed the scenery and the experience of this trip, and as much as I hope to go back someday to visit Cusco again, I was glad to return to Lima at the end.



Time September 23rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last Friday I went to Mistura, the biggest food festival in Latin America! Needless to say, it was basically my heaven. I posted about it on my food blog, so go check it out!



Time September 16th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

On Saturday, the whole group went on a trip to Caral. It is the oldest civilization in the Americas, and second oldest (after Mesopotamia) in the world! We met bright and early for a 5 hour bus ride, then had a guided tour of the site.

The site itself is a barren, dry desert of sand, but the inhabitants used the green, lush valley nearby for agriculture and then kept food and water in storage areas. They also sometimes went to the sea and fished. They built pyramids, structures, a whole city of stone. It was really interesting to see! And, as a bonus, it was warm and sunny!

Then we stopped for a tasty lunch. For me, Ocopa Arequipeña, Tortilla de Verduras y Arroz. We also stopped for some picarones, an Afroperuvian sweet of fried dough topped with honey.

Good day!


First Month

Time September 9th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

We have now been in Lima for just over a month! Wow.

I’ve learned three different combis that will take me to/from the university, and which one not to take because it takes almost twice as long.

I’ve learned where to buy groceries (the mercado, the supermercado, the gourmet supermercado, or the bioferia on Sundays), where to eat on campus, where to do my laundry (the laundromat two blocks from my house for 3 soles per kilo), where to get the best ice cream in Lima (near the mercado), some good and some not-so-good cafés and restaurants, etc.

I’ve learned how to get from the university to my volunteer work in Villa el Salvador, a 2-hour journey consisting of a combi, the metropolitano (bus that goes in a straight north-south line like a train), the alimentador of the metropolitano (another bus that extends its route), and two mototaxis (cute little 3-wheeled vehicles that drive people around the area).

The organization I’m volunteering with is called CEDED (Centro para el Desarrollo con Dignidad), or Building Dignity. One day a week I go there to tutor kids with any homework help they need. I’m also doing some marketing/communications work for CEDED, starting with their bi-monthly newsletters.

I’ve learned which professors start exactly on time, which one starts exactly 15 minutes late (and locks the door at minute 15!), and which one meanders in 20-40 minutes late.

I’m taking the two program classes (Peruvian Social Reality, and Advanced Spanish and Peruvian Culture), plus Legislation in Communications, Communications for Development: Theoretical Perspectives, and Ethnicity and Ethnic Minorities. The two communications classes are pretty much exactly as their titles would imply. They’re pretty tough, because they are taught in the Facultad de Comunicaciones meaning that they are fairly advanced classes and, of course, completely in Spanish. I’m almost the only gringa in both of them. Ethnicity and Ethnic Minorities is taught by the same professor who teaches Peruvian Social Reality (he’s great!) and focuses on Afro-Peruvians and other African-Latino-Americans, their history and current issues.

Fun fact for Spanish speakers: in Peru you don’t tomar un curso, you llevar un curso. Also, acá aquí.

I’ve discovered that instant coffee can actually be good (only in Peru).

I’ve heard this song more than is probably healthy.

I’ve eaten more potatoes than is probably healthy.

Oh, and I finally managed to pet a deer.

What a month!


Some Serious Talk About Safety

Time September 6th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I don’t want to scare you… but actually I do want to scare you. At least enough to prevent what happened to me last weekend from happening to you.

On Saturday night, some of us went out to a bar/club in Barranco (the town next to Miraflores). A friend and I left around 3am and got a taxi on the street (something we’d been warned not to do but everyone in our group including Peruvian patas would do all the time anyway). The taxista drove us to an empty street where two men were waiting. They opened the doors, took all of our stuff, pulled us out of the taxi (which promptly sped away) and ran.

We were incredibly lucky that all they wanted were our purses. We were also lucky enough that the taxista had driven in almost a completely straight line since the bar, so we could find our way back and enlist the help of the kind workers to contact our program director. Walking through the nearly-deserted dark streets with no phone, no money, and no idea whether we would be able to get home or get help was the most terrifying experience of my life.

And I had heard about what could happen. In fact, we’d had an entire security talk at orientation, much of which was about the potential dangers of taxis in Lima. And how to avoid said dangers. But we hadn’t paid enough attention. As I said, pretty much no one in the group would spend the time and the extra few soles to call the secure taxi company that IFSA told us to use. We’d been told to check that the doors opened from the inside, then lock them and open the window slightly, all of which we did (but of course the door locks were tampered with so they didn’t actually work). We were told to call (or pretend to call) someone saying that we were on our way, where we were, what the taxi looked like, and how soon we would arrive. We did not do that right away, and by the time I had my phone in my hand, about to do so, it was too late.

The stuff I lost is replaceable. It’s just stuff. I’m still pretty traumatized, though, and this happened right as I was beginning to feel safer, more trusting, and less scared of the city. I will never forget the sensation of utter vulnerability and helplessness that I felt that night. And I may never get into another taxi in Lima. But what’s done is done, and I learned to actually heed safety instructions from people who know these things. And I realized that it’s a lot cheaper to pay for a safe taxi than a new phone, keys, debit cards, ID, jacket, and ipod.

Last week I assured my parents that as scary as the security talk made this city seem, we would be fine if we followed all of IFSA’s advice. And now I know to put the emphasis on “all”.

“But (life’s) a journey and the sad thing is you only learn from experience, so as much as someone can tell you things, you have to go out there and make your own mistakes in order to learn.” -Emma Watson

Here, have some baby otters to cheer you up.


Ica & Nazca

Time September 3rd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Last weekend I went on a trip to the towns of Ica and Nazca. Several of us IFSA students went, but we went in three different groups based on people’s schedules (some left Thursday night, some Friday morning, some Friday afternoon). I went with the Friday morning group. We left bright and early at 7am and got into Ica in the early afternoon. After finding our way to the hostel and some food, we went to Huacachina – an oasis in a desert of sand dunes!

We went on a dune buggy (it was like being in a rollercoaster without the track, kinda scary but so much fun!) and then stopped out in the dunes for some sandboarding! It’s like snowboarding, but in sand. You can slide down on your stomach, sitting down, or standing up. I was good at the first two…

As you can see, we also serendipitously met up with one of the other IFSA groups on their dune buggy! They had left the night before and spent the morning/early afternoon doing a wine tour in Ica — that area is known for wine and pisco, the national liquor of Perú, made from grapes. So we ended up on the dunes at the same time!

We spent the evening in Huacachina before returning to Ica. The next morning we walked around the lovely little town of Ica for a bit…

…and then got on the 2 hour bus to Nazca.

In Nazca, we got some chifa, explored a bit, and then met up with the third IFSA group to relax and chat on the rooftop terrace of our hostel.

The next morning we went to see the Nazca lines! Las líneas de Nasca. Nazca’s desert terrain is covered with dark gray rocks, above a layer of much lighter sand. Out in the pampas (flatlands) just outside of the town, there are several lines and geoglyphs. It is believed that the ancient inhabitants of Nazca created these designs by removing darker colored rocks to expose the lighter sand beneath, and many of these designs have managed to remain intact to this day! There are various theories as to the meaning or purpose of the lines, ranging from the idea that they were used as a calendar, for agricultural purposes, religious significance, artistic value, or even that they were created by extraterrestrials.

Rather than paying for a pricey and risky plane or helicopter ride over the lines, we got a guide to drive us around to the miradores (metal structures that can be climbed to view the lines from above) and to the museum of Maria Reiche, the woman who is best known for research and preservation of the lines.

Unfortunately, that day we happened to be driving right into a dust storm.

It certainly made it more exciting.

The whole weekend was adrenaline-filled, sand-filled, interesting, and just plain fun! It was also a great way to bond with some other IFSA students and really get to know each other. I’m so glad I went!


Things We See in Lima

Time August 22nd, 2013 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

a list compiled by myself and Drew

  • two parents running across the street, lifting their little girl up by each arm between them and carrying her across as she gaped openmouthed at the traffic
  • a woman riding a bicycle while playing a mini harmonica
  • a woman on the sidewalk, upon seeing the driver of my combi, grinning and holding out her arms like a hug, walking toward the combi, and coming within inches of actually hugging the combi before going around to his window and embracing him
  • a businesswoman, wearing a full suit and a wool poncho, riding a motorcycle
  • a sign for an office of podología, consisting of a giant pink foot with a photo of a smiling woman’s face superimposed on the sole (it’s weirder than I can explain in words)
  • a combi cobrador (money-collector) unable to get to the  frecuenciador (one of the men with clipboards who stand at various streets and record the times that combis pass, and who are systematically bribed by the cobradores not to report lateness) in time, throwing a coin at him with all his might as the combi pulled away
  • two combis holding up a street full of traffic for two full green light cycles by stopping next to each other so the two drivers could chit-chat
  • an old volkswagen beetle towing another old volkswagen beetle
  • a guy cleaning his ears with one of the tools on his swiss army knife
  • two massive vultures chilling on the roof of one of the PUCP buildings
  • This. What a name.

Week 2 of Orientation

Time August 19th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

¡Habla! (Yo!)

We just finished orientation, which means from now on it’s time to venture into real life in Lima (whoa!)

On Monday, we went to the university to learn about classes and registration. Then we returned to the office for a discussion of the Peruvian education system and “kursin wanouwan” (Cursing 101, a.k.a. how to respond if someone harrasses you on the street and how to know whether someone is insulting you or just being playful).

On Tuesday, we played games with our patas, in teams. The games included musical chairs, Twister, charades, a scavenger hunt in Miraflores, the spoon-egg-run, egg toss, and a game in which Lali (the directora) asked us questions and we had to run to our patas to answer the question first.

My team won! Our fabulous prize was a free ticket to Mistura, a gigantic food festival in Lima in early-mid September. I am beyond excited.

Then we went to Rustica, a local chain, for a buffet of Peruvian foods. Yum! It was Aileen’s birthday, so the waitstaff played a drum and sang happy birthday with us.

The next morning, the NGOs (ONGs en español) that we will have the chance to work with spoke to us about what they do and what we can do for them. The NGOs that came were CEDED/Building Dignity, La Casa de Panchita, La Semilla, and ADENAR (founded by Lali!). I think that I will work with either CEDED or La Semilla.

After the NGO presentations, we had a workshop about managing stress. That night, we went to the premiere of the movie “Viaje a Tombuctú”, written and directed by our Spanish class professor! It was a very enjoyable film, and although fictional it dealt with Peruvian history and the “Shining Path”.

Thursday was the course fair at PUCP, and that night we went on a Mirabus tour of Lima. It was lovely to see the city at night! We stopped at the Parque de la Reserva, a park near central Lima with lots of gorgeous fountains! The most exciting was the Fuente Laberinto del Ensueño, or Labyrinth Fountain, which sprays in varied patterns and the goal is to get to the center and back without getting wet!

Friday we had one-on-one meetings with Lali and Mama Laura to make sure that everything is going well with our host families and choosing classes, etc. Speaking of which, classes start Monday! I’m excited but of course it means getting back into the swing of school, homework, etc. Oh well. Although so far it has felt like a vacation, this is in fact a study abroad.

Friday I also bought an alpaca sweater from the craft fair in Parque Kennedy (a park very close to my house) and I love it! So warm and cozy :)

Saturday, a few of us went to the “Choco Museo” — a small chocolate museum (mainly a cafe and gift shop, but also gave information on cocoa, the chocolate-making process, and other such things). We sampled cacao tea, some pure handmade chocolate, and some choice items from the cafe. I had a mocha made from Peruvian coffee and Peruvian chocolate and a piece of torta de chocolate, chocolate cake. Others sampled their specialty hot chocolate, a chocolate chip cookie, and a chocolate alfajor. Alfajores are distinctly Peruvian cookies — two shortbread-like cookies sandwiched with manjar, a caramely paste very similar to dulce de leche. They’re divine, and with chocolate I’d venture to say that they’re even better! And of course I had to buy the tea, and a keychain with the picture from the movie “Chocolat” – it’s one of my favorites.

In other news, I’ve started keeping a list of “things I see on the streets of Lima”, and I can’t wait to share it with you all 😉 stay tuned!



La Primera Semana (The First Week)

Time August 13th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Hola, todos.

*record scratch noise*

Oh, right, switching to English mode.

This week has been a whirlwind.

I arrived in Lima at 11pm and the next morning began the orientation. We met the other IFSA students and our “patas” (Peruvian slang for pals/buddies/friends) from the university. We talked about the program, culture shock, and what to expect. We had a fantastic lunch at Mangos, a Peruvian buffet restaurant by the beach in Miraflores (the area of Lima in which I am living). Then we walked over to the Parque del Amor.

Then, we met our host families.

That’s my host mom, Dina! She and her husband Klaus have been hosting students (and other people who come to Lima for various reasons) for a long time. They are incredibly nice, friendly, and understanding. Dina always speaks slowly and clearly so that I can understand her, which is really wonderful because it’s taking some time for my ears to adjust to the rapid Spanish spoken here. They are very easygoing – she lets us come and go as we wish, she’ll talk with me and ask about my day when she sees me but doesn’t mind when I’m in my room or not around, and if I miss a mealtime she’ll save my food and I can serve myself. They call it “autoservicio gentil y amable” (friendly and courteous self-service). 😉

Oh, also, I am no longer vegetarian. I wrote on my host family matching sheet that I would be willing to be flexible (if I’m in someone else’s house eating their food, I don’t want to be rude or cause problems), so Dina and Klaus have been serving meat dishes. Luckily, they are really good cooks and make tasty sauces and such so I don’t really mind. And they don’t force me to eat anything I don’t want to, so one night when I didn’t want the meatballs they served, it was completely fine and I ate the potato dish that went with it.

Speaking of potatoes, Dina said that there are about 5000 species here in Peru! Isn’t that amazing? They certainly do love their potatoes, and even though I used to not be much of a fan, I really like the ones I’ve eaten here. Dina had some the other night that looked plain and brown with the skins on, but inside had designs of deep indigo swirled into white. So cool.

The second day, we had the “charla de seguridad” (security/safety talk), aptly called the “I’m-going-to-scare-the-crap-out-of-you talk” by our directora. It was definitely scary – we talked about the many many things that we need to be aware of to avoid getting robbed (stealing is an art form in Lima), abducted, etc., especially in taxis and combis (the public buses of Lima). Needless to say, when we took a combi to the university two days later I was a bit worried. But our patas helped us out, and it all went smoothly.

The third day, we went to the center of Lima and did some sightseeing. We went to two different cathedrals and the crypt in one of them. We also passed through a little craft fair and went to a Chifa (Chinese-Peruvian restaurant) for lunch.

There we also tried the radioactive yellow, bubble-gum-flavored soda called Inca Kola. It’s… interesting. I hear it’s an acquired taste.

On Friday, we went to the university (first combi ride!) and walked around the campus, had lunch in the cafeteria, then took our Spanish placement exams. The campus is lovely, and there are deer that just hang out on campus! They are surprisingly calm and unafraid of people.

So, that was the first week of orientation! We had the weekend free, so when I wasn’t finishing my exam (online), Skyping, talking to my host parents and their various guests, or writing this post, I walked around Miraflores a bit and did some grocery shopping. But I’ll save the food talk for another day :)

¡Chaufa! (Literally, fried rice. Figuratively, see ya!)


Counting Down

Time August 5th, 2013 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Just a few days until I fly to Lima, Peru.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. But I’m optimistic, too. I spent the last semester in the Netherlands and continued traveling Europe during the summer, and although I was incredibly nervous before that whole journey, it ended up being one of the best times of my life so far. It taught me that I can handle new places, new people, and new situations, as long as I go into them with an open mind.

A little bit about me: I am going into my 3rd year at Brandeis University, studying International & Global Studies. “What is that?” people often ask me. “Whatever you make of it,” I answer. Personally, I’m interested in human rights, development, social issues, and international organizations, so I try to take classes that teach me about those things. My aim is to work for an international non-governmental organization (NGO, or ONG in español), doing communications/publicity/marketing work. My last semester in The Hague, the seat of almost all of the international courts and tribunals, was an intensive study of international law. There, I had an internship at the Coalition for the International Criminal Court, a coalition of international NGOs.

I chose this IFSA-Butler program for similar reasons. I am excited to have the chance to work with a Peruvian NGO, and to learn about some international and national issues from a Peruvian perspective. The Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) has a carrera — their version of a major —  called “Comunicación para el desarrollo” (Communication for Development), which is exactly what I’m interested in, so I will try to take classes in that subject. I also want to improve my Spanish.

I discovered, thanks to IFSA-Butler’s online community, that one of my high school classmates will be in the PUCP  program with me! What are the chances of that, in a group of 20-something students from the entire US?! So the other night I had dinner with him and another friend of ours who just came back from a 6-week volunteering trip to Lima, and we discussed Peru. She showed us pictures and told us about some of her favorite places, foods, and general tips for living in Lima. It made this seem more real, that I’m actually going very soon to a new country, quite different from anywhere I’ve been before.

Another thing that you should know about me: I’m a foodie. I love to cook, bake, eat, and even read about food. I follow lots of food blogs, and I even have one of my own. So, of course, I am excited to taste the flavors of Peru! I am pescetarian, which means I don’t eat meat but I do eat fish and some seafood, so expect to see some great vegetarian and  fish-based foods on this blog! I’ve already done some research on Peruvian cuisine, and it looks like they eat lots of great spicy sauces, lots of potatoes, rice, fish (ceviche!), delicious desserts, and tropical fruits! I can’t wait.

I’m counting down the days, gearing up for this new adventure. It won’t be long before I’m posting from my new home in Lima!

¡Hasta pronto!