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Time January 5th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I’m back in the US now (and have been for a little over a week).

I was repeatedly warned about “reverse culture shock” and about how difficult it would be to reenter my life in the US after being gone for so long, but I honestly feel in a bizarre way like I never even left.  Living in Peru feels like a dream. Some of this might be because my life is pretty relaxed right now because it’s winter break, but the transition feels very natural.  Everything in the US is much more familiar than I expected it to be after being out of the country for five months, which I guess is how it should be considering I’ve lived here for almost my entire life.  I’m kind of worried that Peru feels so much like a dream that I might forget it like one, but I think that at the very least, the way I grew as a person in Peru will be with me forever.

As far as my Spanish speaking abilities, I would say that I am “conversationally fluent”; that is, I can get around, order food, and talk to people on the street pretty effortlessly in Spanish, but sometimes I run into circumstances that make Spanish hard again: a new situation that requires vocabulary I’m not familiar with (How do you say “rake” while gardening?  How do you say “fret” while teaching guitar?), a really involved philosophical conversation that requires long and complex sentences, or a person that’s hard to understand.  I was kind of expecting to be fluent after this, but I think that would be almost impossible after just 5 months.  I had a headache and was really tired for the first two or three weeks of the program from the mental strain of thinking in Spanish all the time, so at least that’s gone.  I spoke a good amount of English during the past 5 months as well as Spanish, and maybe it would have been possible to improve a little more, but I am pretty comfortable with the level of Spanish that I achieved.  I also think that Spanish abilities are heavily dependent on mindset.  If I went one or two days without speaking much English, I found my Spanish to be better, but I would lose that quickly as soon as I started to think in English again.  Then the next time I went a long time without speaking English, my Spanish would be a little better than the last time.

It was a great experience, and I would highly recommend studying abroad in Peru with IFSA.  Our program director did a great job helping us see the many different parts of Peruvian society, and Peru is an interesting and geographically diverse place.  I really want to travel abroad more now.  More than anything, studying abroad in Peru taught me that I can make my home anywhere, and the value of new and different experiences.  And that Chile sucks.



A Great Camping Trip

Time January 5th, 2015 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

We don’t actually know exactly where we went, but it was west of the city of Lima, and probably still in the province of Lima.  We got it in our heads that the place was called “Huarochiri”, but I’m almost positive that’s not true.  One of my friends (Koby) had met a part-time adventure guide that invited us along with him, his brother, and his brother’s friend as they went for a weekend trip to climb mountains, repel down waterfalls, and hike around a bit.  We subsisted almost entirely on crackers for the weekend.

After a four hour drive out to wherever it was that we went, and a good amount of searching around, we eventually found a place to make camp in a small grassy area above a dusty soccer field next to a corn field near the mountain we planned to climb the next day.   We pitched our tents and built a fire.  The campfire that night was a great time.  Four of the five people there knew how to play guitar and sing and we just passed the guitar around the circle taking turns singing the song of our choice; the guitar made it around the circle at least four times before we finally decided to go to bed after a long day.

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Journey to La Casa de Felix

Time December 22nd, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Visiting the Capachica Peninsula in Lake Titicaca in southern Peru was easily one of the highlights of the last 5 months.  Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and, at 12,507 feet, is considered to be the highest navegable lake in the world.  I went there at the end of a bus trip that took me from Lima to Paracas to Huacachina to Ica to Nazca to Arequipa to Juliaca to the Capachica Peninsula to Puno then back to Lima, where I am now for my last few days, writing this.  But I think one of my favorite things about my trip to the Capachica Peninsula was the adventure that was getting there.  I’ll begin my story with Juliaca, a large town near Lake Titicaca that is theoretically also quite close to where we were staying (Felix’s house) on the peninsula.  I arrived there with Koby and Koby’s brother Saul at around 1 or 2 pm after a 6 hour bus ride from Arequipa on a bus full of local rural people.  This guy, who apparently thought he was some sort of Peruvian Billy Mays:

peruvian billy mays

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Time November 24th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A new Lima pastime I have discovered recently is surfing.  I had tried to surf once or twice before coming to Peru and more or less failed at it, but here I’ve gone three times, and its been awesome (apart from a few minor problems with sea urchins).  Board and wetsuit rental costs 20 soles, or about $7, and ceviche/leche de tigre (very similar to ceviche) taste even better after coming in from the ocean.

A few days ago, after a good surf session, I was sitting in my favorite ceviche restaurant, and I thought: if ceviche is my favorite food, and this is my favorite ceviche restaurant, that has to put this restaurant somewhere near the top of my “favorite restaurants ever list”.  And a bowl of leche de tigre costs $2.  Wow.  I’m going to have serious difficulty readjusting to american prices.

Unfortunately, the beaches near me in Lima are pretty rocky and unpleasant, but once you’re out in the water it mostly doesn’t matter, and the waves are phenomenal!

Spending more time at the beach is reminding me what a vacation this whole experience has really been, and that it’s going to be over fairly soon. : (


Iquitos and the Jungle

Time October 28th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The Jungle

Last week, I spent 6 days in Iquitos, including 3 days in the jungle about two hours downriver from the city in a lodge.  While at the lodge, we took several hikes and boat rides, visited some small communities, a shaman (healer/herbal medicine expert), went to a wildlife rescue center, swam in the Amazon River, fished for piranhas, and ate some very good food.  I was surprised at how many people lived in the jungle; there are no roads in the jungle outside of Iquitos, but plenty of people live there in small villages and use the river for transportation.  The lodge felt remote, but it didn’t feel like uncharted wilderness in the middle of nowhere.  There were plenty of boats on the river, and a small town very close by.  The people who live in the Amazon are mostly farmers, fishermen, hunters and loggers, and they take their products by boat to Iquitos to sell.

The nearby village:




The rescue center we visited was incredible.  Their were monkeys, toucans, macaws, a sloth and an anaconda that had been confiscated from people trying to sell them as pets.  The rescue center was a small park on the Amazon River with no fences, cages or walls.  The animals are brought there when they are confiscated, fed and nursed back to health, and allowed to leave whenever they please.  Unfortunately, because of hunting, we didn’t see many of these animals in other parts of the jungle.  Because the animals can leave whenever they want, those that stay in the center are very friendly and comfortable around humans; particularly the monkeys.

When I first got to the center, I went up to one of the monkeys to take a picture, and he immediately ran up to me, grabbed my hand, and led me somewhere else.




The same monkey from above and her little alien-baby monkey:



This guy was particularly fond of me:



Sloths are every bit as ridiculous as people think they are.



They would try to scratch you sometimes, but their motions were so slow that you couldn’t help but laugh.  Later, we saw the sloth come down from his tree and start crawling across a field at a snail’s pace:


We also met with a Shaman, which was really cool.  He told us about a few different plant medicines and herbal solutions, including an alcohol called “siete raices” (7 roots) that is used for all sorts of ceremonies and treatments, as well as all the same things alcohol is normally used for, and Ayahuasca, an extremely powerful hallucinogenic drug that is coupled with a ritual and used for self examination.
Iquitos is a city of about 450,000 on the Amazon river in the middle of the Peruvian rainforest.  It is considered to be the largest mainland city in the world that cannot be reached by road.
After I got back from the Jungle, I was in Iquitos for two days.  The rest of the ifsa group left, so I was able to explore the city alone.  Travelling alone is a very different experience from travelling in a group, and it was something I had wanted to try for a while.  I did a lot of wandering through the city and its many markets, as well as visited a butterfly farm/animal rescue center.  In the airport while I was leaving, I met two other solo travelers from Ireland and London and talked to them for a while, and we shared a cab back to Miraflores from the airport after we landed in Lima.

Cuzco Trip: The Casa Hogar

Time October 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

On the same day that we visited the small farming community in the mountains, we continued on to a casa hogar (girls’ shelter) run by some nuns in a town at an even higher altitude (~14k feet?).  On the bus, we had prepared three songs to sing as a group to the girls, and the girls had prepared about 20 minutes of dance numbers to perform for us.  It was a grand affair with juice and popcorn, and after the performances were done, we put on music and everyone danced.  Dancing at high altitude was extremely tiring for the gringos, and although some were able to continue dancing for the rest of the night, I had to quit after about 30 minutes, I went outside to join a game of volleyball.

We played for a while, but when it started to rain and we had to wrap up the game, we went back to the main building and I found a guitar somewhere and I friend of mine pulled his harmonica out of his backpack and we started to jam.  All of the girls wanted to try guitar and harmonica, or sing along with whatever lyrics popped into their heads, sometimes in Spanish, and sometimes in Quechua, the native language for many people who live in the Andes.

It was really fun, and the girls were super friendly, fun-loving and enthusiastic, excited that we were there and sad to see us go, but eventually we all piled back into the bus and drove away.  The stars driving back to Cuzco were some of the best that I’ve ever seen.







One incident I heard about that’s worth noting:

One of the girls in our program, Carlie, had just finished a week of volunteering at the casa hogar the day before our trip.  A few times, she said, girls had come up to her and compared her skin color to theirs and said hers (white skin) was pretty and theirs (darker skin) was ugly.  It was really sad to hear about this kind of thing, as everyone there had dark skin.  They watch the same three movies and no other TV, so its amazing how far reaching the effects of racism can stretch even in a place with so little outside interaction.



^ Obligatory alpaca selfie.


Cuzco Trip: Breakfast in the Country

Time October 9th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


Recently, I took a trip with IFSA to Cuzco and the surrounding area (including Machu Picchu).  Cuzco is a really cool city and the former capital of the Incan Empire.  It is located in the middle of the Andes mountains at about 11,000 feet.  The Cuzco trip was awesome and way too eventful to describe in a single blog post.  So I am going to do a few posts about some of my favorite parts!

Breakfast In the Country
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This Weekend in Pictures (mostly)

Time September 17th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Huaca Pucllana

We visited, an archaeological site from the Wari culture (500-1000 AD) that was right in the middle of Miraflores on Saturday.

Huaca Pucllana

Huaca Pucllana

It was a fun and interesting tour.  And when I say ‘right in the middle of Miraflores’, I mean like this:


Also at La Huaca, an obligatory alpaca pic:



My orientation team, the Gringos Greenos

My orientation team, the Gringos Greenos

Back in orientation, my team won free one-day tickets to Mistura, a two-week long food festival that was amazing.  It had the vibe of a small scale Lollapalooza or similar music festival, except the focus was (obviously) on food, and the bathroom lines were more reasonable.  It was right on the beach, and there was even sun!



I spent 7 hours there, eating and sampling all different sorts of food, and only spent about an hour not walking from food booth to food booth… I was watching a live food-network type show.

Some foods I ate:

  • Guinea Pig – tasted like dark turkey meat
  • Alpaca – tastes like a really lean steak.  Bien rico (really good).
  • Lots of Ceviche  – probably one of my favorite foods of all time… my host mom is going to teach me how to make it on Saturday!
  • Leche del Tigre – the juice of ceviche (lime, spices, seafood, other stuff).  It tastes like standing on the edge of a windy cliffside overlooking an erupting volcano.  Mildly addicting.
  • Shrimp soup
  • Sushi
  • Fried rice
  • Brownies
  • Chocolate
  • Maricuya Sour (really good Pisco drink)
  • Tons of samples of chocolate, coffee, and other random things

I spent more money than probably any one else that I went with, and felt a little guilty… the total cost was about $30.

Peruvians are extremely proud of two things: food, and the Incas.  I haven’t been to the Andes yet (I’m going next week), but the pride in food is definitely well supported.

The APPETIZER of a great meal I had today for about $2.70 (partially eaten)



The Super-Good Birthday Cake Alexandra Brought Today (partially eaten)



I have only gotten one legitimate and specific question about American culture while I’ve been here (not including the standard broad ones like “What is the US like?”), and it was concerning the portrayal of ‘Southerners’ in South Park.  Of the many Peruvians I’ve met who have been to the US, the majority have been only to Miami and Disney World.

I saw a Radiohead cover band at a bar this weekend.  They were quite good.  Also, in an effort to further emulate the band, they never talked to the audience, and didn’t play “Creep”.

Probably the most glaringly obvious example of machismo I have seen in Peru yet.  This is a normal can of spray paint:


I was talking to somebody in one of my classes today, and he told me about this video.  It’s awesome.

Beautiful Day

Summer almost here!

Summer almost here!


Food, Cau Cau and Asia

Time August 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by


The food here is delicious and dirt cheap.  Now that I am settled in and know how to look for restaurants, I very rarely pay more than $4-$5 for a good meal served over rice with an appetizer, a beverage, and sometimes even a dessert.  You can find this kind of food at so-called ‘menú places’.  

If these three things are true, you have probably found a menú place:

1. There is no front door, or front wall, on the restaurant.

2.  Ironically, there are no menus within site.  Usually there will be a chalkboard.

3.  The name of the restaurant is not immediately obvious.

Usually I get soup or potato salad for an appetizer and fish for the main course – it tastes fresh and is cooked well, but is otherwise fairly simple –  and smother it with Ají sauce, made from a local pepper that is like ketchup here, only spicier and way, way better.

It’s almost as though all of the menú places operate as a chain. They all cost between 12-15 soles ($4-$5), they are all reliably quite good and have very similar food and atmosphere.


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Part of a Concert I Stumbled Upon at PUCP

Time August 29th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A Band I stumbled upon playing at PUCP around 6 pm that I really enjoyed.  I think they were called Mucura.  I stayed untill they finished playing… about 30 minutes.


Week 3

Time August 25th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The Weather

It’s kind of cold here, mostly because of the humidity.  I’ve been wearing sweatshirts, or at least long sleeves, every day, but unfortunately, I only brought three sweaters/sweatshirts, and somehow I managed to lose one of them in my first week here.  Also, I have only seen the sun three times in my three weeks here.  That’s not an exaggeration either… the first time I saw the sun here was my first day, when one of the guys who as been here for longer pointed it out and was amazed to see it.  The second time was during one of our orientation classes (which take place in this really awesome partially-outdoor brick courtyard thing) when somebody saw part of the courtyard become fully illuminated, a clear distinction from the shadows everywhere else.  He alerted everyone in the class, and we all frantically got up out of our seats to run over and look at the sun, before it was gone.  The third time was a few days ago when I went to an art museum with some friends. I should mention that all of these times, we didn’t have a clear view of the sun; we could just clearly see the glowing outline of where the sun was through an unusually thin layer of clouds, and only on one of those occasions did the sky look blue and like anything that could be considered something other than cloudy.

Even though this makes it sound bad, I actually really love the climate.  It’s very comfortable as long as you have a light jacket or a sweatshirt to put on when you are cold.


I caught my first glimpse of real poverty in Lima when I went to the Chorrillos district on Sunday.  My host mom invited to to come along to a family picnic with her daughter, her daughter’s husband and two kids.  We were in a nicer part of Chorillos in a gated community connected to a country club, where we went for the picnic, but driving through parts of Chorrillos I began to see how many people in Lima live.  There were stray dogs everywhere and looking up into the hills off of the main roads were densely-packed, self-built houses separated by dirt roads.  I can’t wait to start working with people from these areas of Lima when we start the volunteering part of the program in Villa El Salvador next weekend.

The Art Museum

I went with some friends to the historical area of Lima to an art museum.  Unfortunately, almost all of it was closed and being renovated, but one pre-Incan exhibit remained open and it was pretty cool, and the building itself was very interesting.

Pictures of Miraflores, Chorrillos and the Art Museum


I don’t have a whole lot of hope for getting Computer Science/Engineering credit while I am studying abroad here, so I decided to expand my horizons a little bit and take some random classes that interest me.  In addition to the two IFSA required courses, both of which are basically Peruvian History/Culture classes that seem fairly interesting, I will be taking Bio-Huertos (which in English is something along the lines of ‘Urban Farming’), Actuación 1 (Acting 1), and Cine (Film).

Urban farming is something I have always been interested in, and I came here wanting to take an agriculture class or do something related to agriculture with my volunteer work, so Bio-Huertos appealed to me.  Plus there is a lot of class work time in the gardens, where I will hopefully be able to make some Peruvian friends.

Film seemed like a good mix of a fun time and a cultural immersion class that involves discussion and watching films in Spanish.  Our professor has said that he will be exposing us to films from all over the world from all different eras and genres.  The first film we watched this week was the American horror movie, The Exorcist.

Acting has been interesting thus far… I was originally going to take it because I was having trouble finding courses and because there was a chance that it would give me credit for a public speaking requirement I have for Northwestern, but after I went to the classes, I realized that, not only is it pretty fun, its a very verbal-communication heavy class, and I am the only non-Peruvian student, so it has been great for my Spanish, as well as interacting with local students, and we already have a class Facebook group!  If I can learn to act in Spanish, I’ll probably be able to do just about anything in Spanish.  But the class has been unlike any class I’ve had before thus far… Through the reading I have learned things like ‘An actor must have an exceptional perception and sense of sight, hearing, touch, pleasure and smell’, or ‘Being an actor requires an insatiable curiosity for the human condition’, and that ‘Actors must be physically and mentally stronger than other people’.  In class so far, we have mostly made verbal presentations and played games.  We even spent about forty minutes one day ‘exploring the space’ where the class was held.  It was awesome.

All in all though, I think Tobias Fünke’s portrayal of acting is pretty accurate thus far.

Spanish Skills

My Spanish is improving quickly.  I can easily understand all of my professors, or anyone else speaking clearly.  Speaking is much harder, but I’ve been able to make some impromptu verbal presentations that were slower than everybody else’s but still coherent and I said everything I wanted to say.  The hardest things for me are vocabulary and understanding people at stores, on the street or in social settings when I am not initially devoting all of my attention to listening to them.  Also, at the end of the day, I find I am much more tired than I would be if I were speaking English all day.  English also becomes much harder when you are in that Spanish groove, and so I often find myself unable to communicate a complex idea in English or Spanish. tl;dr: My Spanish has improved a lot here but I’ve still got a long way to go.


4 Things I Wasn’t Expecting

Time August 18th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by


Now I’m not saying I expected to see people riding llamas to work every day, but I certainly wasn’t expecting narrow streets jam packed with cars, denser than most parts of Chicago with pedestrians and the occasional motorcycle weaving through traffic. There are high-rises all over the city (I live on the 5th floor of a 10 story building) and the streets are filled with old manual transmission cars haphazardly painted as taxis and re-purposed vans for buses.  Lima has a metropolitan population of about 9 million, but it doesn’t feel like a big downtown with suburbs; it’s very urban everywhere that I’ve been.

The view from my 5th floor window. Pretty cool.

That said… Lima isn’t all pavement and city blocks.  Which brings me to:


Historic downtown Lima is comprised almost exclusively of 16th and 17th century buildings, cathedrals, palaces, and fountains.  Some pictures:

The buildings are beautiful, but Lima definitely isn’t the only city in the world with old buildings, old fountains, old plazas, old statues, etc.

The real historical shock came a few days ago when I was walking from my apartment to a movie theater down a crowded sidewalk on a main road in Miraflores, when, off to my right, one block down a side street, I saw a giant pile of dirt squeezed in between high rises, flats, and houses.  It didn’t look like a construction site, but I couldn’t quite tell what it was, so I walked down the side street to inspect it.  When I got closer, I realized that it wasn’t actually a pile of dirt, but an ancient structure built from mud bricks.  Two blocks north of the movie theater in urban Lima was a pre-incan archeaological site thousands of years old and still being excavated.

I took these pictures later from a tour bus when we drove by at night:

And it’s not the only one in Lima… I’ve seen at least two others, one that’s right next to the University and another one in Miraflores.


Street signs are not obeyed.  Street lights are usually obeyed, but not always.  Most of the vehicles I have been in don’t have speedometers, and none of the buses have them.  Every driver drives with the sole goal of moving forward down the road in the next five seconds, and they will change lanes, drive through intersections, or cut people off as many times as necessary to achieve this goal.  Cars do not drive in a straight line, and you can’t really tell where the lanes are, or even the number of lanes, based on the position of the cars on the road.

Tickets are rarely given, and when they are, I am told it is usually in the form of a cop asking for a bribe.  Crashes are ignored if both cars can drive away.

Public transportation. When I talk about buses, what I am referring to are the combis.  Most are not buses, but re-purposed industrial vans made in the eighties by companies I have never heard of.  They are painted bright colors and have seating for about 15, and standing room for many more (I use the terms ‘seating’ and ‘standing room’ loosely here, because in Peru, there isn’t really a concept of personal space).  And if they are buses, they are rickety, manual transmission, and jam-packed. Combi operators are paid on a commission basis, so they have an incentive to drive recklessly, cut off other combis looking to pick up passengers, and cram as many people in as possible, and they do all of these things.  There’s a lot to say about the combis and public transportation… I’ll probably have another post later on exclusively on this subject.

Despite all of this, crashes seem to be very rare; you can’t really half-ass driving here, so everyone brave enough to venture out onto the roads in a car probably has a good idea of what they are doing, or they wouldn’t last long on the streets.


The fruits are different here.  There are many different types of bananas; orange ones, green ones, ones that need to be cooked, and really small ones.  There are ‘Chinese Oranges’ about the size of a cherry that you eat with the skin, and granadillas which are, as I have just learned from an online translator, passion fruits.  If you’ve never seen a passion fruit before, they are bizarre.  They have a skin like styrofoam, and when you pick it all off, you are left with something like a bag of jelly with edible seeds in it.  All of these fruits are delicious, and there’s a lot of other fruits that my host mom has served me whose names I can’t remember.

The gallery of fruit:



It Still Hasn’t Sunk in…

Time August 4th, 2014 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

As excited as I am to study abroad, Peru wasn’t even on my mind until yesterday when I started throwing my most important 40 lbs of stuff into my bag, which, unfortunately, weighed about 50 lbs when I was finished.

To avoid the checked-bag overweight bag fee, I find myself on a 5 hour layover in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, carrying a bag of books and electronics and wearing all of my heaviest clothes: a flannel shirt, long pants, a sweatshirt, and hiking boots, as well as a Northwestern University T-shirt, so that another ifsa-butler student might more easily recognize me. I feel linguistically unprepared, tired, a little hungry (although I am about to fix that) and very, very excited.

I left my house in Lake Bluff, IL at 3:56 am, and my parents drove me 45 minutes to the airport. My mom was listing all the things that she was worried about and making sure I was prepared to deal with each and every one of them, from malaria to murder to a canceled flight.

I still don’t have a great idea of what to expect; the only thing my friends who have been to Peru have told me is “Wow, you are going to be really, really tall.” I’m 6′ 4”, and the average height in Peru is about 5′ 2”. I was also told to expect a two week-long headache as I slowly get used to living my life in Spanish.

But I know I’ve got a lot more to look forward to than that. I’m super excited to learn the culture of a place so different from the US, as well as to be volunteering for an NGO in an area with a whole different set of social issues than we have here. Lima is an awesome food city, and the cost of living is pretty low, so I won’t be spending nearly as much as some of my friends who are studying in Europe. And when its all over, I’ll finally be able to speak Spanish effortlessly.

I don’t think reality will set in until I am greeted by a large city speaking an entirely different language, but I wouldn’t have done this if I didn’t think that would be the fun part!