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Back in the US

Time December 30th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The IFSA-Butler study abroad Peru program ended just about two weeks ago, but it seems like so much longer.  At least it does most of the time, until I´m talking to a friend and all of a sudden she´s talking about things that I have absolutely never heard of and I realize that I actually haven´t caught up on everything I missed yet.  There are new malls and babies and jobs and future plans.  It´s pretty fun to hear updates on things that happened while I was gone, and a drive around my town is occasionally brightened by the discovery of a new sports field or giant used book store.

Despite all that, there´s a lot that hasn´t changed at all.  It´s all the same people that I left, and they´re pretty much doing the same things.  In a way it´s comforting, and in a way it´s a little disappointing.   but I´m not going as stir-crazy as I thought I would be.

Whether or not I went abroad this semester, it would have been my last in college, and so I think I´d be in the same situation now–coming home to Burlington and looking at the town with a little bit of distance.  I think that what being abroad makes different is that I´m handling being here better than I otherwise would have.  In Peru I enjoyed the daily challenge of living life in Spanish and finding my way in a foreign city, but that experience makes being in my town, where I can name almost every street and one person who lives on it, a nice change.

Also, I think that my experiences during the Peru study abroad program and in the Dominican Republic made me a lot more flexible.  When I arrived at each place I had to adapt, and I tried to do so with a good attitude and take everything as it came.  I think that doing that made the adjustment to being back here much easier.  After all, what´s moving back in with your father compared to living with three very different host families in 6 months?

I´ve heard that “reverse culture shock” is worse than the forward variety, but so far it doesn´t seem too bad.  I think things might be different if I found myself back at Brown with classmates who had been there the whole semester, but maybe since this time was always going to be a big transition it was the perfect time to go abroad, and to come back.



Time December 5th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Yup, another entry, only a few days after the last one. Clearly, it must be exam time for IFSA-Butler study abroad Peru students. The good news is I sort of studied for tomorrow´s exam and made one pretty nice slide for tomorrow´s presentation before I gave up and decided to spend my time describing combis instead of working.

Combis are one of the most distinctive aspects of life in Lima, and I’ve put off writing about them because I wasn´t sure how to explain them. I think the closest analogy I can come up with is they are like a very small subway car that barrels along on a winding track. The feeling of being thrown against a window or a fellow rider is best conveyed by that…but it still doesn´t capture the combi experience. First of all, a combi is above ground, running on regular city streets among cars, bikes, pedestrians, and other forms of public transportation. That means two things: 1. You can see exactly how close you come to hitting people, curbs, and various giant trucks, and 2. the swerving is not guided by a track; instead it is dictated by all the other traffic and by people standing out on the side of the road waving their arms to get a combi to pick them up.

A combi looks like a small van, but one that´s been painted outside with stripes, street names, and occasionally religious slogans, and decorated inside with stickers, ornaments, and occasionally lights.   It´s sometimes sort of rounded on the sides, so the tall rider sitting near a window has to tilt her neck away from the wall to avoid hitting it at every small bump. It generally looks like it originally could fit twelve or so people, but has been modified to fit about 20 by adding extra seats, and even a bench behind the driver where people sit/balance facing backward. There are also coasters, which are bigger than combis, and then there are micros, which are the size of school buses and have different rules about paying and stopping.  I usually take combis because they´re convenient for getting to the university, and generally wherever I want to go.

When you want to take a combi somewhere you just go stand by the side of the road. If you see one you want passing by, you stick out your arm and it slams on the breaks so you can get on, and then jumps forward the second you´re mostly off the sidewalk. Apparently the police are cracking down on the combi drivers for stopping to pick up and drop off people at random places, so sometimes if you´re not at a designated stop the combis will just speed on by until you get the idea and move to a stop.

After you´ve gotten on the combi, at some point the cobrador will shake some coins at you and ask you to pay.  He (or she) is the person on the combi who opens and closes the door, tells the driver when people want to get off, yells out the window where the combi is going, and is in charge of collecting money.  I generally overhear, per combi-ride, 1-2 arguments with the cobrador about fares or routes, occasionally pretty intense ones.  I´ve only argued twice, and was super-proud to win one of them! (I saved a whole 30 soles–about 10 cents.  But it was the principle of the thing!)

When you want to get off of the combi you tell the cobrador, (¡baja!) he relays the info to the driver, and when the combi swerves toward the curb (or just stops in the middle of the road) you squeeze your way over knees and under elbows and half-jump half-fall down to the street.

It´s actually pretty fun.  I still get a little bit happy every time a combi ride is successful, especially if I´ve paid what I think I should, gotten a decent seat, and gotten off without hitting my head or falling to the ground.  Combis are amazing places to people-watch: I´ve seen a lot of funny things this semester, including a woman doing a perfect job lining her eyes while we flew down La Marina, a man wake up from a nap with a shock when a baby crawled into his lap, and a woman lose her balance and fall down squarely in my lap.

Overall it´s a pretty rough-and-tumble experience, but there are also moments of courtesy, like when people get up to give their seats to older people, or when cobradors pick up little kids to get them onto the combi.  I´ve had a couple interesting conversations with seat-mates, including one yesterday with a man who told me that he´s a neurologist and a professional soccer player.

You really never know what´s going to happen when you take a combi, and a lot of the best stories I´ve heard from the other Americans here start with “So, yesterday I was on the combi…”   It´s certainly a lot more exciting than driving or taking the T, and is definitely an intense cultural experience.  I´ve heard that everyone who comes to study spanish in Lima leaves either loving or hating it; and I think that after about 4 months of ambivalence I´ve finally come to love the combi experience, in all its insanity.


Love that dirty water…the Amazon!

Time December 1st, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Back when I decided where I wanted to spend my semester abroad, I chose to study spanish in Peru partially because of all the different climates (also because I had heard the accent was easier to understand than in, say, Argentina).  I started off my time on my study abroad peru trip here with a trip to Cuzco and the surrounding area, which is in the sierra (the Andes).  Then I came back and have spent most of my time in Lima, in the desert coastal region.  And to top it all off, last weekend I and four friends from the program traveled to Iquitos and the Amazon rainforest!

This trip started, as so many of them do, uncomfortably early in the morning.  It was the weekend of APEC, a global economic conference held in Lima.  We had Thursday and Friday off from school and were advised by Laura to get out of Lima, as it was sure to be a madhouse.  On Friday at 9am we landed in the jungle city of Iquitos, which is inaccessible by road.  Flying in, we could see the beginnings of the rainforest, scattered evidence of deforestation, and the picturesque switchback rivers.

We went on a walking tour of Iquitos, seeing, among other things, a house made of iron that was shipped in a long time ago, a LOT of mototaxis (it´s too hot to drive around in a car!), and the plaza de armas.  Also there was a cool walkway along the side of the city that bordered the river (above).

Then we walked through the street market in Belen, a poorer part of the city.  We tried a strange and sweet fruit that I think is called guava, and passed hundreds of stalls selling meat, vegetables, drinks, spices, and anything else you could imagine.

We spent a relaxing afternoon at the hotel, spent the night, and the next morning we set out in taxis for the 2 hour ride to Nauta, another riverside city.  In Nauta, we immediately boarded a boat and headed to the lodge.

We relaxed on our covered boat and watched the river banks get more and more jungle-y for about 2 hours, and then desembarked at our lodge, on a river that feeds into the Amazon:

We ate lunch, put on boots, and treked around the lodge in the rain for a while.  We met Octavio, our guide, who grew up in the Amazon and can tell you the name of anything in the rainforest in four different languages.  That night, Octavio took us on an amazing hike in the jungle near the lodge.  It was a little bit terrifying, a little bit tiring, and really really fun.  We dodged tree branches, climbed over logs, cowered from the giant moths and small bats that dove at our heads, and saw a lot of cool animals.  Octavio startled a wild chicken that made a noise that to me sounded like the growl of a jaguar, and our preocupation with that animal was a source of amusement to Octavio, who repeatedly told us that they were only found deeper in the jungle.  We did see a lot of really large insects and a bright green tree frog, who didn´t care at all that we came up really close and shined flashlights in his face.

The next morning we went out on the boat early to do some birdwatching (and, it turned out, bat-watching), ate breakfast, and then set out again to fish for pirañas.  Only Octavio caught any; the rest of us agitated the water to imitate a floundering animal, threw in out baited hooks, and jerked the rods like we were supposed to, but came up empty everytime, usually having lost out bait to boot.

After sampling the piraña Octavio caught, we climbed back into the boat and headed downriver to visit the Cocama tribe in their town of Libertad.  We wandered around a little bit, and then went into the small town store, where the women spread out their handicrafts for us to buy.  It was a jungle town like many others, apparently, and was somewhat modernized from all of the tourist business on that part of the river.

After a night boat ride to look for crocodiles (we found a small caiman!  and by we I of course mean Octavio)

and a good night´s sleep in our mosquito nets, we left the lodge for the ride back to Nauta and then Iquitos.  We then went to visit another tribe–the Yajua, who live only about 30 minutes by boat from Iquitos.  Despite the fact that we saw them running to put on traditional grass skirts over their athletic shorts, it was a cool experience to see their community and participate in a small dance ritual.  Also, we all got to try shooting a blow dart gun–it´s hard!  They were very excited to sell us their handicrafts, and to take the bread and candy we brought as gifts.  As we drove away in the boats and looked back to see the young boys pulling off their skirts and running around in basketball shorts we decided that even though our experience was clearly very scripted and touristy, we still learned something–about the Yajua´s old ways of life, and about this new one that we had been a part of.

We returned to Iquitos and said goodbye to Octavio and all the rest of the staff of the travel agency (talk about personal service: there were five people there to see us off for the airport!).

We got back late Monday night, and then jumped right back into regular life, as Tuesday began the last week of classes at the university.  We only have about two weeks left here now–I can´t believe how fast the time went by!

(Thanks to Miriam and Kelley for all the pictures!)


Paracas-Ica marathon day

Time November 17th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

In my last entry I mentioned a possible trip to Ica, which did indeed end up happening, and which was fantastic.  In probably the best single day since I´ve come to study in Peru, we went to a wildlife reserve, a secluded beach, and a desert oasis.  I started the day at 3am, rolling out of bed and out the door to catch a 4:00am bus, which dropped us off in Paracas about 3 hours later.  We boarded a small motor boat and sped out to the Islas Ballestas, rocky islands that are home to tons of birds and thousands of sea lions.  We tooled around the islands for an hour, getting amazingly close to the big cuddly-looking lobos del mar (sea lions) and uncomfortably close to the guano-covered rocks.  Guano was once an incredible important export for Peru, and I´m pretty sure there was a war over it once.  What is it?  Well…it´s bird poop.  It´s good for fertilizer, apparently, and they scrape it off the cliffs of the Islas Ballestas every few years or so.  Despite the smell, we had a lot of fun watching the sea lions fighting and playing and sunning themselves, and covering our heads every time a bird swooped overhead.  (See the gallery for pictures of sea lions, peguins and other birds, a mysterious symbol carved into the reserve by an ancient civilization, and some dophins we saw following a fishing boat on our way back from the islands)

We returned to land, and a friendly taxi driver/guide took us through part of the nature reserve and to a beautiful deserted beach.  We swam around in the freezing cold Pacific and sunbathed on the beach.  Some of us now have peeling burns to prove it (not me…I managed to survive the beach with no problem, only to burn the next day while napping on the lawn at the university.  Well done, self.)  After the beach our guide drove us to a beach front restaurant, one of the only ones not totally detroyed by a tsunami caused by the big earthquake in August 2007.  The sea food there apparently was delicious.  My chicken was, well, chicken.

We parted ways with the friendly taxi guide after he drove us to the Panamerican highway and helped us flag down a giant bus to Ica.  In Ica we rushed off to Huacachina, the only oasis in the Americas.  There some of the group relaxed in hammocks and three of us were strapped into a dilapidated dune buggy and set off to do some sandboarding.  Sandboarding is apparently like snow boarding, if you have the skills to do it like that.  We didn´t have time to learn how to stand up on our boards, so what we did was more like sandsledding.  Although it sounds tame, heading face first down a giant sand dune is pretty exciting!

After a terrifying ride back to the oasis, all of us headed to the bus station and then back to study spanish in Lima; exhausted, sandy, and excited about our fun, touristy day.



Time November 3rd, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

A couple weeks ago a lot of us in the study abroad in Peru program individually and simultaneously had the revelation that we don´t have a lot of time left in Peru.  We sat and counted weekends and days off and listed the things we wanted to do, and found out we could maybe squeeze them all in if we traveled almost every weekend and basically didn´t ever sleep.

I like sleep.  So I´m not going to be able to do all the things I want to do, but I´ve started make some progress on the list.  I finally managed to go paragliding a couple weeks ago, which was amazing.  We just ran off a cliff and the wind lifted us up and up and up!  (I say us because I went with a professional who was in charge of all the maneuvering and keeping us up there.  I just sat and enjoyed the view.)  It was incredibly peaceful and way less scary than I thought it would be.  Also I could see my neighborhood and a lot of the rest of Lima from the air, which was fun.

Last weekend I went with the program to Canta, which is about 4 hours outside Lima.  We went on a walk through a pretty farming area, ate lunch outside, and then went on a zip line they have set up there.  Also, I got to ride on a horse for the first time since age 3, which was actually the most exciting part for me!

Other than those adventures, and a possible trip to Ica tomorrow, I´ve been exploring Lima itself a little bit more.  First of all, it´s huge.  I think there´s something like 9 million people that live here, and it´s not like they live in high rise apartment buildings: the city has a giant area.  Even without traffic, I bet it would take 2 hours to cross, and the very idea of there not being traffic is ridiculous.  So, clearly, I can´t get to know all of it, or even most of it.  It has fairly well-defined districts, and I spend most of my time in about 3 of them: the one I live in, Miraflores; the one with the best nightspots and cafes, Barranco; and the one the university is in, San Miguel.  Through working with an NGO for one of my classes, I´ve also gotten to know the less well-off districts of San Juan de Miraflores and Centro de Lima (the center of the city, where the government buildings and the main plaza are located).

I went to the Museo de la Nación last weekend also.  It was partially closed, so they had one big room open that contained pottery and paintings and other exhibits from throughout Peru´s history (and of course, a whole little alcove dedicated to the potato, of which there are about 50 varieties.  Peru is the home of the potato.  Don´t even try to say it´s not.).  That part was educational, but not mind-blowing.  The only other part of the museum that we could go to was an exhibit of photos, videos, and information about the internal armed conflict with the terrorist groups Sendero Luminoso and MRTA during the 80´s and 90´s.  It was a really powerful exhibit, and made me understand a little bit better the way Perú lived in fear for over 10 years.  I´d learned about the conflict in class and seen photos and videos of the truth comission proceedings, but the exhibit put everything together in a really powerful way.  It was difficult to read about all the atrocities and see some of the horrible pictures, but I´m very glad I went.

In other news, while I´m trying to take full advantage of everything here and really enjoy my last month and a half of the study in Peru program to the fullest, I also have to figure out what in the world I´m going to do with myself when it´s time to leave.  As soon as I´m done with school here I´m done with college for good….real world, here I come!  I had hoped being here might help me get a clearer idea of my future plans, but as of right now I´m still pretty clueless.  I guess there´s still time for an epiphany!



Time October 13th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Not much has been happening this week, other than a lot of studying and essay writing (although perhaps not as much of that as would be ideal).  It´s midterm-time, which is pretty hard to believe, because it means the study abroad Peru program is halfway over!  I thought that maybe I should stop and think about what I will miss about Perú when I leave in two months (and what I won´t).

Will miss:

1. Dogs in coats.  There are virtually no dogs here that do not wear some article of clothing.  It was one of my first impressions of Lima–I thought it was hilarious then and I haven´t gotten sick of it at all.

2. Speaking Spanish.  It adds a challenge to everyday life that just doesn´t exist when you wake up in the morning sure that you can say everything you will need to say that day.  Even the frequent embarrassments aren´t that bad, and surprising successes more than make up for them.

3. $2 lunches.  Peruvian restaurants have a menú, which is different than the carta, which is what the US calls a menu.  Usually the menú is a really good deal: an appetizer, entrée and drink for 6-9 soles, which right now is 2-3 dollars.  And some places have really good food.  Yesterday I had a fruit salad and chicken with rice that was delicious.

4. Public transportation.  I still haven´t decided whether I love or hate the combi system here, but it´s amazingly convenient.  I walk out my door and over 4 blocks and can hop on a combi almost instantly, since the ones I need go by every couple minutes.  No planning required.  Cheap.  Nice.

Things I probably won´t miss (but who knows)

1. Grey skies.  This might change soon, but we´re going through a grey period, and I miss the sun!

2. Having to do schoolwork.  I can´t wait to actually graduate!

3. Public transportation.  It´s crowded and sometimes requires an argument about how much you have to pay, and apparently some combis have fleas (I haven´t been bitten, but other people have).  And driving is just so fun.  If only gas were as cheap as a ride on the combi.

So those are my thoughts right now.  They´ll probably be different by the end of the program in a couple months (!), and on this list I didn´t include any of the people here, because I obviously will miss them.

I have two essays due tomorrow, and exams on Tuesday and Wednesday, which isn´t a great way to start the week.  However, on Monday I also am going to get a massage at the office to de-stress and then go paragliding off the cliffs by the ocean (to re-stress).  I´ll hopefully post some pictures after I go!


Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna…

Time October 3rd, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

The weekend before this one I went on a day trip to Lomas de Lachay, which is a nature reserve pretty close to Lima. It´s sort of an oasis created by the geography of the hills and ocean, so it´s a really intense green area encircled by desert. We climbed up one of the hills and had a great view of part of the reserve, the desert, and the ocean in the distance. I was hoping to see some of the foxes and other animals that live in the reserve, but all we saw were a lot of birds and a little snake peeking out of his hole. Still it was a pleasant place to walk around in, and the air cleaned the grime of Lima out of our lungs.

On our way home from the reserve we stopped at a Hare Krishna community to take a tour. We saw the guest houses, which are made out of cow dung, and also the fields where they grow their own food (and fertilize it with cow dung). Also they had some cool demonstrations of solar water heaters and solar ovens. We went into the temple and saw some of the religious idols, learned the Hare Krishna mantra, and sung it with our guide, who played a drum they kept by the altar. It was cool to see the temple and how they live. I can see how living so simply would be attractive, but I don´t know about all of what they say…it´s very extreme.  Also, one downside of the whole thing is that I walked around all that week singing “hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare” under my breath, driving me and everyone around me crazy.

In terms of other travelling-type stories, I don´t have much, but I´m trying to decide if I will go to Iquitos (the Amazon!) before I finish the study abroad in Peru program.. Also, I´m sure there will be more day trips to come and hopefully a couple overnight ventures to Trujillo and maybe Ica.

Tonight I watched the Vice Presidential debate at a bar here in Lima. It was a really strange experience because we walked in and it was like being back in the United States. Almost everyone there was speaking English, the TV was tuned to CNN, and there was all kinds of American sports memorabilia on the walls. It was bizarrely easy to fit right back into that atmosphere, and a little strange to walk out the door and into Peru again at the end. Aside from not being able to hear sometimes over the hisses and laughter, it was a good place to watch the debate, and it was fun to meet other Americans in Lima. I think it´s really interesting to see why and how people end up here and why some of them, like myself,  come to study in Peru, and how there´s an instant bond that exists just because we happen to be from the same foreign country. I might go back for the second presidential debate in a couple weeks.

Tomorrow I have two clases and then it´s the weekend! I don´t have a lot planned, other than catching up on some schoolwork that I haven´t done this week, hopefully hanging out a little bit with my host family, and enjoying the sun that´s finally showing it´s face regularly here in my neighborhood!


here comes the sun!

Time September 18th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

I saw my shadow today!  I was sitting on the grass in front of the cafeteria eating Leah´s avocado and then there it was, right next to me, right where it used to be all the time…until I came to study spanish in Lima.  It´s winter here now, which instead of meaning snow or rain or freezing temperatures just means GREY.  Since I got here about a month and a half ago (wow) I´ve seen the sun in the city for an hour or two at a time, on maybe four different days.  It should start to get better soon as we get closer to summer, and I can´t wait!

The kind of amazing thing is that it´s just Lima that´s like this;
when we went to Caral a few weeks ago the sun was beating down on us as we toured the ruins. As we rode the bus back into the city we could tell we´d made it back when we no longer had to squint our eyes to see out the windows.  Even in certain outer areas of the city there´s sun a lot of the time.  Unfortunately, where I hang out it tends to be pretty grey.

So today was exciting!  In an effort to take advantage of the weather, I decided to find a quiet space and read a bit on the grass after lunch.  Obviously that didn´t happen…how could I read when I was busy being deliriously happy with the feeling of the sun on my shoulders?  Leah and I ended up playing catch with a small orange for a good half an hour…and it was surprisingly amusing, especially when it bounced off my head or hit a building and split open and then squirted juice everywhere (don´t worry Whittemores: I´m not wasting fruit, it was already bruised and moldy when we started :] ).

Anyway, when I´m not experiencing sun-induced regression to childhood, what do I do with my life?

I spend a lot of it at La Católica, the university, and a lot of it on public transportation trying to get there or back.   The university is completely closed off from the street, and I have to show my ID card to get in every morning (I feel so official!).  The street outside is really busy and dirty, but inside is very nice and green and pretty.  It´s not like Brown or other traditional US universities with big brick buildins around a main green…it has lots of small buildings connected by paths and walkways through green lawn areas.  The buildings mostly are designated as belonging to a facultad, which is like a department (math, social sciences, etc), and tend to look pretty different from each other.  There are a bunch of cafeterias scattered around that are named after different areas of study, but since I don´t belong to a particular facultad I just eat at the one that I think is the best, which is right in the middle of campus.

Católica doesn´t have dorms on campus, since most students still live with their parents while they´re attending school.  In between classes the students either go to a library, a study room, a cafeteria, or hang out on the grass (my place of choice).  It´s great because there are always people around, and it´s not a huge campus so I can usually find someone I know if I want to wander around long enough. the bad part of it is that all the couples have nowhere to go to do their couple-y things, so sometimes my favorite reading nooks are occupied by people who…well, people who aren´t reading.  Less frequently I come across another interesting thing about la Católica–the deer that live and roam around freely on the campus.  It´s said that they escaped from the zoo nearby a few years ago and now they make their home on campus.  I don´t know how many there are, but I see them every day, and occasionally even see one of the two little fawns…so cute!

Students here take two years of classes in the school of general studies, and then three years of study in their major in a particular facultad.  Since most of the classes they take are required and in a certain order, a lot of people have their classes with a set group of people every semester.  For example in one of my classes there´s only one student in the class who is not in the facultad, and almost everyone in the class is in their second semester of the major.  So they all know each other, which is definitely different than a lot of my classes at Brown, where I wouldn´t know a single person.

I´m taking 2 courses that are required by the IFSA-Butler study spanish in Peru program: a writing/grammar class and a class called “Peruvian Social Reality.”  Other than that I am taking one class in the school of general studies (history) and one in the language arts type facultad (sociolinguistics).  I also am sitting in on a class in the comunication department, but I´m not officially taking that one.

My classes are mostly really interesting, but I don´t find myself having to do much work.  That surprised me, since I was expecting to have reading to do, and to spend a lot of time on it deciphering unfamiliar Spanish words.  But it turns out some of my classes don´t have any reading, and the sociolinguistics class has a lot–in English!  While that´s good for my comprehension and general sociolinguistics-learning, it´s a little disappointing too, since any Spanish practice disguised as something else is helpful.

Oh well, it just means more time to play catch with fruit or nap on the grass in the sun!


Don’t know much about history

Time September 12th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

So, I almost got through college without taking a history class.  That was actually one of the (less important) reasons for me going to Brown:  that I wouldn’t have to take any of the things that I hated in high school…like history.  But at some point over the past four years I got over my memories of a certain boring ninth-grade world history teacher droning on about the Ottoman Empire and decided that knowing a little bit about the world wouldn’t be horrible.  So I’m taking “Historia Universal Contemporanea” during the Peru study abroad program…and I’m loving it.

I think what makes it different from my history classes in the past is that it’s from a different perspective, or at least seems to be.  In high school we learned about all the major stuff, but always with the filter of being from the United States, and generally the stuff that didn’t involve the US we didn’t spend much time on.  But in my Peru study abroad class I’m learning about whole wars I didn´t even know happened (I know…shame on me) and hearing things from the perspective of a different country.  (I’m not actually sure which country because my professor is from Puerto Rico but lives in Perú.)  It´s non-US perspective that’s interesting and refreshing.  Sometimes it makes me a little uncomfortable, like when the professor says something critical of the US and then looks right at me like he expects a reaction.  He knows I’m the only foreign student in the class and that I’m from the United States.  But he doesn’t demand any reaction from me, and I’m certainly not going to say anything.  Also, I generally agree with what he’s saying.

The other reason I like the class is the professor himself.  He’s small and probably 50 years old and, like I said, from Puerto Rico.  This last fact apparently means that he must speak at 100 miles per hour minimum at all times, and even faster when he’s excited or telling a joke, which is happens frequently.  He´s really entertaining to listen to, even when I don’t understand (or can’t even make out) every word he’s saying, but lately I’ve started to catch on and occasionally even understand a joke or two every class (yay!).  So that’s fun.  And the fast pace keeps me on my toes.   I look forward to going to class twice a week, and I’m disappointed when it’s cancelled or cut short, which happens more than occasionally here.

The only downside is that the class meets from 3-4 on Thursday, and then I have to wait around for 4 hours until rugby practice at 8pm.  Today I’m writing this and then I’m going to  reread some stuff that I have to present tomorrow in one of my classes, and then hopefully it will be rugby time!


Been through the desert…

Time September 2nd, 2008 in College Study Abroad | 1 Comment by

So, it turns out that there are people who read this now. Hi there. I’m currently sitting in a Starbucks in Lima, trying to figure out what I should write this blog entry about. I have so many options…I still haven’t talked about the DR this summer, or about my host family, or about my classes, or any number of other things that have happened and/or are a part of being here. And somehow now that I know I have an audience I feel like I have a responsibility to cover it all.

I’ll start with this past weekend. We went to Caral, part of the oldest civilization in the Americas, and third oldest in the world (more info here: On the way we went to two other sites (Bandurria and Aspero) that were part of the same civilization in the Supe River valley north of Lima. They were interesting, but by the end of seeing the second one we were ready for lunch and a break, and I don’t remember much about it. Caral we saw the next day, and we had a really great tour. The site is really cool, with a bunch of pyramids all spread out in a rough circle, and a sundial, and a bunch of stuff still being uncovered. Also they had a little museum first with pictures and info that made the stuff we saw more coherent. One thing I really liked was that our tour guide explained to us which parts of what we were seeing were real and which were recontructed. Usually they just say that there’s been reconstruction and I’m left wondering if some archeologist just got an idea in his head from a few rocks and built some pyramids out of them. But here you could tell by the color of the clay what was new and what was actually old, and most of it was old.

Probably the coolest part of the tour for me was seing the agricultural fields they had a little way away from the ruins. The area was a desert…nothing but sand and rock. We drove in on our bus on an incredibly bumpy road in between sand dunes and mountains made of rock and gray dirt, and occasionally saw strange greenish-gray shrubs huddled close to the ground. (Also we passed two chicken farms, I think, which struck me as strange. Why have chicken farms there? It’s possible I completely misunderstood what they were, though. Between the noise of the bus crunching down on the rocks and the engine noise and my head knocking against the window every few seconds, I couldn’t really hear well.) The area seemed completely inhospitable, which made seeing the pyramids there even cooler. The only thing the archeologists could use for carbon dating were some rush-like things that the Caralinians used to tie together rocks as filling in the layers of the pyramids. So it was a pretty exotic desert scene when you stood in the middle of the ruins. But then we walked past one of the bigger temples and all of a sudden there were fields with crops, and trees, and bushes—everything was green! It turns out there was a river that flows by there during some parts of the year that allowed them to grow food and have water, and created the cool oasis-like effect. It was surprising and very interesting to look at, and, biology major that I am, I have to say I enjoyed looking at that more than the actual temples. Don’t be too critical though…part of the cool thing about it was that it made me think about the way that the Caralinians lived and all the things they accomplished, and made me appreciate a little the challenges that faced civilizations there. So I feel like I got the general message of the site.

Another interesting thing about Caral was the way our guide talked about it. She was a woman who lived in the village of Caral, for which the site is named. She worked at the site as a laborer and then became a tour guide after a few years, and was very grateful for the job. She spoke highly of the archeologist who was doing the work, and continually mentioned her as she talked about the ruins. I’m not sure if it’s because the archeologist is a woman, which seems to be kind of rare at the sites we’ve visited, or because the project has brought a lot of change to the town, but it was definitely noticable that the guide said “the doctor knows” or “the doctor discovered” rather than the “we” used by most tour guides. It was interesting to hear that now the very small village has running water and trucks and color televisions, thanks to the project, and that lots of local people are employed there. It ties in nicely with my ecotourism class, which talks about development of the local community as a factor in responsible tourism. It seems like a happy, feel-good kind of story, but I wonder if there are downsides for the community to having this big toursit attraction in their backyard. I learned this summer that sometimes development can bring more problems than it solves, and I’d love to know more about the community.

Two more highlights of the trip that had nothing to do with ancient civilizations: a monkey and a beach. The beach was right by the restaurant we ate at on Saturday, and was guarded by a giant white Jesus statue on a cliff that we later walked up to see. (These giant statues of Jesus are pretty common it seems…there’s one overlooking Cuzco too. And a giant white cross you can see from the Malecon in Lima.) We took off our shoes and put our feet in the sand, and then waded into the water. My inner New Englander braced for the chill of ice cold water, but it was surprisingly pleasant. We fooled around in the water and I got soaked up to my thighs when a wave took me by suprise. Luckily the desert air dried me off by the time we made our way up to Jesus, so it wasn´t a problem.

On Sunday after lunch we went to a super-mini zoo at the restaurant. Really, super-mini: it had, I think, four animals. Two parrot-type birds, a penguin, and a monkey. Bizarre: a penguin at a restaurant in the desert. But we had the most fun with the monkey, who was small and evil-looking and on a harness in an open grassy area. He would demonically glare and then jump at us, trying to catch hold of our hands or legs or pants. He would also bite at our hands and arms (he didn’t have very sharp teeth), and kind of attack us, playfully (I think). It was completely terrifying, at first, to be charged at by a demonic monkey, but pretty hilarious at the same time. Nikki eventually got him to jump into her arms and sit there, and there’s some great pictures of the process leading up to that point.

After that we made our way back to Lima on the bus, and then home by combi (I promise more on combis later, because they’re a huge and kind of ridiculous part of my life here.) Overall it was a pretty good weekend, and definitely worth waking up at 5am on Saturday. Before the weekend I was a bit frustrated and annoyed with life here and coming to study in Peru, for various reasons. But the weekend’s activites and being with the group from the study abroad in Peru program solved that wonderfully. Points: Kristen 1, Culture Shock 0.



Heinz 57 and french-fried potatoes

Time August 14th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

(…ketchup…catchup…catch-up)  anyway,

I have so much to say!  I’m here in Peru, and have been for almost two weeks now, although sometimes it feels like months.  So why haven’t I posted anything?  Well, first of all, I thought I did.  Last Monday I wrote a fairly long and detailed entry about the first few days, hit post, and logged off the computer, in a hurry to meet the whole group for lunch.  Somehow I did it wrong, so that entry is lost in cyberspace.

Speaking of things that are lost, the other reason I haven’t posted is that until last night I did not have a laptop.  “But Kristen,” you ask, “what about that funny-looking compaq you brought with you and vigilantly kept safe under your bed in the DR all summer?”  And the answer is that it was stolen.  I arrived in Peru after a long day of traveling (and sitting in the Miami airport) and successfully met up with three other students and the resident director (backpack present and accounted for).  We sat around for a while waiting for one more student (backpack on floor between feet), and then went to the cafeteria in the airport to get drinks and wait (backpack on floor in center of laaaarge pile of luggage, approximately 3 feet from our table).  I was served a huge glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice, and we all happily chatted (backpack’s presence assumed but unverified).  Then I went to get my ATM card from my wallet, and found myself frantically looking through the pile of luggage and coming up empty every time.  (Aghhhh!)

So my backpack and the large hiking-type bag belonging to one of the other students had apparently been stolen while we sat just 3 feet away enjoying our drinks.  Erin (of the large backpack), Laura (the resident director), and I talked to airport security, who were very helpful in telling us that in airports you have to be careful and always watch your luggage.  Then we went to the police station to file a report, where the officers were also full of sage advice about airports and the dangers of theft.

Seriously though, it was pretty stressful, and I was hugely glad that Laura and Erin were there with me at the airport and police station.  My Spanish pretty much had bottomed out from confusion and anger and general sleepiness, so Laura translated and talked to the police for us, and was generally wonderful.  Also, we met a friendly and soft dog that wandered in to where we were sitting and decided it was her job to entertain and cheer us up.  All-in-all it wasn’t a horrible experience, for what it was, and I went to sleep that night relatively positive about how things were going.

The next morning I woke up, realized I had no money and no way to get any and no computer and no camera and no any-numer-of-other-things, and freaked out a bit.  But I met the rest of the group and we spent the day doing logistical things and getting to know each other, and I realized that I really would be fine and things would work out.

And they did!  No one stole my identity or used my credit cards or made long-distance calls on my phone, my dad wired me money, and it looks like insurance might cover some of what I lost. 

So that’s the beginning of my ´study abroad experience.´  The rest is much less dramatic.  We spent two nights with our host families in Lima and then jetted off to Cuzco for five days.  We spent time exploring the ruins around the city and the city itself, and then went to Machu Picchu on Tuesday.  It was beautiful and really fun to walk around the ruins, but my favorite thing was climbing Waynupicchu, which is the mountain looming behind Machu Picchu in all the photos.  Most of our group woke up at 4:45 am to take a 5:30 bus to the site, waited in line for a Waynupicchu ticket, and then reunited at 10 to wait in line again for our turn to climb.  It was a strenuous hour-or-so of stair/rock climbing to reach the top, but the view and the feeling at the tope made the waking up early and waiting in line and sore muscles worth it.  Phenomenal. 

We returned to Lima last Wednesday, and since then we’ve been busy orientating ourselves: trying out combis and getting lost and finding good places to eat lunch and having charlas at the office about Peruvian culture.  Also, today we started our one-week Spanish class at the university, which is three hours every morning.  So we’ve been pretty busy, and will certainly become more busy when classes start next Monday.  I can’t wait!



And visions of visas danced through her head…

Time July 28th, 2008 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

Wednesday, June 04, 2008, 10:30 pm

So, here I am, like a giant sitting in the valley of some huge mountain range, my clothes piled around me. They’re sorted according to a system that made sense to me as I was packing up my apartment at school, but now that I’ve pulled everything out of the boxes, it all seems pretty random.

Packing for two trips at once is fairly daunting…especially because in the Dominican Republic I have to be able to carry all of my luggage through a rural area. So I need to fit clothes and personal items for 6 months (and two climates) into one big duffel and one backpack. Agghhh!

The good thing about the impossibility of my packing predicament is that it’s keeping me from worrying about other things, like my Spanish, or losing my passport, or failing all my classes in Peru. I guess there’s plenty of time for all that once I get off the runway at Logan in…hmmm 32.5 hours.

Today I went into Boston to get my student visa for Peru. It could have been pretty stressful, except I accidentally did a practice run yesterday, when I made it to the consulate and got called up to the window only to discover that I had brought the wrong letter. The packet from IFSA that contained the letter from PUCP that the consulate wanted also contained a letter from IFSA that said basically the same thing. The PUCP one was in English, and the IFSA one in Spanish. So, silly me, I just assumed that I would want the one in Spanish…after all, the whole visa application was in Spanish, and the letter was from the Spanish-speaking University. But no, I didn’t want the letter in Spanish, I wanted the one in English. Bizarre, yes, but also a problem that could have been easily avoided had I just looked at the big colorful letterhead on either letter. Anyway, today I knew where to go and what to expect, and the process was really easy and low-stress. Also, I got to hear a lot of Peruvian Spanish accents in the little waiting room—it seems pretty easy to understand. I suspect I’ll be pretty grateful for it after spending time in the DR where I’ve heard the accent is extreme. Although maybe after two months I’ll be so used to Spanish with no S’s that I’ll have trouble readjusting…who knows?

I really don’t have time right now to mull over accents. I need to finish doing laundry, figure out what clothes to bring, make a list of other stuff to pack, create an info packet for my dad (itinerary, medical info, contacts, etc.), organize all the stuff I’m not bringing, back up my entire hard drive, write thank you’s from my grad party yesterday, and…maybe…get some sleep. We’ll see about that last one.