Making Friends and Meeting Locals

Before leaving for Peru, I was worried about being with only 10 other students for an entire semester, but having such a small group has actually been so good! Because we’re such a small group, it has been easy to become friends with everyone; it’s like we’re a little family now. I must admit though, sometimes during our week-long trips to other cities throughout Peru, I would get frustrated constantly being with everyone–most of them are so different from me. However, spending a little time alone or FaceTiming my friends from Wofford always relieves that stress. I know I will miss them when the semester ends; they all go to universities far from me.

Connecting with locals is a little bit more challenging since I’m not obligated to spend most of my time with them like I do with the other students in my group. Living with a Peruvian family has been helpful in meeting other local– I spend a lot of time with my host mom and have met most of her siblings as well. One of her sisters is our neighbor, and one of her brothers lives on the other side of her house. They are a very close-knit family, and all of them are so sweet and welcoming to me.

My host mom, Carmen. She is so sweet and takes such good care of me!

Another way I have been trying to immerse myself in the community of Cuzco is by attending a local church– Iglesia Fuente de Gracia. Although the church has five missionary families from the United States, there are also many Peruvians who attend. There is one family who moved here from a town in Georgia that is only about thirty minutes from my home! Although they are not Peruvian by blood, they have lived here for three years now, so I would consider them more or less locals now, haha! I went to their house for dinner a couple of weeks ago, which was a lot of fun. Through my church, I also made a good friend from Pennsylvania who is also studying abroad here at a different school.

Me and my friend I met at church!

At the beginning of the semester, I was taking dance classes at a dance school here in Cuzco with some friends from my program. This was a fun way to meet some more locals! A lot of the dance instructors are young 20-somethings, so it was easy to connect with them. One night, three of them went with my group of friends to karaoke–it was such a fun time!

My friend Olivia and me when we went to karaoke. What a fun night!

Paru Paru

I spent the last week in a small Quechua community of about 500 people to do my research for my independent study project. I was very nervous about being alone with barely any phone signal, but it turned out to be a great experience! I stayed there with another family who was incredibly kind and helpful. I got to talk with several community members about the religious beliefs there. Being without my friends from my school was challenging, but it was a great opportunity to meet indigenous people that I never could have without this program. This week helped me improve my Spanish a lot too since I wasn’t with anyone who spoke English. Also, the views there were incredible! The only part I won’t miss is how cold it was and how many potatoes I had to eat; because it’s so high in altitude, potatoes are one of the only things that are able to grow there.

La Cultura de Clases: Academic Culture of Peru

On the weekends, I spend my free time exploring! This is Laguna Humantay, a lake at the top of a beautiful mountain about 3 hours from Cusco.

The academic structure of my program in Peru is pretty similar to what I am used to at Wofford, so it was not hard for me to adjust to my classes here (except for the fact that they are all taught in Spanish!) I am not attending a local university here in Cusco, so I just go to school at our SIT office. My study abroad group is only 11 people, so all of my classes are very small (reminds me of Wofford). In a typical week, I go to class for about 4 hours a day. There is a lot of reading assigned along with a few essays and some other assignments to practice my Spanish. There is an emphasis placed on reading and writing and learning the culture in its entirety, instead of only certain aspects.

I may look like a major tourist here, but as my teacher always says, “No somos turistas; somos estudiantes!” which means, “We are not tourists; we are students!”

The classes I am taking here are Spanish, Quechua, Indigenous Peoples in Motion, Research Methods and Ethics, and History of Indigenous Cultures in Peru. The emphasis of my program is on indigenous peoples and how globalization is impacting their cultures. These classes are greatly improving my Spanish abilities, of course, but are also giving me a broader perspective of a culture that I knew very little about before coming to Peru.

I am learning a lot about the local culture by living with my host family. This is bread that my host mom got me for Día de los Vivos. It is a custom here for daughters to get the bread with a baby in it, and sons get bread with a horse in it.

There are a few things here that differ from my classes at Wofford. The first is that each class is not always taught by the same person. We often have guest speakers come in to teach on a special topic such as traditional medicine or how to conduct personal interviews for research. I have enjoyed this though because it adds some variety to the classroom. I also spend less time doing homework here than I do at Wofford. I have really appreciated this though because it gives me the chance to explore the city and truly experience my host culture. My program really emphasizes experiential learning outside of the classroom which I have really enjoyed!

More experiential learning! I didn’t know that Halloween is such a big event here, but I sure found out when I went to the plaza; it was so crowded! People even dressed up their dogs.

The part of my program that is the most unique is the period of the Independent Study Project (ISP), which begins next week. This is similar to Interim at Wofford in that I have the entire month of November just to study one topic. I will be going to the indigenous community of Paru Paru, about 2 hours from Cusco, for one week to conduct my research project. I am a little nervous because I will be the only one from my group there, and there is no internet and weak phone service! However, I am excited for the opportunity to grow personally and academically through this new experience. I will be interviewing community members in order to investigate how Protestant Christianity is influencing the practice of Andean religion in indigenous communities. My ISP topic is linked to my religion minor; it is a valuable opportunity to investigate religious practices that I would not have the chance to study at Wofford.

Fun but unrelated things:

This picture doesn’t have anything to do with academics; he’s just a cute dog I saw near my school! I see so many dogs here every day.
Not only am I doing a lot of learning, but also some teaching! I taught my host mom how to make banana bread using my grandma’s recipe.
I was missing American food so I went to Chili’s in the mall here. The food from home that I miss the most are biscuits.

Humidity, Nausea, and Wildlife: My Trip to the Amazon

A picturesque view of the rainforest canopy from the top of a weather tower. The many flights of stairs were totally worth the view! The forest seemed to stretch forever, and I saw some beautiful birds.

One of the main reasons I chose an SIT (School for International Training) study abroad program is that I get to go on a lot of excursions with my group! So far, I have been on three excursions, which we call viajes, that were all at least one week long. The first trip was to Machu Picchu, and the second one was to Isla Taquile. Both of these trips were so much fun, but I think the most recent one to Puerto Maldonado has the best story.

Being in the boat on the Tambopata River was one of my favorite parts of this trip!
My group and I with Julio Cusurichi, the president of FENEMAD which is an organization that works to protect the rights of indigenous peoples

Puerto Maldonado is in the Amazon region of Peru, so I was really looking forward to getting back to some warmer weather and humidity. “It’ll be like I’m back home!” I thought. Little did I know, the humidity of Georgia summers is nothing compared to the Amazon. When we landed at the airport in Puerto Maldonado, it felt like I was in a different country! I was only an hour flight from the dry, cool air of Cuzco, but it felt like I was on a tropical island in the Caribbean.

The fun really started that Monday when we all went to an indigenous community called Infierno. While I was in the local museum with my class, I started to feel a little nauseous. “Oh, it’s just the heat,” I thought, “I’ll feel better in a little bit.” I didn’t know what was coming! Long story short, I ended up throwing up six times that day and had to go to the small, community clinic where I received an injection of nausea medicine (which left a nasty bruise on my arm!) and an IV of electrolytes. The next day, the schedule was to go back to Infierno to do farm work with local families, but over half of the students plus all three teachers in my group ended up getting sick, so I just laid in bed and napped all day–it was a much needed day of rest.

It was really cool to eat lunch out of a banana leaf while on a boat, but this meal seems to be what made us all sick.

On Wednesday of this excursion, everyone was much healthier, and we continued our trip up the river to a lodge in the rainforest. This place was incredible, and it redeemed my perception of the Amazon. It was all I hoped for, really! I got to see lots of brightly colored macaws in the canopy of the forest, cute nutria splashing in a lake, and adorable capybaras walking through the mud. It was amazing to see animals like those in the wild! Also, the trees and plants of the rainforest are just as cool. They almost don’t seem real. It’s stuff I’ve only ever seen in pictures or movies, but I got to experience it all up close!

I saw capybaras up close! They’re like giant guinea pigs.
This bridge looks just like the Golden Gate in San Francisco! It was over the Tambopata River in Puerto Maldonado.
This was my room in the rainforest lodge! Sleeping under the mosquito net made me feel like a princess.
I saw so many red and green macaws!

This excursion definitely had its highs and lows, but overall, it was an incredible experience–truly once in a lifetime!

Daily Life in Cuzco

In some ways, my days in Cuzco are quite similar to my days at Wofford: I wake up, eat breakfast, go to class, and do homework. But in many ways, my daily routine is pretty different than what I would be doing in Spartanburg.

My cute bedroom in my homestay!
I have my own bathroom too!

I think what makes my experience here the most different than my past college semesters is that I am living with a host family. All the students in my study abroad group have their own host families, so I don’t have any roommates; it’s just me, my host parents, and my host brother. I imagine this is what it would be like to live at home and commute to college except my commute is only a 10-minute walk to school. I am also very thankful for the bridge that goes across the very busy road so I only have to actually cross one street on my way to the school building! (Crossing the streets in Cuzco has been my greatest fear so far this semester-I’m not used to big city life!)

This is the bridge I cross every day to get to and from school. It keeps me safe from the busy streets below!

Daily Routine

Monday through Friday, I wake up at 6:30 and have breakfast with my host parents, Carmen and Carlos, at 7:30. Classes start at 8:30 every day, and I am usually finished between 12:30 and 1:30. After class, I go back home and eat lunch with my host mom. On a typical day, I go to a cafe to do homework and study with some friends in the afternoon. On some days, I also have dance classes in the evenings since I enrolled in a local dance school! I end a normal day by eating dinner at home around 7:00, then I FaceTime my grandparents, take a shower, and get in bed around 10:00.

On the weekends, I get to sleep in a little, but not quite as late as I would normally at home. I usually wake up and eat breakfast around 8:30 or 9:00 on Saturday and Sunday. On Saturdays, I like to go to the Plaza de Armas to explore the city and hang out with friends. Sundays I usually go to a cafe to do some more work in the afternoon, and then I go to church at 4:30. I have enjoyed getting to know Cuzco over the past month. It is very easy to walk almost anywhere, and if I don’t feel like walking, the bus only costs 0.80 centimos (which is like 0.25 cents).

The church I have been going to in Cuzco. It’s called Iglesia Fuente de Gracia, and it’s only a 5-minute walk from my house!

Viajes: The Most Exciting Part!

What makes my study abroad program unique and very different than my usual routine at Wofford are the viajes–trips we take to different locations throughout the semester. So far, I have been to Machu Picchu for 5 days and on a 10-day trip to Puno, Taquile Island, Colca, and Arequipa. With so much traveling it’s hard to say what my “normal” schedule is, but I have loved getting to experience more places in Peru besides Cuzco. In this way, studying abroad is very different than being at Wofford because I only have class for about a week or two then we travel for a week instead of class all day everyday for months at a time.

This is my entire study abroad group during our trip to Colca where we got to see condors! I love that I get to get outside of the classroom to learn.
More experiential learning! This is me with some of my friends wearing traditional Taquileño dress during our stay in Taquile Island. We lived with local families for 5 days.
This is a recreation of an Incan ceremony that I saw at a museum during one of our trips. The people looked so real!

My School

Another part of my daily schedule in Cuzco that is very different than being at Wofford is where I go to school. All of my classes are in one building with the same 11 students. The only time we are split up is for our different Spanish levels. We have all the other classes together in the same room. I like being with the same students all the time; it has allowed us to become very close friends!

This is the outside of my school buidling.
My friend Olivia in our classroom

Peruvian Culture

Food

I have been loving the food here in Peru! I eat most of my meals with my host family, and my host mom Carmen is a great cook. My breakfast typically consists of bread, called pancito, with either eggs or avocado, some fruit, and tea or coffee. I think I’ve drunk more tea since I’ve been in Peru than I have in my whole life before this combined; I usually drink at least 3 cups a day!

When I am at school, we always have a break from 10:00-10:30. This is also designated snack time; I feel like I’m back in kindergarten! I come home from school every day to eat lunch at around 1:00. My typical lunch is any variation of a dish made of potatoes, rice, vegetables, and meat. I eat so many potatoes here! Good thing they are one of my favorite foods.

Because the altitude in Cuzco causes digestion to be slower, many Peruvians do not eat a big dinner, maybe just some bread and tea. However, my host mom always feeds me dinner. Usually, I eat leftovers of what I had for lunch at dinnertime plus a dessert. My host mom loves to bake!

Although the food here is really good and also much fresher than the food I’m used to, I have started to miss certain foods from home. The other day, I was really craving some chili and cornbread, and right now, I could really go for some macaroni and cheese!

This is one of my favorite Peruvian dishes– Ají de gallina. It consists of chicken, rice, a boiled egg, and, of course, potatoes (I eat lots of foods with double carbs, haha!).
I love to treat myself to something sweet when I go to a cafe to do homework.
This is some soup I had at a local restaurant. What I thought was just a potato turned out to be a chicken foot!
This picture cracks me up (pun intended)! This was at a hotel before we went to Machu Picchu. I thought the egg was hard-boiled. It turns out that raw eggs are NOT, in fact, a common food in Peru; it was just a mistake from the kitchen!

Language

At first, the language barrier here was really intimidating, and I had some difficulties communicating. However, these past few weeks, I have definitely noticed an improvement in my Spanish-speaking abilities! I always eat meals with my host family and try to participate in their conversations. I usually at least understand the majority of what people are saying here, and most of the time, I can get the idea across of what I am trying to say (including a few grammar errors!). The other night, I had a conversation with my taxi driver, and we both understood each other so I felt pretty successful!

Most people in Peru speak Spanish as their primary language, but there are also over 40 indigenous languages! One of my classes is Quechua which is one of the official languages of Peru along with Spanish. Quechua is the second most commonly spoken language here. My host mom can understand it and speak a little bit of it; sometimes after class, she asks me what I learned of Quechua that day, and I always have a hard time remembering the words at that moment! My taxi driver also taught me a few new words the other day. Quechua is very different than any other language I have heard before. A lot of the words are very long and difficult to pronounce. Depending on the way you pronounce the word, it can mean something totally different! I now know some useful phrases in three languages:

I’m from Georgia. (English)

Soy de Georgia. (Spanish)

Georgiamantan kani. (Quechua)

The language has been the most difficult thing for me to adjust to in Peru, but I am learning so much every day. I am excited to continue this adventure of immersing myself in a new culture!

Other fun updates:

I signed up with some of my friends to take dance classes this month!

My group and I hiked the Camino Inca to Machu Picchu. It was literally the hardest physical thing I have ever done! But I made it, and the views were totally worth it.
My dream of taking a picture with a llama at Machu Picchu has come true!

My First Week in Peru

A view from Calca: I had to go on a scavenger hunt here to learn how to use the buses, called “combis.”

It was a long journey to Peru. During my overnight layover in the Lima airport, I thought I was lost at one point! After I went through customs (which is always a nerve-wracking experience), I was not sure where to pick up my suitcase or how to check-in for my connecting flight. Luckily, I found both of my bags and then located the person with an SIT sign who was extremely nice and helpful. She helped me check-in to my next flight and drop off my luggage. There were three other students from my group at the airport then, so I was happy I didn’t have to wait by myself for several hours. With 2 layovers and a 2.5-hour delay, I finally arrived in Cuzco early Monday morning. I was surprised at how cold it was when I walked outside of the airport! Since then, I have realized that the mornings are chilly but the afternoon sun is very strong and hot.

  • This is a dish called “causa.” It’s made with potato puree and avocado. I’ve been eating so many potatoes!

The first 5 days, I stayed at a hotel in the Sacred Valley, about 1.5 hours outside the city of Cuzco. The altitude there is almost 10,000 feet above sea level! I could definitely tell a difference in the way I felt on the first day by getting tired easily and feeling short of breath. The hotel was quite fancy and the food was very good, so in that regard, it has not been hard to adjust. Now, I am in Cuzco with my host family. I am living with an older couple and one of their sons. My host mom also has 6 siblings who live around here and come visit often. I was nervous to meet my family since I still struggle when speaking Spanish, but my host mom has been so sweet and helpful. She said that she likes having female students stay with her because she doesn’t have her own daughter, so I get to be her daughter for the next 3 and a half months!

This is my group that I will be with this semester! (I am the 4th one from the front on the right side.)

My study abroad group only consists of 11 students, so we have all become pretty close in just the few days that we have been in Peru. Having a tight-knit group of students has definitely been helpful in adjusting to my new home. I miss my friends from Wofford, but I already have many fun memories with my new amigos in Peru. Everyone I have met here so far has been very kind and open, especially the manager of the hotel restaurant (His name is Elvis, and I will miss him).

  • There are so many dogs in Peru. We are not supposed to pet them, but this one is so cute!

Since the food has been so good and the people so warm, the most difficult part of adjusting to the Peruvian culture has definitely been the language barrier. However, I can already see an improvement in my ability to understand when someone is speaking to me in Spanish. I know that living with a local family will be extremely beneficial in growing my confidence in speaking. I can’t wait to see how much I have improved come December!

Preparing for Peru!

Hola! My name is Jordan Holmes, and I am a junior at Wofford College majoring in Spanish and Psychology with a minor in Religion. This blog will where I document my semester abroad in Cuzco, Peru.

When I get to Peru, it will be my first time traveling below the equator!

So many countries, where to go?

As a Spanish major, I already knew I was going to spend a semester abroad, but with so many Spanish-speaking countries, it was difficult to decide where to go! In my previous Spanish classes at Wofford, we talked a lot about globalization and the importance of intercultural competence. When I saw this program in one of the catalogs during a meeting with the Office of International Programs, it immediately stuck out to me. The program I will be a part of emphasizes indigenous peoples and globalization and the maintenance of distinct cultural groups despite increasing interconnectedness. I will be studying Quechua, one of the native languages of Peru, as well as conducting my own independent study project on how indigenous communities in Peru are transforming in a rapidly changing global society.

One of my goals is to take a picture with a llama at Machu Picchu, haha!

Excited but also Nervous

Obviously, I am really excited to be spending a semester in Cuzco, Peru because it is truly an incredible opportunity. I have heard nothing but positive things from friends who have been to Peru before. I’ll be living in a city that is home to one of the Seven Wonders of the World—who wouldn’t be excited about that? On the other hand, I am also feeling quite nervous. It is not travel that really concerns me; this year alone I have already spent two weeks in Morocco and a month in Greece. I am mostly worried about the language barrier. I have a decent grasp of reading and writing in Spanish but speaking and understanding is a different story. I know that being immersed in the language will help tremendously though. There is really no better way to learn, so I am excited to see how much my Spanish abilities improve over the next three and a half months.

Cuzco is a city among the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 11,000 feet. It was once the capital of the Incan Empire.

Expectations

I am really looking forward to living with a family in Cuzco because it will be very helpful not only for practicing my Spanish but also for allowing me to experience the local culture in a less touristic way (and for getting homecooked meals!). I am also excited about the travel I will get to do within Peru including hiking Machu Picchu, visiting Lake Titicaca, and exploring the Amazon. Aside from the many scheduled classes and excursions already planned for me, I also hope to get involved with a local church in Cuzco and learn more about what religion looks like for Peruvians.

This time next week, I will be in the middle of my flight from Atlanta to Peru—I have to start packing soon! I will miss being among the comfortable Wofford community, but I know that this semester will be so memorable and impactful. I can’t wait to start my journey!