Forming new friendships can be a nervously fun experience, but there’s something quite unsettling about throwing yourself in a situation where you not only have to make new friends to survive, but also a third party has hand selected the people you’re suppose to make nice with. (College orientation anyone?) However unsettling this situation may be, I apparently am drawn to it – especially during the summer.
When I reminisce on my previous summers, my science camp (yes, that was me and I’m not ashamed!!) months definitely sparkle brighter than the rest – even beating out summer days spent on beautiful (Southern) California beaches. This isn’t solely because of the sheep brain
I got to dissect or the proteins I got to grow in tobacco leaves, but science camps were phenomenal because of the people I met and the friendships that still carry me forward to this day. Science camps, however, always had at least 40 other students; whereas, the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies (DRCLAS) Summer program only had 12 other participating students. Pressure? Atmospheric.
Yet, I’m more than happy to report that after one frighteningly quick month in Latin America, we’ve proclaimed ourselves as the most diverse Peruvian family you’ll ever know. The strength of our bond is measured by the camera lens of our fake-reality show called REAL LIFE DRCLAS. After a handful of polite wars
(No, you have the last french fry!), we’ve declared a truce and have gone to eating each other’s tres leches without both permission and hesitation. Having the term REAL LIFE DRCLAS has really come in handy because it’s a great phrase to shout when you want to immediately suppress any tension because it’s a simple reminder that our “angry voices” aren’t personal attacks towards the person, just the frustrating situation. Our mutual understanding – that group activities, decisions, and agreements come concomitant with heated debates – is truly the glue holding us together in Peru (well, that and our love of manjar blanco).
My situation is exactly where I want to be and how I want to live – that is, practicing Spanish and eating three times my weight at every meal.
DRCLAS is split into two groups: Summer Internship Program (SIP) & Spanish and Community Service (SCS). All participants live with a Peruvian host family who naturally have become our real family. (Future blog to come about living with a host family!) Note that DRCLAS structures and organization may change from year to year and may depend on location as well as popularity.
SIP kids are partnered with a Peruvian company and work Monday-Thursday. SCS kids alternate between taking a Spanish class and working with a local company for 4 days of the week as well. Fridays are usually Peruvian themed days with DRCLAS sponsored adventures and weekends (as well as weeknights after work) are typically free as we please. The inherent dichotomy of DRCLAS doesn’t lead to family feuds (SIP vs. SCS), but rather a constantly entertaining exchange of stories.
Since I’m personally participating in DRCLAS SIP, my adventures will be tinted as so.
Week One – Orientation
My flight from Barcelona landed in Lima at 5am, a mere 6 hours before our first official DRCLAS meeting. If there ever was a time I felt like a jet-setting business woman, it would have been that morning! Someone get me my pantsuit from the dry cleaners!!
I must have filled out the all-Spanish customs paperwork correctly because passing through security was a breeze. There was nothing for me to do except aimlessly wander the airport with an extremely public thought bubble that read: “I’M A FOREIGNER.”
Before my arrival in Lima, my host family and I had exchanged a handful of emails that included picture attachments so we could both know who to look for at the airport. A man, who I didn’t recognize, stood with a handheld whiteboard sign that read JEANIE NGUYEN in all caps.
Foreign strangers popped my personal bubble with the warmest hugs and kisses. My host family consists of grandparents (with the grandmother being my primary caretaker), a host mom, a 19 year old host sister and a 17 year old host brother. My room, with its blue-sponged painted walls and giant teddy bear, awaited me. My full sized bed called to me, but I had just enough time for a hot shower before being whisked away to a bus (locally known as combi) that would take me to the first DRCLAS meeting…the first of MANY meetings that week.
Orientation week felt a lot like Shopping Week (the first week of every semester where students noncommittally attend classes) because many Peruvian professors and outstanding members of the community kindly lectured about the country’s history, norms, economy, emergency procedures, and so on. These informational (overload?) lectures were well balanced with city tours and food tours! DRCLAS did a phenomenal job with organizing group activities this week! It would have been hard to rally the group especially when we didn’t know each other well. With the support of DRCLAS, we were able to tour the main plazas, eat at some well known restaurants with authentic cuisines (Pardo’s Chicken, Cucho la Rosa) as well as roam the Pachacamac ruins.
The end of orientation week (or Shopping Week) is like getting a pacifier ripped out of your little infant mouth. No more baby business nor monkey business – it was time for straight up business! Time for SCS kids to start class and SIP kids to enter the work force!