I have a love-hate relationship with my lofty personal goals. I love overcoming (or at least enduring) the concomitant challenges and of course the hilariously adventurous journey of memories. I hate how you can always count on the presence of hurdles barricading the end goal. But there’s a reason why love, rather than hate initiates the phrase.
In high school, I set two seemingly impossible goals for myself: 1) Earn admission into a private university (because I had grown weary of the faults of my public high school) and 2) Go abroad during my four short undergraduate years. Words will never be able to sufficiently express how thankful I am that high school goal #1 worked out so well – not only because I’ve achieved a profound sense of happiness within the Harvard community, but also because accomplishing goal #1 gave me the smoothest segue into accomplishing goal #2.
I didn’t go abroad after my freshman year of college and as sophomore spring semester began (this is the popularly stressful time where the majority of students scramble to make plans for the upcoming summer), I knew I couldn’t stand another whole summer of Facebook updates from all my friends abroad. I know this may sound quite shallow, but hey I’ll take a little leverage for motivation from anywhere! So I spent tons of time scrolling through websites by the Office of International Program (OIP) that looked a lot like this: suggested programs for studying abroad and summer study abroad programs.
It was all pretty overwhelming – and I was just looking at Harvard programs even though you can participate in selected non-Harvard programs and still transfer credit. There were just so many (too many) places that I wanted to experience and only one summer ahead of me. I started to approach my abroad struggles by activity instead of location.
The thought of taking summer Spanish classes was completely unsettling for my mind, body AND soul. I had come to a point in my Spanish-learning academic career where I felt like I had just been reviewing the same grammar lessons time and time again. It was definitely time to take my Spanish knowledge to the streets – or at least to a clinic in a Spanish speaking country which would incorporate my premedical interests that developed my freshman spring semester.
My interests blended together in a (suspiciously) harmonious fashion as I continued researching the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies Summer Internship Program (DRCLAS SIP). Sorry, Harvard’s really big on acronyms.
Participating in DRCLAS SIP gives me an 8 week opportunity to ensure that I want to pursue the lengthy medical school path, practice my Spanish in a real world setting, as well as immerse myself in a completely different culture! That’s right, 8 weeks for academic clarity and cultural immersion. Thank goodness I have tons of support and guidance from the DRCLAS team, both on campus and in Peru!!
I’ll say this time and time again whether on this blog or in person: DRCLAS is a beautifully organized program. This fact is very apparent even in the application process as you see them handle paperwork, emails, interviews, etc. with the utmost promptness and professionalism. Although DRCLAS is a robot-like organized program, it’s also incredibly thoughtful of its students.
In the earlier weeks of this program, they definitely held our hands through orientation week which was pretty necessary as it is much easier for foreigners to run into dangers more prominent in South America than America. But with each day, the grasp on our hands have been slowly lightened and it’s full freedom ahead with two jazz hands. We were trained to call secure taxis rather than take ones off the street, to not flash our smartphones in public, and to generally stay low key.
However, no amount of training could have prevented a string of four muggings – in one night … on the same bridge. Yay for making DRCLAS Peru history for its first mugging ever. Nay for, well the muggings taking place.
It sounds worse than it was, I promise! The whole group gathered to celebrate a birthday. It was nighttime. There was a bridge necessary to cross on foot to arrive at the house. There were four men looking for trouble and found cash, a digital camera, and an iPhone. It was quite a large and unfortunate hit, but the event was nonviolent and the robbers even returned IDs and house keys.
The consecutive muggings were truly a series of unfortunate events (tehe there was no resisting this one) that added some unnecessary stress, but really there was no way to prevent it – the buddy system was even in place! It opened our eyes and heightened our sense of awareness. Then we found comfort in food. Typical college student behavior?
Aligning with DRCLAS Friday culture day, the whole group headed to a well known, beach side culinary school. We spent most of the morning and afternoon working hard to earn our lunch, but boy was it worth it! I haven’t cooked in so long (or really ever) since the majority of undergraduate students are on the meal plan at school. We made a multiple course lunch with dessert and drinks – all the types of Peruvian cuisine we’ve been dreaming of. Then we took our food babies to the nearby beach to enjoy some surf and sun! Local roaming took us to the main square where the Peruvian equivalent of the White House stands. In front of the presidential palace are tons of guards…
It can sometimes be annoying to feel that I’m experiencing Peru more than I’ve experienced America – I’ve never been to the White House! But remnants of annoyance are quickly fleeting because life abroad can be fast-paced and I’ll have more opportunities to explore the land of the free for the majority of the rest of my life.
At this point of my summer, I’ve been outside American boundaries for a personal record of time. This whole summer has been exhilarating, but with this excitement comes its evil twin: fear. Life abroad can easily feel like a perpetual seesaw between gleeful adventure and dangerous confusion which can take an exhausting toll on you. I can’t help but constantly fight sparks of homesickness for both Southern California and Cambridge while simultaneously throwing myself in new adventures in new places.
I left Lima for the weekend in hopes of returning homesick for Lima and my loving host family. All it took was an 8 hour bus ride to Huaraz: “the Switzerland of Peru.” This was our first student-led trip as DRCLAS had no part in planning it although they were ready to advise us on transportation, lodging, or anything else we needed.
With altitude pills (and llamas) on our side, we hiked around the Andes Mountains to discover beautiful lakes and majestic snow-capped mountains. The local cuisine (see below),
fresh air and sights were quite refreshing as Huaraz served as the much needed get-away from urban (and polluted) Lima.
Hiking the Andes (at 5am!) and seeing wild llamas bathing in a river are definitely once in a lifetime adventures that I’ll always cherish. However, I think the best part of the weekend Huaraz trip was staying in a dorm-like hostel where there were 7 beds in a room which accommodated everyone on this mini trip. The reflections and conversations right before peacefully falling asleep together will ALWAYS be remembered with a huge grin on my face.
Living with a host family is my ideal situation because I get to truly observe Peruvian lifestyles day in and day out, but falling asleep to the delirious thoughts of my friends abroad with me is definitely the next best thing!