As my senior year of college begins this fall I cannot help but to reflect back to the days of the college application process and visiting the different schools on my list. I visited Binghamton University twice, and I specifically remember listening to the admissions counselor in the information sessions talking about studying abroad with all the different programs the SUNY system offers. Quite frankly, at the time, I did not care. Study abroad was a vague concept to me that I thought my family would never be able to afford so I never got my hopes up by looking into the programs once I enrolled here.
This frame of mind changed towards the end of my junior year when I realized I would be graduating from Binghamton a semester early. I came to the consciousness that I have had a well rounded college career: I am a tour guide, I am a resident assistant, a dual degree student in Human Development and Studio Art and Design, I have had multiple internships, and am actively involved in numerous clubs here on campus. Yet, I felt I was missing out on something. That something turned out to be studying abroad.
I wanted to spend my last semester here at Binghamton, so I began researching summer programs, which is how I discovered Service Learning in Cusco, Peru. I had several friends participate in the program the previous summer, so I turned to them for their thoughts and opinions. I was greeted by nothing but praise for the professors that facilitate the course, Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii, exclamation about how amazing their experiences were at the service sites, and how invaluable it was to be able to live with a Peruvian host family. After speaking with them I had no doubt that the course’s theme, local development through non-profit organizations, was something I would be thrilled to participate in.
When I applied and was accepted to the program I had the cost in the back of mind. Those financial fears that hindered me from looking into programs my freshman year came back as I realized how passionate I was about confirming enrollment in this program. I applied to multiple scholarships and was fortunate enough to be awarded a Myers Family Scholarship for study abroad, and then my dream became a reality!
My experience in Peru was everything my friends said it would be and more. I was taken aback by the affectionate nature of Peruvian culture and deep respect for their history dating back to the Incas. My host parents and little brothers treated me as if they had known me all their lives. I had the privilege of hiking Waynapicchu of Machu Picchu while watching the sunrise. I bonded with my fellow peers over Peruvian cuisine, exploring the city of Cusco, and our morning Spanish lessons. Most importantly I witnessed, experienced, and learned just how crucial non-profit organizations are in rural areas of Peru in terms of narrowing socioeconomic opportunity gaps that the national government does not have the resources to address. Corazon de Dahlia and AbrePuertas are two organizations focused on teaching children the value of education and life skills in the form of after school programs. The Comedor Virgen de Fatima is an inspiring group of women cooking free meals for other local women who cannot afford to feed their families. It was truly humbling being in the presence of such noble and admirable individuals who whole heartedly love their communities and want to advance their standards of living and quality of life.
Bridget Kunz, Recipient of the Myers Family Scholarship and a participant of Summer 2015 Service-Learning Program in Cusco, Peru