Studying Abroad in “the Cultural Capital” in Peru Deepened My Understanding of Latin America

This past summer, I studied abroad in Cusco, Peru through the Peru Service Learning program. I have seen some people think that immigrant students like me do not need to travel or study abroad because we have enough “abroad experience” in the United States. However, coming from New York City, which is packed with people with different ethnicities and nationalities, I strongly believed that it was necessary for me to actually go abroad to learn and understand better about other cultures. Because I took some Spanish language classes in high school, I became very interested in Latin American culture and decided to study abroad in Peru. I also wanted to see how local communities in Peru were developing.

At first, I had a strong presumption that it would be too expensive for me to study abroad; however, I soon found out it was not! I applied to several study abroad scholarships that were available to me, including the Myers Family Scholarship. Thankfully, I received the Myers Family Scholarship, which provided me with tremendous financial support to study abroad in Peru.

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While in Peru, I felt as though I was part of the Peruvian community, though, I faced some challenges regarding communication in Spanish. Every morning and evening, my host family prepared breakfast for me, and my host mother would ask me if I wanted to take pieces of bread to school. I also went out with them for dinner or family trips during weekends. I can say with enough confidence that Cusco is the cultural capital of Peru. Walking around Cusco, I saw a lot of churches from which I could sense that Christianity is vital to Peruvians. In June, there were festivals and parades where Peruvians dressed up with their traditional costumes and danced around the streets, and some of them had marks on their faces. I was both impressed by the spectacular parades which Peruvians demonstrated on the streets and by seeing the ancient buildings made up of stones on Machu Picchu, which showcased that the Incans were able to survive in the midst of the conquer by the Spanish.

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The most rewarding part of my experience in Peru was volunteering at three different service sites—Abre Puertas in Coya, Corazon de Dahlia in Saylla, and Comedor Virgen De Fatima. I renovated these service sites, cut wood and made tables, and played games with children and tutored them math. I learned that the main challenge that these service sites were facing was a lack of funding, and that they were overcoming the challenge through different means, such as getting support and volunteers from their own communities.

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I now absolutely have a better understanding of Latin American culture than I did before I studied abroad in Peru. For instance, one thing I learned in Peru was that Christianity plays an important role in Peruvian lives. Due to their religious practices, like giving humanitarian aids, there are many non-profit organizations eager support their community. I would most definitely like to encourage other students to study abroad. Study abroad provides a platform to exchange ideas with professors, classmates, and local residents. It is an once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Jianhang Xiao,  an undergraduate Political Science major, who studied abroad in Cusco in summer 2015 through the Peru: Service-Learning Summer study abroad program

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