My flight back to the U.S. went smoothly, although it was the longest single period of time for which I have ever traveled. The first thing I noticed when I got back was the heat – I spent almost all my time in Cusco wearing at least a light jacket, and came home to find Kansas in the middle of a 95 and above heat wave. I was also surprised by the public restrooms, where the toilets actually have seats – until I remembered that that is commonplace here. The biggest adjustment has been the fact that I can use water from the tap here. Numerous times I have started to brush my teeth with water from my bottle, or panicked to find myself brushing with water from the sink, only to remember that that’s ok here. In Peru, we always drank water that had been boiled, and on trips it was a constant concern as to where we would buy bottled water and how expensive it would be – and after coming down with a pretty nasty stomach bug for three days, I learned just how important those measures were.
This has all contributed to help me realize just how luxuriously many of us live here in the U.S. – climate controlled buildings, multiple vehicles per family, lights and electronics in every room of the house, etc. And these are just the extras – every day we take for granted clean drinking water from the tap, bathrooms with warm showers, and toilets that flush (and have seats). We also take for granted just how much electricity we use, and how much we waste. My host family in Peru was quite well off, but electricity there is expensive – and though she never asked us to be more conservative, I could tell that my host mother was (for example, when we would come back from trips I would find that there were fewer lights on and the internet was unplugged). Here at home I find myself shutting off the radio and lights that have been left on, and turning up the thermostat when I feel the AC doesn’t need to be on – and my family is not particularly wasteful, by American standards.
My goal for my future career in mechanical engineering is to improve the world through design of sustainable forms of energy production. Peru and much of South America do not have the same addiction to coal and oil that we do here in the U.S., nor do they have the same geographical ability to provide infrastructure for these commodities (large scale power transmission would not be as easy to implement across the Andes mountains as it has been through much of the U.S.). The need for clean water and improved medical facilities is huge in rural parts of South America, and I hope that someday my career involves work that contributes to establishing the sustainable power production necessary to provide these things. If nothing else it would be a way to give back to this amazing country and continent, which have provided me with a truly incredible experience.
In the slide show you will find pictures of a few highlights of my stay. Thanks to ISA for providing such an awesome program, and giving me the opportunity to share my experience with all of you!