5 Things You’ll Learn Outside of the Classroom in Lima

By Madeline Townsend, ISA Latin America Program Manager

I currently work at ISA as a Latin America Program Manager, but my time with ISA first started as a student. As an undergrad, I decided to enhance my Spanish and Global Studies degree by spending a semester in Peru. Why Peru? I may not have been your average student, but I actually chose Peru for its intriguing political past and wanted to conduct research on the internal war that took place there from 1980 to 2000. Like I said, not your typical student.

Despite my unusual motives, ISA’s semester program met all of my high standards for a study abroad program. Courses taught in Spanish, with locals, in various disciplines, at a top-rated university? Check. Housing options that would allow me to live with locals? Check. Staff support so I didn’t feel lost throughout the process? Check. Located in a large city where there is always something to do? Check. I was convinced. I had high expectations for the academic aspect of my program, but what I didn’t realize was how much I would learn from Peru itself during my time there.

Here are 5 of the most valuable lessons that I learned outside of the classroom in Lima.

1) How to Speak a Universally-Understood Spanish

Lima’s historic Plaza de Armas is also a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the stops on ISA’s Lima City Tour. I loved coming here on the weekends to check out festivals, parades, local art exhibits, and new restaurants.

Both ISA programs in Lima offer options to take courses with locals if you find yourself at the highly advanced level and want to push yourself toward fluency. Not advanced enough? That’s fine! There are now beginner options, too. Plus the clean, smooth Peruvian accent is easy for even beginner language learners to understand.

I loved visiting the beautifully maintained gardens of the Museo Larco. This museum is a must-see in Lima and holds thousands of excellently preserved pre-Columbian artifacts. Students studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP) can take advantage of the Museo Larco’s proximity to the university.

2) The Importance of Cherishing Cultural, Ethnic, and Linguistic Diversity

During a visit to Puno, a native man of the Uros islands took my friends and I on a tour of his hand-made floating home on Lake Titicaca.

As the capital of Peru and home to about 1/3 of the country’s total population, Lima is home to a diverse population. You’ll meet limeños of indigenous, European, Asian, and African descent who come from all over Peru. Although a handful of Peru’s 40 known indigenous languages are at risk of extinction, there are constant efforts to raise awareness and preserve indigenous cultures. Even as a foreigner, you can sense Peruvians’ sense of pride in their country’s diverse identity.

Photo taken by Lima Resident Director, Michelle McRaney de Winder. — Ceviche quickly became one of my favorite limeño dishes. It is made fresh daily on the coast and can be found anywhere, from the finest restaurants to the coolers of vendedores ambulantes on the beach.

The mixture of cultures influences the local culinary scene, too. Lima boasts the title of “Culinary Capital of Latin America.” If you want to eat well while studying abroad, Lima is full of world-class restaurants that serve up delectable, Instagram-worthy dishes. Take one bite of rocoto relleno and you’ll find it hard to resist falling in love with the diverse mix of cultures in Peru.

3) How to Stop and Appreciate the Natural Beauty Around You

The parks along the cliff-side malecón have the best sunset views in Lima and were one of my favorite places to spend a relaxing evening.

Although Lima is a bustling mega-capital, its sprawling layout makes it easy to find quiet retreats. Every few blocks you’ll find a park lined with palm trees and bougainvillea. The cliff-side malecón is a perfect place to go to run, bike ride, or stop to watch a stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Photo taken by ISA Cusco staff. — A breathtaking view of Machu Picchu, the classic site for every traveler to visit when in Peru. Although most visitors capture photos of the archaeological site itself, the city was revered by Incas for its captivating views of the surrounding Andes.

If you need a break from the city, Lima can also be a home base for travel around the rest of the country. Not only can you explore Peru’s rich history and biodiversity through ISA excursions, but you’ll have plenty of chances to plan independent travel too. One breathtaking look at the Andes from the airplane window and you’ll instantly gain a deeper respect for pachamama.

4) How to Create a Home 3,000 Miles Away From Home

Photo taken by ISA Alum, Photo Blogger, and Fall 2014 Photo Contest Winner, Kelly Bast. — During my semester abroad, my friends and I invited our local Peruvian amigas to celebrate Halloween with us by teaching them to carve pumpkins. They loved learning about American holiday traditions and in exchange, they explained to us the Peruvian holiday Día de la Canción Criolla, which is celebrated around the same time of year.

I quickly made friends with locals and became part of a tight-knit community while abroad thanks to ISA and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). There are plenty of opportunities to foster friendships through the university (especially with your host university buddy), at ISA-organized cultural events, or through your host family.

The on-site staff in Lima is one of our most veteran teams. Michelle, our Resident Director, is an ex-pat from the U.S. who pioneered our programs in Peru. She has a truly unique point of view and understands when students are homesick or can’t find the words to express themselves in Spanish. Danny is our Academic Coordinator and resident limeño. He will be the first to suggest things to do and places to visit in Lima. Together they form an amazing duo who are there to make your study abroad experience the best it can be.

The on-site staff was always there to support our group every step of the way. Michelle and Danny treated us to lunch at the PUCP and guided us through a professional development activity to help prepare us for life after study abroad.

Lima leaves a lasting impression on our alumni, many of whom return to live or work in the city after graduation. Alumni mixers are held most semesters, where current and past students can exchange experiences. Interested in living abroad after you graduate? Lima is an excellent place to meet alumni who are living that reality and can share advice on how to make it happen.

Whether you are an expert traveler or have never left your home country before, the locals, staff, and alumni network will make you feel welcome and supported the second you arrive in Lima. You’re sure to leave feeling like you always have a family in Lima.

5) How to be a Better You

I’ve always valued giving back to my community, and decided to join a volunteer group in Lima to give back while abroad. With Techo, a housing and poverty relief non-profit, I joined a group of locals and helped build a new home for a woman living on the outskirts of Lima. Not only was I able to assist a community member in need, but it was also a great way to immerse myself in Spanish and I got to learn how to construct a home in the process!

Living in Peru may test you at times and challenge you to do things you’ve never done before, but these experiences will push you to grow more than you ever thought possible. Spending a semester in Lima allowed me to flourish academically, personally, and professionally. I walked away feeling like a more patient, adaptable, open-minded, and overall better person. I know that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the semester that I spent in Lima, and I am eternally grateful for everything it taught me.

So, what are you waiting for? See where study abroad will take you. Lima awaits… discover it.


Author: International Studies Abroad (ISA)

Since 1987, International Studies Abroad (ISA) has provided college students in the United States and Canada the opportunity to explore the world. ISA offers a wide variety of study abroad programs at accredited schools and universities in 73 program locations throughout the world.

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