My studying abroad experience in Cusco, Peru is coming to an end after 3 months. As I look back on these past months I could not overlook the fact that all of this would not be possible without the help of the Castañeda Scholarship. While I was applying for the ISA program, I knew that I needed to apply for scholarships, because, let’s be real, I am a broke college student and money is always an issue. I knew I would be a great representative when I found the Castañeda Scholarship because the values of what this scholarship stood for were reflected in me. It has been a great experience to live with a wonderful family and live ‘locally’. This enabled me to immerse myself within the culture and gain insight into the differences between this culture and my American culture. A few of the things that immediate struck me upon my arrival was the fact that there was no central heating, my NorthFace jacket became an appendage of me since it was still winter. Needless to say, I have adapted to short cool showers and will never take a long hot shower for granted. Cooking is done primarily on the stove top. One of my first experiencing was walking with my host mom to a place so she could use an oven to bake the lasagna she made. The fact that my host family spoke VERY minimal English forced me to really focus on advancing my communication skills within the Spanish language. But this scholarship did more than just get me abroad…
Over these past couple of months I have been able to get to know other ISA students, as well as the professors, who have been able to challenge me and think in a different way than I have before. I have learned so much in my time abroad here, both in school and out of school. In school I have learned about the Peruvian government, U.S. and Latin America relations, while learning more Spanish. Outside of school I learned to interact with people on the streets, in grocery stores, open markets, taxi rides and expand my palate by trying new foods, all in a foreign culture where I wasn’t initially very fluent in the language. For example, I am at a cafe and when I think I ordered soup, a salad ends up coming out. I have also enjoyed taxi rides because some enjoy just talking to you. One taxi driver I had, I could literally talk to this man all night because we could carry on a conversation and it helped my Spanish so much! Also, I am so thankful for the ISA staff, and people here! Thanksgiving: a time, as I know it, to gather with family, share laughs, create memories, and eat too much food. Although, this year it was not going to be how I know it, because I was in Peru. I thought to myself, it’s not going to be the same, and I was so negative about it at first because it is my favorite holiday that I love spending with my people. I soon came to realize that the people here have become my people, and family, we made thanksgiving the way that I know it: making memories, sharing laughs, and eating too much food.
The Castañeda Scholarship not only allowed for me to meet new amazing people, advance my Spanish language skills, and gain a new (host) family, but also opened up my eyes to realization that the Peace Corps is not something that I want to do, at least not right away. When I wrote the essay for this scholarship, I had the career track in mind of the Peace Corps. People would always ask me what are you going to do after college, and I would respond, “Go into the Peace Corps”. For as long as I can remember this has been my mindset of something that I wanted to do. Although, being in Peru for 3 months has taught me maybe the Peace Corps is not what I want to do, I have accepted the fact that this is okay. I am not sure I am ready for the 2 year commitment away from my family. Being in Peru for 3 months, again has been a great experience, but this study abroad has been the longest that I have ever been away from home. I experienced being extremely sick while being far away from home for the first time. Simply being away from home this long in general (expect for when I am a three hour drive from home at my University in the states) has been a journey. My time in Peru has allowed me to narrow down what I am passionate about, and continue my love for traveling and the understanding of new cultures.
As I stated above, and in my previous blogs, this is not my first rodeo studying abroad. The first time that I studied abroad was my freshman year in college (I am now a Senior). I originally made my decision to attend Lynchburg College, to further my passion and dream, of playing college softball. I played for two years (Freshman/sophomore), and decided that after fracturing several bones in my face and suffering a concussion (long story), I wanted to do more with my college experience. Playing softball was great, but demanding. There was no time for any other activity but softball, eating, sleeping and doing homework. I knew that it was time to give up my childhood dream of playing in college and encounter another challenge. This change allowed me to discover that it is okay to change paths.
The path that I am on now, has enabled me to step out of my comfort zone, learn new languages, cultures, and ways of thinking. I believe each studying abroad experience continues to shape who I am as a person today. As I stated in my ISA scholarship essay, “I have one expectation as I travel to Peru, and that is to be fully emerged in the Peruvian culture and Spanish language. I want to be able to appreciate the life that I have and the opportunity that I have been given to even consider going on this study abroad trip. While I am there I want to live in their shoes and experience life in a different way, by learning from the local people”. As I look back on what I wrote that day I can say that I have been able to fulfill that and so much more.
Overall, I feel that each study abroad experience is a stepping stone towards achieving my personal and academic career goals of traveling the world, promoting health and education and making a positive difference. I know that it is okay to change paths. I want people to know that although it may seem expensive, there is always a way. Research, research, research, as my mom always says. Do not let the lack of money prohibit you from going after the experiences you want because if you want something bad enough there are always ways to make it happen. I cannot be more grateful for receiving this scholarship….as I leave Peru in a few weeks, I will be leaving a piece of me but also gain so much more from this wonderful country!
Your Discovery. Our People…The World Awaits.