Some Words of Advice

My time in Peru was undoubtedly a learning experience. I worked and lived with people from another culture and saw a new way of life on a daily basis. I did a thousand “firsts,” from riding in a taxi for the first time and successfully performing my first Spanish transactions, to tasting my first guinea pig (0/10, would not recommend) and getting to know Quechua-speaking people of the high Andes. Some of these “firsts” were difficult and some came easily. Some I expected to experience and some caught me off guard. So, in the spirit of reflecting on the learning moments I had in Peru, I have advice for future grant recipients who expect to travel internationally. Hopefully these can be generalized to a wide variety of locations.

A Whole Summer Is a Long Time
When I’m in Williamsburg I don’t get homesick. I’m 450 miles from home—a journey that takes all day—but I don’t feel particularly far away when I’m here. The fact of the matter is that W&M feels like many other parts of the United States in a way that a foreign country simply cannot. Whether it’s language, political attitudes, interpersonal customs, or something else, you will begin to feel a little homesick when things get tough. Even something as simple as having to remember to boil your water before drinking it can feel like a huge hurdle when its stacked atop ten other unfamiliar/uncomfortable tasks. Don’t be afraid to spend a little bit of money to use the wifi in a café to call home!

Things Take Longer Abroad
One of the most beautiful things about being abroad is also one of the most frustrating. Not knowing anyone and being unfamiliar with local customs will make your travel a much richer experiences, but those same aspects will make your attempts to gather information, see a doctor, or visit the store much more difficult. Even if you know exactly what you want, some information will be lost in translation and embarrassing situations will arrive. The good news is that by the end of your trip you will look on your initial mistakes with a hardy chuckle.

No Place Is Homogenous
Before I travelled to Peru I imagined it as a single idea. The reality was much more complicated, and understanding that reality takes time. I thought of Peru as being dominated by the Andes, but the largest region of the country is the rainforest. The coast and mountains together make up less than half the land area of Peru. Even within a single geographic (or political) region realities vary widely. Cuzco is different from Arequipa, both of which are different from Ollantaytambo or any alto-Andean community. The crops in Quillabamba are different from the crops in Ollantaytambo, which are in turn different from the crops in the high Andes. Likewise with language and cultural traditions. The differences are so strong that a Quechua woman from Patacancha can know just by looking at her clothes that another woman is from Chinchero, a community two hours away. Don’t underestimate the vast amount of subtext you could be missing in any given encounter.

Things Will Come Up
When you are doing your research, things will come up. You’ll be delayed by a local festival you didn’t expect, the internet will go down for a day, or your debit card will get cancelled. You can’t prepare for these events outright, but knowing anything could happen will keep you ahead of the game. For all things, have a backup plan.