Choosing to study abroad in Cusco, Peru with IPSL was the best decision I have ever made. Study abroad itself is such a transformational incredible experience. Cusco is really the perfect place to go. It's not overwhelming, but there is still so much to see and do. I really loved being surrounded by so much history. IPSL really made the experience worthwhile. Their small staff is so caring and well-versed in the many programs they offer.
Some detailed notes on all aspects of the semester-long experience:
Service Experience: My service placement was with el Santuario Animal de Ccochahausi. I loved it so much! Our choices were the animal sanctuary, a health clinic for disabled children, an orphanage for mentally challenged children (Hogar de las Estrellas), and an orphanage (Remar-an NGO). I absolutely loved the animal sanctuary, but if you really like working with children, the other organizations are amazing as well. For service placements, you may be the only person assigned to an organization or there may be a few of you that are. IPSL places you depending on your interests.
Classes: For our group, classes were all day (9:00-7:00) Monday & Tuesday, which was not bad at all. Then, we had a class or two on Wednesday and Thursday. We only had to purchase one textbook; it was for Spanish class and was 30 soles. The rest of our classes were based on lectures. Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola is a very small beautiful building (Spanish with Incan foundations) right in the center of the city. The classes there are all in English, so don't freak out if your Spanish isn't excelente. You are required to take a Spanish class, and there are 3 separate ones for different abilities. My Spanish was dreadful when I got there, but the basics (3 years in high school & 1 semester in college) got me by, and I improved tremendously! I took History of Incan Civilization, Contemporary Culture & Society of Peru, Inca Architecture, Institutions in Peruvian Society, Photography, and Spanish. You don't have to take that many-it all depends on what your university requires of course, but they are fairly easy and pretty fun. In Architecture and Photography, you take field trips! Your professors want you to experience the culture more than anything.
Free Time: You are with your program mates all the time, and they will become your close friends. You may also make friends with Peruvian students and Israeli tourists. There are great restaurants, nightclubs, and markets for shopping. There is a festival at least every other week in the main square, like Semana Santa, The Lord of the Earthquakes. You can ask your professors what all is going on each week, and they'll tell you!
Excursions: The excursions that were pre-planned were Machu Picchu and Incan sites close to the city. It’s easy to plan other trips to Lake Titicaca, Nazca, and the Amazon with the help of the school. My friends and I planned a trip to the jungle, which was extraordinary. You'll get your fill of hot weather you miss in Cusco, and it's just gorgeous. On several weekends, we took small trips to Incan sites nearby like Moray, Las Salineras, Ollantaytambo, Pisac (make sure you go when the market is happening-it's the best!), and Chinchero.
Money: You can use any ATM there just like you do here. They are sprinkled throughout the city and in grocery stores. There is a fee of 10 soles (~$3). To avoid this, I would withdraw 300 soles at a time. I never had any issues. Most places in Cusco only take cash, so you might not even want to carry your debit/credit card (which should be MasterCard or Visa). I brought $100 in cash and $300 on my debit card originally. And then you'll need extra for excursions, like going to the Amazon (~$300) and Incan sites (~20 soles each)!
Water: You can brush your teeth with the tap water, but you should not actually drink it. Your family will have a purification system, and you can buy bottled water at the store. Make sure you buy "sin gas” unless you’re a fan of bubbly water. The tap water is turned off at about 2am until about 6am, so make sure you do anything that requires water before then. I also kept a few spare 2 liters of water on hand for when that happened and I desperately needed to wash my face or hands.
Laundry: The norm is to own a washing machine but no dryer. You hang your clothes out to dry.
Phone: You'll want to buy a local cell phone. The staff at the school will help you with that. They're about $30 US, and you reload minutes on them at shops around town. You should also purchase HolaPeru calling cards at the local grocery store to be used on a landline to call out at your host family's house. It doesn't cost them anything. It works really well and is not expensive. And of course you can Skype/Google Chat where there is an Internet connection.
Passport: You should not carry your passport with you everywhere just in case. Make a few copies of it before you go and carry a copy with you everywhere. But take it with you when you go to Machu Picchu and the Amazon because they'll give you a cool stamp!
Transportation: If you live in or near Santa Monica (a suburb) like I did, it is about a 30-minute walk to the school. So my group usually took a taxi. You'll have other students living near you, so you all can meet every morning to ride together and split the cost of a taxi (which should never be more than 4 soles (~$1! Pretty sweet!)). You'll always want to take the certified cabs with the checkered flags on them. My first week, I had two really great, kind cab drivers, so I saved their names and numbers, and I called them all the time throughout my trip. I worked at the animal sanctuary, so we would take a van up into the mountains and then catch the bus going back. You might also want to take the city van/bus, and someone at the school can show you what to do.
Food: Peruvian food is delicious! Meals mostly consist of meat, rice, potatoes, and veggies. In the rare case that you don't love something your host family prepares for you, you can go to the grocery store or market and pick some things up for yourself. (They have Oreos!) There are a lot of great restaurants with a variety of foods like Mexican, Italian, and seafood. There are British and Irish pubs in the main square. Lunch is the big meal in most of South America, and dinner will be light.
Packing: The weather is cool most of the time. It rained a few times a week, so bring an umbrella. I recommend packing jeans, long sleeve shirts, jackets, flats, rain boots, hiking boots/running shoes. You won't need a heavy coat. Bring ibuprofen, Tylenol pm, Dayquil, and Pepto Bismol. And plenty of it! For other toiletries, don't over pack. The only items I had trouble finding were face wash, makeup, and feminine products. Adaptors are not necessary. South American and North American plugs are the same.
Please contact me if you have any questions! I really loved this experience and would love to share more.
In 2011, there was a professor who didn't seem to grasp the concept of service-learning. His thoughts were very jumbled. But since then, IPSL has hired new professors and carefully trains them.