I was fortunate to have the unique and interesting opportunity to study abroad in Lima, Perú during the Spring semester 2016. Through living with a host family, attending a Latin American university of more than 16,000 students, completing four courses in a second language, and traveling to a number of diverse locations around the country, I came to understand what it meant to live and thrive in a foreign setting. The values, lessons, and paradigms that I encountered cannot be learned in a classroom or domestic campus setting, and I feel that it is my responsibility to advocate for others to take advantage of similar opportunities. Through my completion of this program, I consider it my responsibility to share the positive (even some neutral or negative) aspects of studying abroad through IFSA-Butler.
From the beginning, the Peru staff were angels-Lali, Zivka, Maria Elena, and "Mama Laura" are some of the sweetest most caring women I have ever met. They all really wanted the students to feel comfortable and cared for. I was having a lot of medical problems and they all listened, tried to understand, gave me advice when they could, and even accompanied me on my many doctors appointments. On this note, I must say that the health insurance through CISI really saved me and my family financially. With all the medical issues I was having, I accrued more than $2,000 (US) in medical bills. This program (part of the program, for all students) covered 100% of these bills-hospital, doctor, medicine, everything. I would pay for the services upfront, but CISI sent my family a full refund for *everything*. This helped me more than I could ever explain.
The host family I was placed with was also mostly good. I lived with two laicas consagradas, or consecrated laypeople—ultimately, nuns who lived among regular people. This led to many interesting experiences (considering I am not religious myself) and occasionally some issues. It is common in Peruvian culture to not make problems very public or obvious, sometimes to the point of holding in too many thoughts/feelings, so passive aggression can become a factor that can build over time. A few times it did come to a head, but ultimately we were able to work through our differences and learn from each other (I hope). When this was not a factor, they were very grandmotherly and sweet. Our house was always very clean and I was lucky enough to have a few minutes of hot water every day for a shower. Two meals a day were provided.
The academics were slightly challenging because this program was entirely in Spanish, although I did pick one class through the university which I came to regret—Laboratorio de Arqueología 4-arqueozoología (Archaeology Lab 4-Zooarchaeology) taught by R. Villar. There were only 6 students in the class, yet class times and locations were constantly changed and everyone in the group knew about it except for me for 8 weeks. No emails/texts/etc were sent to everyone, but somehow everyone knew where to be except me. This did not happen in any of my other three classes, so I find it unlikely that I was just being a confused foreign student. She moved the midterm date a week early (also without anyone telling me). We had a component that required us to make our own bone tool, but I had difficulties due to my medical condition (which we discussed, she told me not to worry about that component), and although I completed it and brought it to the final to turn in (which no one came to because they had cancelled it without telling me), she still gave me a D for the project. Overall, it was a very bad experience and has been my only C in a class in my entire college career; I wish I would have taken a different class. Other than this, I learned a lot through my other classes—especially through my advanced Spanish language class through IFSA-Butler. My teacher Rossana Díaz Costa was awesome and really cared about all of us, both academically and as a friend. Peruvian social reality was an eye-opening class, although we mostly talked about the ex-President Alberto Fujimori and his daughter Keiko, who ran in the elections this year.
Our group traveled to multiple places in Peru including Arequipa (student-run trip), Cusco and Machu Picchu, El Carmen, and other places (through the program). Each of these trips focused on a specific part of Peruvian culture. Cusco and Machu Picchu focused on the indigenous Peruvian lifestyle and sustainable farming while El Carmen focused on the Afro-Peruvian community-which I found quite interesting and unexpected. These trips really allowed us a nice break from hectic Lima and gave us a chance to experience and learn together outside of a classroom setting. The trips were some of my favorite parts of studying abroad.
IFSA-Butler also set me up to volunteer with a local archaeological site called Huaca Pucllana so that I could complete my community work in a place that aligned with my studies and interests. I am an archaeology major, so this was a great opportunity. I met a many of the archaeologists at the site and was even able to become good friends with a few of them. Some of them directed me to resources I could use for my thesis when I returned to the US. I spent over 80 hours in the lab cleaning and organizing archaeological materials like plant remains, bones, shells, and ceramics. Although I wasn’t able to dig (they began digging during finals week), this was still a valuable experience and was a great addition to my resume and understanding of my field.
There were many positive and negative things about studying abroad, but they were more or less personal matters. The things provided by IFSA-Butler were consistently excellent and helped me a great deal during my time there. I would recommend this program (or others through IFSA-Butler, as I would assume they have similar standards) to anyone who is considering going abroad and who wants a program that will take care of them, challenge them, show them around the world, and ease the process of reintegration to the US.