Well, I’m back. After six incredible weeks in Peru, I am writing this blog entry from the comfort of my own backyard. I got back last week, after narrowly missing Tropical Storm Erika during my layover in Miami. Looking back on the events that occurred starting July 15th until now, it’s impossible to summarize my entire trip in a single blog. The places I went, the people I met, and the wide range of emotions I felt during those six weeks can’t be bundled up into a couple paragraphs of writing. Instead, I want to focus on the most prominent truths that I have brought back with me from my exchange.
- Unlike many people, my exchange was not a life changing experience for me. I won’t look back in fifty years and think of how that trip I took to Peru shaped the decisions I made in life to a significant extent. My exchange did, however, change who I am. Leaving home to live with another family I barely knew in a foreign country was not an easy task for me, and to be perfectly honest I was completely homesick for my first three days in Peru. But living without the assurance that my parents were there to help me if I needed help, and realizing that I needed to take care of myself and become independent for six weeks, changed me a lot. I became a lot more responsible, learning how to keep myself on schedule without a parent hovering over me. I found myself not letting my emotions get the better of me. Feeling sad because I was lonely wouldn’t do me any good. I couldn’t run home just because I was homesick. I had to be mature enough to keep myself together and to stay positive. This new outlook helped me be a lot more open to the many new experiences that I had in Peru.
- Despite the fact that we Athenians are so used to the strange little niche we have created at Athenian, we can thrive in other environments as well. Going to Markham was a huge eye-opener in this way, because in many ways the school is a polar opposite of Athenian. It is a large school (2,200 students in 7 grades), and the culture itself in the student body is very different. The overall atmosphere of the school is a competitive one: competition is imbued in almost every aspect of the school. Many classes are very focused on grades. Some teachers give project grades out loud to the entire class, so students become very competitive over grades. This is similar to Athenian in a way, yet Athenian is much more subtle. During the school’s culture festival that was happening the week after I had to leave, every student council was hosting a race of some sort. Or whenever there was a test or quiz, there always seemed to be an aura of competition in the room. I actually found that I enjoyed this competitiveness in some ways, and I was able to adjust to many of the other differences that Markham had compared to Athenian.
- In many ways, the people I met on exchange impacted me on more than the exchange itself. The wonderful people of Lima were by far the highlight of my trip to Peru. My host family, the Casteñedas, were by far and away the best hosts I could have ever asked for. They took me in as a part of their family, brought me to family dinners, took me all around Lima. They were so receptive to any requests I had (usually around the lines of “please can we have that awesome pasta dish from last week for dinner tonight?), and were all extremely gracious hosts. One of the boys even gave up his room so I could have some privacy! The friends I made also were highlights. Joaquin Malo, whose last name ended up as the butt of many of my bad puns. Canziani, who invited me over to his house for sushi. Nicolás Vargas, who enthralled me with stories about the crazy things that happened at Markham. These people, along with many others that I don’t have time to mention, made me feel very welcome in a new school, in a new country. I am so grateful for all that they did for me.
To summarize, exchange was more than just a vacation for me. It has become a defining experience in my new identity, a part of me that will never leave me. I may lose the fluency in Spanish that I gained or the memories of what I did every day, but I will never forget how incredible it was to live in Peru and Peru will always stay in my heart, a part of me I will never let go. Gracias, Peru. Te amo.