Amanda Stark arrives in Peru

It’s midnight in Lima, Peru as I walk out of the airport alongside my new family, leaning forward against the weight of my backpack, fiddling with my hands, as I watch my exchange’s mother and boyfriend lugging my two dysfunctional suitcases behind them. Although it is the beginning of winter in Lima, the air is humid. I’m perspiring after the ten-minute walk to where the car was parked, waiting. That night, in the midst of excited plan making between Marianne, my exchange, and Nani, her mother, regarding where we would go out to eat dinner, I fell asleep in the car. Due to the surprisingly heavy late night congestion, I was allowed a good hour of rest before we arrived at my new home. In a spontaneous change of plans, Marianne’s boyfriend Jordán cooked everyone an innovative fusion of laidback breakfast and hearty dinner. Although such moments of spontaneity are few and far between for me back home, they became increasingly common during my time on exchange.

We spent the last four days of their mid-semester break driving around Barranco, the district of Lima in which they lived. We visited MATE, a non-profit museum recently founded by Peruvian fashion photographer Mario Testino. We went shopping in Larcomar, a shopping center overlooking the ocean that is a popular site for both domestic and international tourists. To my surprise, I discovered that Peruvian Chinese food–otherwise known as Chifa–and sushi were better than any other version of those foods I’d ever tasted. Well, ok, save for Chinese food in China, but that’s a given. The Peruvian dishes were amazing as well, and tasted delightfully familiar. My grandmother, you see, was born and raised in Peru and cooks those dishes for my mother and I on a weekly basis in California.

On my first day of school, the first thing that struck me as I arrived in my crisp white-and-brown plaid uniform was the scale of Markham’s facilities. We entered through a large, multi-story parking garage and climbed up the stairwell to a panoramic view of the main campus: multiple soccer fields, indoor basketball and volleyball courts, a swimming pool complex, a newly renovated and pristinely white arts building, and, in the direction we were heading, at least a dozen multi-story buildings linked by a complex network of inter-building walkways on the upper floors. As Marianne paused to open her locker, I noticed another novelty: everyone was using their lockers. I later found out that this was largely due to the fact that phones were allowed only by the lockers, and would certainly be confiscated if seen anywhere away from one’s locker. On one occasion, I almost found myself on the receiving end of the punishment for this rule. School ends around 2:45 pm (and, unfortunately, starts around 7:30 am), but activities go on after classes until 5:00 pm. Marianne stays behind until 5:00 pm three days a week. One day, as I was obliviously chatting with a friend on the phone around 4:30 pm, the head of the school, Mrs. Rios, appeared in front of me and demanded to know why I had my phone out. I explained that I was an exchange and hadn’t been informed that this rule continued after 2:45 pm. She let me off with a warning. I nervously thanked her and tucked my phone away into my backpack. Moments like these were when I missed Athenian’s more lenient school policies. I do appreciate the self-control I have learned to maintain in regards to time spent on my phone. I found that spending less time on my phone at school improved my ability to perform tasks outside of school without being constantly distracted by my phone.

It’s around 8:00 pm, which means I’ll be called to the dinner table soon. At home my mother and I eat around 5:30 to 6:00 pm. I’ll end by noting that, glancing at my calendar, the best of my exchange is still to come!