Over spring break, a Friends group went to Peru. Envoys, an organization that empowers students through travel, took this group of city kids to a part of the world that, until then, had only lived on the fringes of their perspectives. I was lucky enough to be one of those city kids, and through the trip to Peru I learned the difference between seeing a country and living it. We stayed with host families, speaking only Spanish, learned from the completely sustainable people of the Uros Islands, and explored ancient Incan ruins. From a silent meeting in Machu Picchu, we watched the fog swirl around the peaks of the Andes and we awoke at 6 am to the sound of ghoulish howler monkeys in the Amazon Rainforest. We did so much that coming back to our busy student lives at Friends seemed dull.
Throughout the trip, we were led by a task force of professors and Envoys counselors who worked tirelessly to make every minute of the adventure an experience in and of itself. Our trip leader, Ángela Gomez, was an enthusiastic character who seemed to have everything planned out, down to the minute of our arrival at our host homes. “Flaco”, our medic, was a ukelele-playing, song-singing, happy-go-lucky Columbian who looked after each one of us, even staying by the side of a few group members for two straight days while they recovered from a virus in a hospital. Ahava Silkey-Jones, a third Envoys member, was smart, collected, extremely helpful, and very attentive; it was her first time in Peru, and yet she made us feel secure and at home there. Señor Quiñones and Micah were our Friends Seminary adult representatives, proving to be extremely caring and capable in their abilities both as our guardians in Peru and as our friends—they were our attachment to home. With the help of these leaders, our group became a family.
In this trip I found a stark contrast between visiting and traveling. At the start of the trip, I made it my goal to avoid seeing the country through the lens both of my camera and of my life as a New York private school student. By planting trees for a Peruvian farmer, the fruit of which he will sell to send his daughter to school, I achieved that goal. I achieved that goal again and again, in my homestay, in seeing huge swaths of brown among seas of green rainforest from the plane, in our brilliant tour guides, and in asking my waiter at a restaurant his name, where he was from, and what his dreams were beyond working at a hotel in Cuzco. I achieved that goal when I realized that to be a person, you need to travel and learn about the world you live in.