There’s also an interesting article written by my fellow traveller Max Teirstein in the upcoming paper, so I encourage everyone who sees this to read that as well.
Peru was one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’ve travelled to many different countries and lived in five, but I don’t think I had as great a time anywhere as I did in Peru. For the first time during my time at Friends, I’m actually pretty excited to be writing this post.
We did a lot of fun stuff in Peru, but I’m just going to mention some of the most rewarding for me. First, the people on the trip really made it a wonderful experience. Everybody was very open to experiencing new cultures, which made the trip all the more immersive. The trip leaders were intelligent, caring and knowledgeable, and magnified our connections with the place hundredfold. If I took away any lesson from this: surround yourself with amazing people with amazing experiences, and you’ll feel amazing too.
Peru has an awesome culture. Well, for starters, it actually has a culture. Sometimes I feel like the United States (or maybe just NYC), doesn’t have a culture in the sense that everybody has a shared tradition that guides their everyday thought and interaction. Argue that as you will, I definitely noticed an intense difference in the way that culture pervades the life of everyday Peruvians. The Peruvians have an ancient history, spanning back to the massive Incan civilization. I always thought I knew everything I needed to about the Incans, but after witnessing firsthand the mind boggling stone structures that they somehow cut and built by hand, I fostered serious respect for this mysterious and genius archaic people. I don’t think we could handle feats of architecture and masonry like the Incans’ today; the organizational systems required to manage such huge feats of engineering seemed to far exceed those of Fortune 500 companies. One of our tour guides said that the Incans were led by a select breed of leaders that were 7-8 feet tall and had extra bones in their spines to support their genetically larger brains (i.e. they were superhuman), based of scientific evidence. I don’t know if this is true, but I can understand why people think it’s a plausible explanation 😉
However, the biggest learning experience for me was probably living with our host families. In the city, I don’t get outside my “bubble” of people with similar views, opinions and, of course, language as me. However, I pretty much forgot English for a week while I lived my my “mother” Miriam, my “father” Juan, and my two “brothers” Gabriél and Alejandro. I don’t think I’ve ever learnt so much Spanish, and gotten so good at it. 1 week in a homestay = 6 months in Spanish class, plus added benefits of food, housing, and immense cultural immersion. Go do it. I think it was actually the biggest service element of our trip, because, of all the experiences, it made me the most in-sync with and respectful of Peruvian culture. Over cups of quinoa-cocoa, I was able to share hours of my stories with my family, and hear just as many from them. We gave each other new perspectives.
I think trips like these really distinguish four years of textbook-memorization from an education. I’ve always thought education means dramatically changing the way you think about things in ways that you didn’t even think could happen. Learning chemistry or grammar never did that for me. Because really changing the way you think means meeting the people that think that way. And those people exist, but you have to get on a plane to meet them. Peru was two weeks of endless interactions with people who have given me a new perspective on things. Things ranging from the comparative quality of South African and South American chocolate, to the chain-effects of buying a diamond ring and to how I fit into the communal cycle that connects a NYC kid like me to a kid from the most remote, hidden, yet essential pueblo in Peru.