Thursday, November 3, 2011

Señor de los Milagros

October is the in which Peru celebrates el Señor de los Milagros. The city of Lima goes all out for this holiday. It is rivaled only by Christmas. There is a week-long celebration and parade throughout all parts of Lima. I had the opportunity to watch the parade from the balcony of a friend`s house. And this is no ordinary parade- The streets are dressed in purple and filled with hundreds of thousands of people. There are bands playing live music and vendors everywhere you look (many selling the dessert called "turron de doña pepa" which is a sprinkled pastry associated with the holiday). The streets are filled with people. People create beautiful images in the streets made from colorful flowers and sand for the procession to walk over (like laying down a rug) and the people in the streets and on the rooftops and balconies light fireworks and through flower petals as the procession passes.

The holiday has religious significance. During the procession an image of Christ, as painted in a famous mural, is carried down the streets of Lima. The mural was painted by a black slave in the 17th century and is the image of Christ on the cross with the Holy Spirit and God the Father above and Mary and Mary Magdelene at the feet of Christ. In the 18th century, Lima suffered a massive earthquake and nearly the entire city of Lima was destroyed. The only thing left standing for miles was the wall on which the mural had been painted. It was a declared a miracle.

A photo of the Image

Looking out over the Procession from our Rooftop!

Viaje #4- Iquitos y Las Amazonas

Welcome to the Amazon!

We spent this last weekend in the Amazon Rainforest and it was a great trip! We flew into the city of Iquitos (the largest city only accessible by boat or plane, as no raods lead in or out of the city). From there we took a bus to the Amazon river and then got on boats to travel to our destination within the jungle. Here, you must access everything by boat. We stayed in a jungle lodge located right on the river and tucked into the edge of the Amazon tropical jungle.  The climate is HOT, and has 100% humidity. Once at the lodge, our first activity was hiking through the jungle, where we saw numerous animals (monkeys, frogs, snakes, sloths, turtles, etc.) and learned a lot about the Amazon. We had to wear long pants and long sleeves as to protect against the mosquitos in the jungle.

We also got the chance to spend a whole day on the Amazon river. Fresh water grey and pink dolphins are common on the Amazon and we spotted a ton of these. Also, we were able to see manitees. The second day of the trip, we spent our day fishing for piranhas and swimming in the Amazon! Once nighttime fell, we rode down the river searching for cayman alligators to catch!

One of the best parts about jungle life was surprisingly the food! We were served jungle meals all week and I was able to eat Piranha (the ones we caught earlier that day!) and lots of new fruits. There were bananas at nearly every meal. My favorite meal was Jaune, which was chicken, hard boiled egg and olives wrapped in flavored rice and served on a palm leaf. We put a citrus sauce on top of the meal which made the dish absolutely delicious!

Our final day in the jungle was spent at a native village in the Amazon where we were able to meet many of the people, buy some of their homemade crafts, and play with all the kids. We played lots of volleyball and soccer.

At the Lodge, looking out into the Amazon Jungle

Caught One!

Piranha Teeth!

Hanging Out on the Amazon After Swimming!

Catching Cayman!

One of the Sloths!
Enjoying our Jungle Lunch!

Fun Events to Attend in Lima

Lima is the capital and largest city in Peru. With that, there are countless fun activities and events that take place in Lima. Here are some of the things that I would recommend attending while in Lima:

1. Mistura: A gourmet food festival which took place in August! The best chefs from all over South and Latin America come and prepare their best dishes, while the public can come try all the food! Come with an appetite!

2. Vino Expo: A wine and pisco tasting festival which took place in September. After the ticket, everything inside is free to try, and many of the bartenders at the expo also show off their skills by making fun mixed drinks.

3. Concerts: Lima hosts countless concerts for every type of music. I was able to attend some big-names at the National Stadium here, but my favorite concerts that I have attended have been the free ones put on in places like the Plaza del Gobierno in downtown Lima.

4. Octoberfest: A festival in Lima (Obviously in October) with plenty of beer, bratwurst, sausage, apple strudle, leiderhosen and traditional German and Polka music. A very fun experience that I would recommend to any visitors.

5. Movies/Theatre: There are countless theatre and movie options available to attend. Many are free and put on by cultural centers and the different embassies around Lima. Also, if you are looking to keep up with cinema, the movie theatres in Lima have 2 for 1 discounts on Tuesdays.

6. Karaoke: You will notice that karaoke is a common thing in Lima. This is a fun activity and adds to Lima's nightlife. The karaoke bars are a bit different in that instead of having a stage, most of the bars allow you to pick the playlists and sing with a group or alone while seated at your table.

7. Museums: Like theatre, museums are countless and many are free. The majority of Lima's museums are located in downtown and there is a lot to learn about the history and culture in each of the different museums.

8. Dinner Show: In Lima, there are many different cultural dinner shows that one can attend. I went to a dinner show at the Sharaton Hotel in Lima. The show included a performance of singing and dancing and was very entertaining, but the best part was the FOOD! There was a buffet of all types of peruvian dishes and desserts. I had nearly 5 helpings of dinner and then 6 desserts. It was some of the most increible food I have ever had.

9. Parasailing: You can go parasailing in a number of different places around Lima. I would recommend going to Miraflores if you are interested in parasailing. You can parasail along the cliffs of the coast and the veiw is amazing.

10. Surfing: Surfing is very common in Lima and you can get surfing lessons for a great deal. If you walk along the beaches in Miraflores, you can find lessons for 50 soles (less than $20) and this includes a wet suit, board, private 2 hour lesson, and then you keep all the equipment as a rental for the entire day to perfect your skills after the lesson.

11. Soccer Game: Soccer is the most popular sport and I would recommend going to a game if you get the chance. I went to the Peru v. Paraguay qualifier game in Lima and the experience was incredible. Peru won 2-0!

12. Senor de los Milagros Parade: During October, Lima celebrates a religious holiday for Senor de los Milagros with a week-long parade and festival. This is a CAN'T-MISS experience if you are in Peru in the month of October!

Places To Visit

Peru is a country unlike any other! It has nearly all of the world's climates within the country's borders.
I have had the opportunity of going to the Andes Mountains, the Amazon Rainforest, the central jungle, the Pacific coast, the Peruvian desert among others.
Here are my recommendations of places to visit while in Peru:

1. Machu Picchu: The ancient ruins of the Inca city is one of the Wonders of the World. This trip was the most incredible experience of my life! You can do a multiple day hike to arrive at Machu Picchu, or also travel to Cusco and stay in the city before visiting Machu Picchu. I visited twice and loved doing both! Also, if you visit Machu Picchu and are up for climbing, you can climb Huayna Picchu, which is the enormous mountain behind the ruins. We climbed to the tip; the climb and the view overlooking the ruins was unlike anything else!

2. Amazon Jungle: The Amazon Rainforest is home to amazing wildlife and makes for a unique and fun trip. A traveler can fly into Iquitos (this city can only be accessed by boat or plane, as there are no roads leading in or out of the city) and can then travel into the Amazon. There are dolphins, birds, monkeys, sloths, piranhas and many more animals that will be seen in the rainforest.

3. The Peruvian Desert: Ica is a fun city in the desert and tourists can ride dune bugggies and try sandboarding while here. The desert in itself is an incredible place, but adding the adventure and action of these activities made the trip one of the most fun! I would also recommend traveling to Paracas from Ica, which a coastal city nearby, where one will find the Islas Ballestas. These islands are incredibly beautiful and home to countless sea lions, and even penguins!

4. Mancora: This is a coastal city and known to have the most beutiful beaches in Peru! There is sun in Mancora during all times of the year! The city is located in northern Peru right next to the Ecuador border. Also, there are bus lines that run from Lima to Mancora for great prices. I got a ticket for only 140 soles trip (About $50)!

5. Punta Hermosa: If you are living in Lima and looking for a cheaper option for travel, there is a nearby coastal city named Punta Hermosa. This also has wonderful beaches, is typically sunny, even when Lima is not, and is less than a 2 hour ride outside of Lima.  You can take a combi for only 2.50 soles each way to arrive at the beaches in Punta Hermosa. This is known as being more of a young-people's destination and for that, it has a fun night-life as well.

At Machu Picchu!

The Beautiful Islas Ballestas!

In the Amazon Rainforest!

If staying in Lima, there are great places to visit as well:

1. Central Lima: This is home to the Plaza de Gobierno, countless incredible churches, museums and parks. There is always something going on and tons of people around in downtown Lima. The architecture is traditional Spanish, and the downtown squares are beautiful. Definitely a fun place to spend the day sight-seeing.

2. Miraflores: Known for being more of the tourist destination in Lima. The Miraflores district holds Parque Kennedy (park), Larcomar (shopping), the beach, countless hotels, restaurants and shops, and an amazing nightlife.

3.  Barranco: This district is another district in Lima that is known for its parks and beauty. It is a great place to spend an afternoon! Also, Barranco has a great strip of discotecas and bars which provide a very fun nightlife. The nightlife here is a favorite to many students and young adults.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Barras Bravas

Alongside the popularity and passion of Peruvian soccer, the sport draws fanatics. As mentioned in previous posts, the fans at the games and around the city during games are insane! Unfortunately in Peru, this insanity can turn dangerous and violent very quickly.

Many of the Peruvian club teams have gangs of fans associated with the teams. These gangs are calles barras bravas. The gangs will travel to games with the teams and especially when their team is playing a rival team, the gangs often get out of hand at these games. These gangs rose up around the 70s and are a very large part of the soccer culture in Lima today.

Fights are certain to break out within and outside of the stadium between opposing gangs. The public knows and is cautious to avoid areas where these gangs might be, although many times this includes major streets in Lima near the stadiums. The gangs are known for throwing large rocks, fighting, breaking things, vandalism, throwing trash/paint/etc. on opposing fans. Sadly, the gangs have turned more violent and some have even began using weapons during altercations in recent times. This has resulted in a number of deaths as well. For example, last year members of a barra brava pushed a local woman from a moving bus while driving through Lima after a soccer game.  This past month, a university student was pushed from a balcony in the stadium at a soccer game by members of the opposing team's barra brava after these delinquents broke into the box seat that the student was in. Both cases resulted in death.

This type of violence is absolutely unacceptable, and from my perspective, it seems no one in Lima wants to take responsibility for what is happening. With no one taking responsibility, no changes are being made. The clubs, the stadium, the city, the police, the State, the players and other fans themselves must ban together to prevent this from taking place any longer. Someone needs to take harsh action, because this must stop!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Futbol en Lima

Soccer, or futbol, is a HUGE thing here; and, as I knew that the sport was very popular around the world, and especially in Latin and South America, but I had no idea just how popular it is here!

I got a chance to go to the Peru vs. Paraguay game last weekend in Lima at the National Stadium! It was INSANE! The game was a qualifier for the 2014 FIFA World Cup which will be played in Brazil. The entire city seemed to stop and either attend or tune in for the game. The week before, a few members of our group waited in line for 8 hours just to buy tickets!!! They are sold at a typical ticket vendor, but easily sell out within the day that they are put up. There is truly not a bad seat in the stadium and as the tickets let you into particular sections, but don't specify the seat to which you are assigned, most fans wait in line the day of the game to get in first and get a good seat. This is what our group did as well. We went to the stadium at 2pm for our game which started at 8:30pm!! Although it was a six hour wait, the time passed quickly because of all the excitement going on around the stadium with vendors and other fans. I was with a group of a few Peruvians and a few other American students. We were interviewed at least four times by news cameras (blonde hair blatantly stands out here!) and being foreigners enjoying the game and cheering for Peru, many stations wanted to interview us. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t realize we would be interviewed on camera and neglected to do our homework on the Peruvian national team. So when asked questions about our favorite players, leading scorers, and the club’s record or history, our answers were probably a little embarrassing. Ha.

Once they opened the gates to let the fans in, it was a mad-dash to the doors of the stadium and into the seats. We got INCREDIBLE seats (about 8th row) and at the end of the field near the goal where Peru scored their two goals in the second half to win the game 2-0 over Paraguay! Inside the game, the excitement of all the fans was unlike anything I have seen in the US. There were fans with fireworks in the crowd and the wave went around the stadium about 100 times! Throughout the entire game, the crowd was fully engaged and excited, and when Peru scored their goals, the crowd, and even the entire city went crazy! You could hear the cheering in all streets in Lima! Of course, the celebration was equally exciting after the win!

Even the following week, this past Tuesday, Peru had a game in Chile.
I was pleasantly surprised to find out that all the university classes were cancelled during the game! Again, the entire city stopped to watch the game. Unfortunately this time, Peru lost. But still, the experience was great!

Concerts in Lima

Lima is the capital and biggest city in Peru and for this, there is always something going on. Lima hosts concerts all the time and I have been able to attend a few. All of the big name preformers put Lima on their tours and for this, Lima's hosted Aerosmith, Ricky Martin, Britney Spears, Rod Stewart, Daddy Yankee and others. The bigger names perform in the National Stadium, which is brand new.

In September I went to the Red Hot Chili Peppers concert in the National Stadium in Lima with a group of good friends and it was a blast! It was funny to listen to the crowd singing along to the songs in English while in Peru. We got to the stadium early to try to get good seat and while waiting there for the show to start, the favorite activity from the crowd during the concert was doing the wave. It seriously went 30 times around the stadium (not kidding) before that got old to the crowd.

Lesser known bands come all the time as well, and these concerts are usually free to attend around Lima. I went to a concert in the Plaza del Gobierno in downtown Lima last month and it was one of my favorite events. There were crowds of people gathered to listen to the bands and dance with the music. It was a very fun experience.

Student Housing in Lima

There are many housing options for students coming to Lima, and depending on your preferences, there is sure to be one that fits you!
If you are coming with a study abroad program, the program will set up your housing and you are given these options:
  • Home Stay: Living with a Peruvian family; many are available when studying abroad with a program. Meals and cleaning are provided.
  • Residencia: Living in a home with 5-10 other international students. Must prepare your own meals with this option.
  • Dorms: USIL dorms house international and Peruvian students. Must prepare your own meals with this option.
  • Other: Find your own apartment or reside in a Hostel for the duration of your stay.
Also, the university has student housing options. My university, the USIL, has off-campus dorms options, and offers these to any students on a first come, first serve basis. The dorms located in Miraflores (a district in Lima, about a 30 minute bus ride to USIL). Many international students use these, but as these are popular, there is often a waiting list, and it is not advised to bank on this housing if it is not already set up upon arrival.
 Keep in mind that most Peruvian students live at home with their families.

MY RECOMMENDATION: without hesitation I would recommend to anyone living with a host family! It is the best way to experience the Peruvian culture and food and surround yourself with the language! The families are all very welcoming and accomodating!

My University- USIL

I am studying at the University of San Ignacio de Loyola in the Molina District in Lima. Most students live somewhere outside of the Molina District and take public transportation (taxi, bus or convi) to arrive at school each day. This ride can range anywhere from 10 min to an hour or more.
- Classes are offered in English and Spanish at USIL. Most of the local students speak and understand English, but if you are studying the Spanish language, I would recommend taking 1 or 2 classes besides your Spanish class in Spanish!
- Choosing courses and enrolling for the semester will take place in Lima during the USIL orientation. You will be assissted by the international office on campus. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND: to know what courses you want to take ahead of time and ensuring that your courses are pre-approved by your home university! You only have a week to change courses so you must know ahead of time.
-  USIL is a great university for those studying: business, engineering/architecture, hospitality, tourism and gastronomy (their culinary school is massive and state of the art!)
- There are 95 international students for the fall 2011 semester at USIL. The campus and the overall student body is much smaller than most universities in the US, so you will get a chance to get to know the people you see on campus.

A map showing the USIL's location in Lima, Peru

A view of the courtyard at the USIL Campus

Student Life

If you are studying in Peru, you will notice that:
1. Copyright laws really are not that big of an issue. Teachers don't often expect you to turn in any type of bibliography with your papers, and if a bibliography is expected, it is not thorough (maybe just a website's name).
2. Grades are NOT private. Teachers will often announce grades to the class when handing back papers or tests. Students do not seem to mind, and rather than being competitive or even wanting to keep their grades private, students share their tests and papers with classmates to compare answers and grading after they're handed back.
3. There is group work in nearly every class. Prepare yourself for working in groups! Although it's not usually my preference, group work is a great way that I have used in meeting Peruvian friends and practicing Spanish.
4. Peruvian students are very social. They like to get to know their classmates and will often grab lunch or get together in groups after lunch. They are very welcoming and this makes it easy to make friends.
5. Although many students have jobs, nearly all students still live with their parents.
6. Classes in the university are less organized than we are used to in the US. Teachers may not give out a syllabus in Lima, and the teachers that do, will often divert from what is on the syllabus. After having 2 months of classses, we are not exactly aligned with the schedule in most of my classes.
7. Students and teachers are VERY HELPFUL! They appreciate having international students in their classes and want us to have the best experience possible. Teachers are very understanding (especially with the language barrier-even in classes taught in Spanish) and students are always willing to help when they are needed.
8. Grades are on a 20 point scale, rather than out of 100 as in the US. In Peru, 10 and above is passing. 20/20 is rarely given. Expect this difference when coming to Peru.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Viaje #3: Ica y Paracas!

We have just returned from our third excursion here in Peru! This trip was to Ica and Paracas, Peru and was full of excitement and fun!

We first arrived at the Huacachina Lagoon (an oasis lagoon in the middle of the Peruvian Desert!) and boarded dune buggies to take on the desert! The dune buggies carried 8 people each and riding in these was INSANE! We rode through the desert at an incredibly high speed, spinning around sand dunes and cruising up and down them. The ride was more fun and more crazy than any roller coaster I have ever been on! Many of the dunes are amazingly high and steep, which made the dune buggy rides intense! After being thrown around on the dune buggies, we stopped at the top of a large dune in the desert. From here, looking out into the desert was an amazing view of sand for miles in every direction that you looked. It was something straight out of Aladin and unlike anything I have ever seen before! Then we were all given boards to try sandboarding! Like I said before, the dunes were massive, which made standing up on the board nothing less than difficult- but still very fun! At first, on most of the larger dunes, we all laid down on our stomachs and rode down the dunes head-first on our boards (some kind of extreme desert sledding). Once I grew comfortable enough on the dunes, I was able to ride down the dunes standing on the board. It was a lot different than wake boarding and even snowboarding in that on the sand, you cannot really carve or cut, so rather than curving to slow your speed down or control where you are going, you just balance yourself and go! Needless to say, there were some pretty harsh wipe outs, but we all made it back without any very serious injuries.

The next day, we headed to Paracas, a coastal town in Peru where the desert meets the Pacific ocean. In Paracas, we boarded a boat and roade out to las Islas Ballestas (an incredibly beautiful island chain off the coast which is home to many diffferent types of animals, including penguins and sea lions!)  We rode around the islands for an hour or so and then we were able to explore the town of Paracas. I spent time relaxing on the beach in the sun before getting a late lunch and then heading back to Lima.

The view on the Dune Buggies

La Laguna de Huacachina


Los Lobos del Mar

The view on the beach in Paracas

Volunteering in Lima!

There are many opportunities to volunteer in Lima- and this is something that ANYONE should take advantage of while studying abroad! It is an incredible way to meet people, help the community, practice the language, and learn more about the people and the culture--among other things! Unfortunately, in Peru, the wealth is extremely unequally distributed. The majority of the wealth in the nation is concentrated in Lima. This, along with below average public resources (public schools, health centers, jails, etc.), has created unbelievable poverty in countless communities in the country. Even if you drive just 15 minutes outside of Lima, you can find incredible poverty. Erin and I have been involved with the Church in our university and have been able to take advantage of many opportunities to serve some of these communities.

This past weekend, we were able to travel to the a small pueblo just outside of Lima with a group of about 15 other Peruvian students. We spent the day working with children, ages 10-12. We held workshops and activities for the children which emphasized the importance of leadership, values, morals and self-esteem. This particular community is one with which our group works very closely! The children in the community were so excited to get to see us and hang out with us! They were familiar with many of the volunteers in our group. The experience of helping out here was AMAZING! The community is extremely poverty-stricken and consists of countless incredible people who have virtually nothing. It was humbling to look at their living conditions- the people here are living in single-room houses made of mud, and have roofs made of grass. Yet, the population was so joyful and very welcoming.

As I stated, the Church has been working in huge ways in this community for some time now. The community consists of countless small homes and literally nothing else. But now, the Church has developed a plan to build an amazing school (preschool, grade school and high school) for the community and has begun building! The grade school and high school classrooms are finished and being used this school year, but lack some essentials such as tiles to cover the dirt floors, among other things. There are plans to build a library, the preschool, and even a computer lab! The school is a true blessing in this community, but there is still a lot of work to be done! We are currently working on fundraising and once the money is raised, the group will begin building the library.  

The opportunity to be a part of a group who is working in such an incredible way has been one of the greatest blessings for me as well! And easily, one of the coolest things I have been able to do while abroad!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Deciding Where to Go!

Making the decision on where to study abroad can seem like a daunting task, so here are a few tips which can make the decision a little easier!

#1: Do you want to study a language? Even if you have not yet begun studying a foreign language, I would recommend to anyone to try to pick one up! Studying abroad is an incredible way to pick up a language rapidly, because you can surround yourself entirely with that language- and it is fun. If you are studying Spanish, look at what you would like to do with your Spanish in the future. For me, I have interned with a Hispanic marketing firm in KC, which works primarily with the Mexican and Latin American populations within the US. For this, studying in a South American or Latin American country was much more practical for picking up the language than going to Spain, because the dialect, accent and many words/phrases are much different!

#2: Are you studying with a program? Look at the program options included with many different programs. All are great, but many offer different things. Choose what seems to best fit you and what you want from the experience.

#3: What traveling do you want to do? Check out the excursions which are either included in the program that you chose, or the options available for you to do some traveling on your own! The traveling is a huge part of what will make your study abroad experience so incredible. Is there any place that you just have to visit -like a bucket list item? For me, this was Machu Picchu! I knew that if I wanted to study abroad and was going to South America, I had to visit Machu Picchu! It helped me narrow down my options to Peru.

#4: What universities are available and what classes do they offer? I would suggest to any student with background in their foreign language, to take classes in that language- it is the best way to continue to learn that language. The university websites are a resource to use in checking what is offered. Also, make sure that your classes will transfer back to your home university ahead of time.

#5: Always keep in mind cost! It seems that some countries are more expensive than others to study/live in. At the same time, within the place that you are studying, the different universities can differ greatly in cost.

Narrowing your options to 2-3 and then deciding can be helpful as well. No matter where you study, the experience will be unlike anything you can ever do againn! You can't go wrong while studying abroad!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Viaje #2- CUZCO!

We have just returned from our second excursion through ISA to CUZCO!
The city of Cuzco was my favorite that we have visited so far in Peru---yes even topping Lima! Cuzco is much smaller than Lima and is tucked away in the Andes. The Inca history in Cuzco is rich to say the least, and the city is beautiful. We were able to explore Cuzco and also to visit the Cathedral and some ancient Incan ruins.

The following day, we were making our way towards MACHU PICCHU! We took off into the Sacred Valley, where we were able to visit more incredible ruins, visit Andean weavers, and go to a local Peruvian bar where we made chicha (traditional drink) and played "frog" (a typical bar game here which is a lot like our washers). After, we boarded a train for Aquas Calientes- the town outside of Macchu Picchu.

Waking up at 5am the next morning was not a problem, because I was more than excited to be visiting Machu Picchu that day (One of the 7 Wonders of the World!). We had a bus to take us up to the entrance of Machu Picchu and once inside, we were headed straight for Wayna Picchu (the tall mountain which overlooks the ancient city). Our first view of Machu Picchu was BREATHTAKING! I have been fascinated with Incan culture and especially Machu Picchu and it truly blew all of my expectations out of the water!!! Around 8am we began hiking up Wayna Picchu--and when I say hiking, I mean more like scaling and climbing the mountain. The trek up was difficult and long, usually takes 1-2 hours, but VERY WORTH IT! I would recommend to anyone to make this hike because once you are at the top of the mountain, looking down over Machu Picchu is unlinke anything else! We enjoyed resting at the top while taking in the view, and then it was back down to explore within the ruins. The trek down was just as difficult as climbing up, but again, a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Once we were back inside the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu, we took a tour of the ruins and learned more about the daily life, the rich history, the religion and the Inca people. We were able to see temples, houses, the infamous sun dial, and various other things in Machu Picchu. After, we were left to explore on our own. I think I took nearly 200 pictures just within those few hours (and for me, that is A LOT!). The views were incredible and the experience was unlike anything I have ever done in my life. It was amazing to be there and see how this ancient city was constructed. Within the ruins, there are llamas and alpacas grazing freely as well, which definitely adds to the environment. I would have just spent the rest of my 5 months haning out in Machu Picchu if given the chance!

Machu Picchu was truly an unbelievable experience, and unlike anything I have experienced! The climb up Wayna Picchu with the view from the top was undescribable, just unlike anything in the world. And truly nothing compares to simply walking around the ancient ruins in Machu Picchu. This experience was INCREDIBLE!!!

The beautiful Cathedral in the central square in Cusco

Me at Machu Picchu

I made a new Peruvian friend!

Still not to the top of Wayna Picchu, but almost there! Overlooking Machu Picchu

My Study Abroad Program: ISA

I am studying abroad with a program called International Studies Abroad (ISA).

For a student studying abroad for the first time, or a student who has studied abroad before, but in a different country, I would highly recommend going through a program such as ISA!
- ISA has a staff here at each of the universities. The staff knows the area well and is incredibly helpful and usually young so they are very relatable. You will get to know the staff team right away! They are your go-to team for questions about anything at all (school, program, the city, travel, culture, etc.)
- Very helpful in setting up classes and working with the university. ISA has a working relationship with all of the universities which their students attend. For this, ISA helps students in choosing classes, placement in appropriate levels of courses, and any negotiating with faculty that is needed. For me, they have been a HUGE help even in only the first month of classes.
- Excursions! With my program, I have 4 excursions included. In my 5 months in Peru, I will have traveled to Machu Picchu in Cuzco, Junin (Andes Mountains and into the Central Jungle), Ica (Peruvian desert), and Iquitos (Amazon Rainforest) through ISA. These excursions are INCREDIBLE. We are always set up with some of the best accomodations and get to take part in AMAZING activities (like sandboarding on the desert sand dunes, hiking up Wayna Picchu which overlooks Machu Picchu, swimming with dolphins and fishing for pirhanna in the Amazon, etc.) These are truly once-in-a-lifetime experiences and they are all set up through ISA.
- Exchange activities with locals are set up for us throughout the weeks as well. We get a chance to experience fun and different things in Lima with local Peruvian students. This is a chance to get to know others outside of our university and program. Some of these activities have been: playing soccer with locals, traditional peruvian music and dance, surfing, etc.
- In-city excursions for the study abroad group is included. There is A LOT to see and do in Lima, and we get the chance to do all the "tourist-y" things with the group during the Lima excursion days. We will do things such as visiting historical sites, ancient ruins, parasailing, etc.
- The other students studying through the program will provide a GREAT group of friends! I was surprised when I came at how diverse the other American students all were, but we all bonded VERY QUICKLY. It is great to have them all here to go out with, and share in the amazing excursions and cultural experiences.
- Housing is also set up through ISA. I am living with a Peruvian host-family, which was already set up for me before I arrived. I completed a short survey on my likes/dislikes/etc. and ISA placed me with a house. My family speaks only Spanish and they are incredibly generous and hospitable! This is by far the best way to really immerse yourself in the Peruvian culture and best experience daily life in Peru! I would recommend this type of housing to EVERYONE interested in studying abroad!
- 3 Meals a day are provided 7 days a week by my host family. This is GREAT because with this, I am able to really experience Peruvian cuisine---and it is DELICIOUS! My family does an incredible job at getting us to try all sorts of new things and not miss out on any of the traditional Peruvian food.
- Safety and health is assured with ISA. ISA gives students invaluable advice for safety in the country. ISA also provides an incredible insurance program for health issues while abroad. Hopefully this will not be needed, but in the case that it is, ISA does all that they can to help their students with these issues.

The only cases where I would not recommend using a program would be to students who might already be familiar with the area. You might not need help getting set up with housing, and if you have already traveled to the excursion locations, it is typically less expensive to directly enroll in your chosen university. But if you are looking to revisit those locations or if you want help setting up housing, a study abroad program is great for this. With ISA, you can have flexible options as well with costs (for example: if there is an excursion which you have already been on and you would rather not go there twice, then the cost of that excursion is left out of your program payment).

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Viaje #1- Junín, Perú

This past week I went on my first excursion with ISA-My study abroad program!

We took the Ferrocarril Central (Peruvian train) which is the highest passenger train in the world! The train took us almost 16,000 feet up into the Andes Mountains and the view was undescribable! Although, this was an amazing experience with the scenery, at that altitude, there were a few people who got sick while on the train. We were given tea de coca (yes, that is cocaine leaf tea) to help with the altitude. Don't get too excited though, although the coca leaves will cause you to fail a drug test, and are illegal to bring back to the US, they are not processed or made into cocaine, instead they just help with altitude and overall health while up in the Andes. The best part of the train was that the last car was a bar and was turned into an intense dance party towards the end of the trip!

Besides our time in the Andes mountains, we also spent a couple days in the Central Jungle in Peru. From the snowcapped mountains, we took a bus into the jungle and went from wearing scarfs and coats to jumping into our bathing suits! The different climates and landscapes within only 100 miles in Peru is insane. While in the jungle, we made a short trek to the Tirol waterfalls in the city of San Ramon. Here we were able to jump in the water and swim under the enormous waterfall! The view itself was amazing, but being able to jump in and swim was better than I expected. At night, we were able to visit a native tribe in the jungle, where we celebrated a wedding with them! In fact, Erin-my sister, was the bride! The dancing after the ceremony was like something out of the "Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls" movie. So naturally, a lot of fun!

The last day of the trip was spent relaxing by the pool and a little more adventuring through the jungle near our villas which we stayed at before returning by bus to Lima. My first excursion included the highlands and the jungle---and I am already certain that Peru is unlike any other country and a must-see for anyone who enjoys travel!
The dance party on the train

One of the views from the Andes

The waterfall- we swam at the base!

Erin's wedding ceremony with a random native

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Clases en la Universidad

This is the first week of classes in my university!
I have two classes in Spanish and two in English, and the majority of my classes are with Peruvian students.

Although, the classes taught in Spanish might be more challenging, I am already reaping the rewards of further emersing myself in Spanish as I am noticing that my ear for the language is picking up meanings and words much more quickly- and after only a couple days of class! Also, the professors are more than willing to help international students in their classes and are very understanding of the language-learning curve.

I have noticed some differences in the university setting:
- In Peru, classes are longer (3 hours), but then might only meet once during the week

- The majority of Peruvian students work while attending school. For this, they typically take their classes very early in the morning or late in the evening. Many of the classes are offered until 11 or 12 at night.

- One thing that I noticed in all my classes with Peruvian students is there is a LARGE cultural difference with punctuality (and even the importance of attending class in general). My first class began at 9 in the morning. The class was from 9-12 and attendance is taken at each hour during the class. There are 12 students enrolled in my class, and by the time 9am rolled around, I was the only one in my classroom (teacher included). By 9:02, my teacher entered the room. By 9:15am there were 3 students. A few more shuffled in within the next 5 minutes, and the teacher took the first roll call. At this point, there were 6 of the 12 students present. By the second roll call at 10 o clock, 3 more joined the class. And for the final hour of the 3 hour class, 2 more students showed. In total, only 11 of the 12 showed up. And all, except for me, were at least 15 minutes late.
The policy at my university is that students must attend near 60% of their classes.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Compras! Shopping!

Everything in Peru seems very cheap compared to in the US!

You can ALWAYS bartar the prices. Usually they are not even listed.

The manner or process for shopping is different. Peru has a recent past of theft within stores. Shining Path. Now the stores are set up to where you go in and look around. In stead of personally grabbing what you want and taking it to the counter to pay, as is customary in the US, in Peru you tell the sales associate what you would like to buy. From there, you can ordinarily negotiate a price. Once a price is decided, you will go to the counter and pay for the item. You will be given the receipt and with that you can go back and pick up your item to leave the store. This is the process in almost all stores with the exception of large department type stores (in which, most of the items are bought and sold in the same way the US does, but many of the larger or more expensive items are paid for first, then carried out).

Monday, August 8, 2011

El Tiempo


August is a month in Peru's winter, and usually the weather during the winter is around 60 degrees. It is very humid in Lima, and for this, the temperrature can seem even cooler. In the homes, there is no air conditioning or central heating. The cold even comes through the floors, and for this- I would advise any travelers coming to Lima during the winter season to pack accordingly. Bring slippers, warm clothes, even coats. Many of the Peruvians like to keep their head and neck covered as well with hats and scarfs (It is a common thought among Peruvians that by keeping your head and neck covered and warm, you can prevent colds and sickness).
During the night, there is usually some wind, especially the closer you get to the coast. Although it never really rains, during the winter, it is almost never very sunny.

But today- it is a different story!
It is 70 or 75 degrees out and completely sunny! Although this is rare during the winter months- I'll take it. The weather is BEAUTIFUL outside! I started my day with a long run around one of the countless parks here in Lima, and am ready to walk around and explore more of the city in this gorgeous weather!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Peruvian Culture- Around the house

After living with a Peruvian family for a week or so, I have began to realize that there are many cultural differences around the house!

- As previously mentioned, you cannot flush your toilet paper. That must be put in the waste basket after wiping. Although this seemed gross at first, you quickly get used to this.
- Don't waste electricity! Nothing is wasted in Peru. Food is never thrown away. Water and electricity are conserved. Many houses will turn on their water heater before showers and turn it off after. In my house ALL appliances are unplugged while not in use (For example: I must plug in the microwave to heat something up and then unplug it from the wall once finished. The same is true for chargers or lamps, etc.)
- House shoes are a needed item as a Peruvian. Many countries consider it polite to remove your shoes when entering someone's home, but in Peru this is not the case. It is considered rude to walk around someone's home without shoes- even in socks, but especially barefoot. You will rarely find a home with carpet, and for this the floors can be cold, so most of the time you would want to keep your shoes on anyways. Most Peruvians wear house shoes or slippers while in their own home, but anything less is considered rude.
- Eat slow! Lunch is the largest meal and takes place at 1 or 2 in the afternoon, while dinner is smaller and takes place at 8pm. Most people come home from work to eat with their families and lunch will take at least an hour, sometimes longer. Not all of this time is spent eating, but rather talking with the family and friends eating with you. I am not typically a fast-eater in the United States and my Peruvian father even told me to slow down while eating meals. It is more about taking time to relax and enjoy the food, conversation and company.
- While we are talking about food--the food in Peru is INCREDIBLE! I have loved almost all the dishes that I have tried (even the weird ones like Alpaca-which was my favorite so far!) There is rice served at every meal. Potatoes are very common with all meals as well (Random food fact: potatoes originated in Peru and Peru has over 300 types of potatoes). Deserts are delicious in Peru as well, although I have noticed that they are served less often. In stead of offering a desert, typically fruit is offered at the end of a meal in the house. Usually our mom will pull strawberries and pineapple out of the fridge after a large meal for us to finish with something sweet.
- I have always learned that big families and even exteneded families live together in Latin American and South American countries, but I was still surprised when I came here to realize this for myself. In my house here in Peru I am living with a family of a mom and dad (age 57) and a son (age 30) a daughter (age 27) and the son's wife (age 29) and their cousin is also staying with us (age 21). The son works in insurance, his wife is an architect, the daughter works in marketing- all are very successful. I couldn't believe that successful adults, especially married adults, would be living in their parents' house! But here this is VERY common. There is no rush at all to get out of the parents' house and to be living on your own.
- All Peruvian families have maids who typically live in the house with the family. To be an ama de casa is a very common job for a woman in Peru. Nearly all families have maids, and even a couple of maids (not just especially well-off houses). Our ama de casa is named Sara. Sara does all the house work including: dishes, cleaning everything inside and outside, cooking, laundry, getting groceries, etc.

The Culture -Day 4

As I stated before, after only a few days, I feel as though I have learned SO MUCH about the culture and the different way of life in Peru.
Here are some CULTURAL TIPS which I figured out in the first couple days:
- One of the first things that I noticed was as soon as I was picked up from the airport, I was greeted by all with a kiss on the right cheek. This is how Peruvians say hello, good-bye, even good night or just before leaving a room.
- Toilet Paper does not flush. This is something that is useful to know in many foreign countries- including Peru. The plumbing and water pressure is not as strong as in the US, and for this, the toilet paper will not flush down the toilet. If it is flushed, the toilet will clog. There are waste baskets next to all of the toilets, and after wiping, you throw away your toilet paper in the waste basket. At first, this takes some getting used to, but after only a week or two, it begins to feel normal.
- La Agua. The water in Peru is NOT okay to drink if you are from the US. The water out of the tap is not purified and you must drink bottled, or boiled water. This is not a problem for me, because my host family boils water everyday so that we will have pure water to drink. The problems come when you want bottled water outside of the house. Typically, when asking for or ordering bottled water, you will receive corbonated water. To avoid this, you must clarify that you want a "botella de agua sin gas" (without the carbonation).
- I am realizing that in all things, being punctual is not a big deal. We have had various orientations, meetings, classes, and even tours. Nearly all of our scheduled events to this point have started 15-30 minutes later than scheduled.
- Being politically correct is no big deal in Peru. Many Peruvians "call it like they see it" more or less. For example they will instantly give people nicknames based on thier appearance. (A Chinese person will be referred to as "Chino" or a heavier set person will be called "gordito" or "gordo". In a group of Peruvian people, I am always referred to as "la gringa" or "la rubia"). This was  made apparent to us as soon as we arrived at our host family.
- Affectionate and caring people! The Peruvians are very caring and welcoming. Coming in as a foreigner, this has been very comforting. Although, their affection is appreciated, for me, at times, it can be too much. You can see these very affectionate qualities acted out everywhere! In other words, there is a lot PDA! Couples are everywhere on the streets, in stores, and in the buses. And they are usually making out. This was a surprise for me, and something that I am still getting used to.
- Also, the Peruvians have a smaller "personal bubble" than in the US. They stand closer to you when talking to you. It is not so much so that it is uncomfortable, but it is noticeable.

Cell Phones in Peru

Today I FINALLY activated my cell phone in Peru.

Even if you have roommates who have cell phones or think that you will not need a cell phone while you are abroad, I would recommend getting one. They are very cheap and will be very useful when making plans or communicating with others.

It is possible to use a phone from home and get it unblocked so that you can use it internationally, but to tell you the truth- that is a lot of work, and I have found that it is better to simple buy a pay-as-you-go phone here.

I planned on using an unblocked phone from home and then just putting minutes on a sim card while here, but once I got the sim card while in Peru, I found that it was incompatible with my phone. The phone still needed to be activated and none of the companies in Lima are the same or can work with my phone company back home.

All in all- I highly recommend getting a cell phone in Lima. The companies here are Claro, Movistar, and Nextel. They sell these phones in many large stores (grocery store, malls, target-type stores, etc.). My phone, with card and 15 minutes pre-paid cost 59 soles.

Day 2-3 in Lima

I am in Lima with the ISA (International Studies Abroad) program, and our second and third days have been filled with basically getting to know Lima and orientation for our program and university. However, in only a matter of a couple days in Lima, I have learned more about the culture and language than i could have imagined.

One large difference in Lima than in the US is the traffic. To me, it seems like pure insanity in the streets, but the Peruvian drivers seem to make it work. Taxis, Convis, Busses and cars are everywhere and mixed in with pedestrians and bicyclists. There are 10 million people in Lima, so as you can imagine, the city is busy. We usually hop on convis and busses to get around Lima (literally "hop on" because they barely comme to a stop while entering or exiting). It costs me about 1 sol to get from my house to almost any other part of the city (with the exchange rate at 2.75 soles=$1; it is cheap!). The traffic and the convis can be somewhat initimidating at first, but by the second day here, I was already getting them figured out.

I first noticed that taxis will honk at pedestrians walking next to the street often. I have now figured out that this is how taxis get their customers. The taxi honks to let you know that they are available, and then you flag them down with a wave if you would like a ride. Taxis here are very inexpensive. My roommates and I went from one side of Lima to another yesterday and altogether it only cost us 8 soles!

All in all, I am starting to really enjoy the convis as a mode of transportation!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Day 1 in Lima!

We arrived! But not without some difficulty, of course. The first day was more or less just travel. I took a flight from Kansas City to Chicago; from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale; and from Ft. Lauderdale to Lima, Peru. I left KC at 6am and arrived in Lima around 9:30pm (it's the same time zone here, but the US time will change with daylight savings, which is not observed here). Of course we had various lay-overs in different cities.

Tips for future Travelers:
- Spirit airlines has some of the CHEAPE$T flights to Central and South American countries. Do some shopping around when booking flights, but I would make sure to check the prices for this airline! With that said, Spirit only flies out of some international airports. The available airports in the Midwest were in Chicago and Dallas.
- Other airlines that are cheaper than most US airlines are: Copa, and Taca
- Be ready to speak Spanish when you arrive at Lima's airport. You will go through customs and immigration, and it is VERY helpful to know Spanish during this process. I was handed a card on the flight to fill out immigration and customs information and the entire card was in Spanish without any English translations. ATTENTION STUDENTS: You do NOT need a visa in Peru. I was told at the airport that anyone staying longer than 90 days must get a visa, but this is really not the case. And it is a huge hassle to go through the process of obtaining a visa. For this, you must say you are a TOURIST when you go through immigration at the Peruvian airport. And also, they will ask (all in Spanish) how many days your trip will be. The maximum amount is 183. This is the number that I would recommend giving if you are studying for a semester. It is VERY IMPORTANT to let them know an accurate amount of time (or longer) that you will be in Peru because there is a charge of $1 a day for every day that you are in Peru over the amount of time that you gave at the airport. If you say nothing to them, the immigration attendant will put 30days typically. Also, there is a $50 fee to change the number on the sheet. This can be a hassle.
- BE AWARE OF WEIGHT LIMITS FOR LUGGAGE. It can change from airline to airline. This created a fairly embarrassing problem while I was traveling. I flew on an American airline to Chicago, which allowed 50lbs for checked-in lugguge. Once I arrived in Chicago, I switched airlines to Spirit Airlines and found out (while trying to check in my bag) that the limit now was 40 lbs. I then had to find a way to immediately shave 10lbs from my bag, and my carry-on was not going to fit more than another pound or two. Which left me with one option- to wear as many pounds of clothing as is physically possible. (Remind you- it's July and over 100 degrees in Kansas). Only some of those in line behind me were entertained- others seemed frustrated.