My love of travel started when I was very young. Coming to Auburn, the question for me wasn’t whether I wanted to study abroad or not, it was where should I go to study? I searched on and off for a program that combined my want to learn about a new culture and my desire to travel during the program. So, in the fall of my junior year, I set off to study abroad in Lima, Peru. When I arrived in Peru on the first night, I was dropped off at my host family’s house around 2 a.m. after a very long day of travel. When I arrived I found my host mom, her brother, and their mother waiting up for me with a snack, wanting to talk and welcome me to their home. After that, it was a whirlwind. At school I took literature, anthropology, and archaeology classes with Peruvian students. The courses were difficult because they were all taught in Spanish, but it was worth studying more to understand what was going on. After school, my friends and I took classes in salsa dancing and cajón (a Peruvian box drum), we learned to cook from our host mothers, had a talent night, and even made a yearbook to remember our great memories. Through my study abroad group and on my own, I traveled to Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Lunahuaná, Ica, Paracas, Iquitos and the Amazon, Huancayo, Trujillo, Puno, Arequipa, Junín, Máncora, and Caral. The diverse ecology of Peru allowed me to go from getting stuck knee deep in mud in the middle of the Amazon, to sand boarding on the dunes of Ica, to climbing the glacier Huaytapallana. The experiences I had traveling were only shadowed by the great friends I made. They became more like extended family than just friends. My American friends and I bonded over our shared experience of attempting to navigate the new culture we were in, while my Peruvian friends and I bonded over our love of music and learning a new language by teaching each other slang, the jerga. When it was time for me to leave, it was torture to say goodbye to the country I fell in love with and the great friends I made. So I vowed to go back, whether it was in one year, or one decade. I would return.
The second time I studied abroad in Peru was a complete stroke of luck. Late one night in early February, just 2 months after returning from my first study abroad trip, I was sitting at my computer, morosely searching the internet for something I could do with my Anthropology degree after I graduated. Although I could find nothing that truly interested me at the time, I stumbled across Harvard University’s summer study abroad program. It was in Northern Peru, at a site called San Jose de Moro. I remembered studying this site in my archaeology class in Lima. So, with one day before the deadline was due, I applied to the program, not really expecting to be accepted. However, a short time later I was accepted and in June I was on my way back to Peru.
Going into this program, I was honestly expecting to dislike archaeological field work. I mean, come on. I would be in the desert for a month, with no one I knew, there would be no hot water, our day started before 7 a.m., and we would be in a hole, digging in the dirt, sun, and sand all day. Boy, was I wrong. I absolutely fell in love with every aspect of it (except the cold water, that is). It was an experience like no other. We spent our days excavating Moche artifacts from 400 AD; we found ceramics, copper, evidence of fire pits and settlements, and a number of spectacular burials and tombs that we were actually allowed to uncover. In addition, I helped out in the laboratory at the end of the day cataloging the artifacts we had found. At night, we would have lectures from visiting archaeologists, or we would have epic card games sitting in the outdoor dining area. On weekends, we would travel to local sites and have dance parties once we got home. Even though I was only there for a month, I learned a lot about the culture and the people of San Jose, and how important it is to get the people involved in the work. Peru’s archaeological wonders are rife with looting. At most, sites you see a landscape that looks like the moon’s surface, filled with craters where huaqueros have stolen beautifully painted ceramic vessels, destroying the context of the artifacts they remove. To try and counter that, the archaeologists at San Jose have aimed to get the community involved in the project so they protect their own history. The project employs local workers, is involved in the local schools, is setting up a guide program led by youths of the village, and they even have an apprenticeship for students to learn how to make replicas of the ceramics that were found at the site. Although this program was very different from the field school program offered through Auburn, the experience was incomparable to anything I have ever experienced.
Both of my experiences in Peru have fostered a love for the country and culture. When I was there, I did not only make friends, but I also gained an extended family that I can’t wait to see again. As a result of my time with these programs, I will be returning to Peru after I graduate to work at La Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru, at the archaeological laboratory.