Chelsea is a 2011 graduate who chose to major in sociology with a spanish minor. She studied abroad for eight weeks in Cusco, Peru, in a Spanish Language + Volunteer program. She is currently working as an English teacher with the Lutheran church in Chile.
What were your living arrangements while studying abroad?
I chose to split my time. For four weeks I lived with a host family, and then for four weeks I lived in the school residence. At the school residence, I made some really cool friends from Canada, Switzerland, and England. My social life was more dynamic as my classmates and I planned special trips, learned to dance salsa, explored the local culinary scene, and visited ruins and museums in the city together. However, with my host family, I learned a lot more about the Peruvian culture, the political system, challenges unique to Peru, and Cusco's history.
What effect did studying abroad have on your life?
My experience only added to my desire to work in missions or social-assistance programs/organizations. It paved the way for future opportunities in those areas and connected me to others with similar ideas. For example, my fellow Amauta classmates were volunteering with other international organizations to teach better sanitary habits to very rural Peruvians. Some worked with the Peruvian government to restore the trafficked youth's self esteem and to help end human trafficking in general. Others were interested in working within the education system to study what worked and what didn't for the Peruvian children. Being around people like this is inspiring - and the friends I made provided me with links to similar organizations and companies around the world. We still communicate regularly to share ideas, job updates, and travel plans.
Professionally, my study abroad experience links directly to the work I am doing now as an English teacher with the Lutheran church in Chile. I have this job because I happened to open up a conversation with, "This summer, I studied Spanish in Peru and worked with girls who had been rescued from trafficking." The very next question my (unbeknownst to me) future employer asked was, "So....you can speak Spanish pretty well, then?" Even though I still have a lot to learn in Chile, I was better positioned to step into this role quickly because I'm more familiar with South-American culture, history, and language.
In what ways did studying abroad allow you to learn and grow?
Of course I learned more Spanish. I also learned what Peruvians themselves thought about the Peruvian government and it's struggles with corruption and past terrorism. From the outside looking in, I was able to more clearly compare that to the strengths and weaknesses of our own American government. This has led me to 1) love my own great country for its strengths while better understanding its failures, 2) be even more interested in the American political scene, and 3) search for ways to improve my own patria. For example, I'm much more in tune with the anti-human-trafficking movement in the USA now, because I worked with young girls who went through that experience in Peru.
I found that people are people everywhere - and that although you always have to keep your guard up and be streetsmart, you can usually trust strangers or foreign acquaintances to help you when you are completely lost or confused. This not only builds up your confidence, but it helps you learn how to handle potentially sticky situations with more ease.
In what ways did you connect with a new culture?
Education is close to my heart. In Peru, I talked with my host mother and Peruvian friends close to my age about their educational system. I understand now just how a quality, accessible education can be so vital for creating a strong economy and political system. Related to my studies in sociology, I often think about how big-scale change (for the better!) could be realized in a country like Peru: Where would such change start? How does the government play a role? How do everyday people play a role? What can non-profits do?
After listening to my host mom's stories, I have a better understanding of and more empathy for the struggles and the spirit of Latin American people. Peruvians went through rough times in the 1990s. It's fascinating to find out how the human spirit adapts and survives in such horrible circumstances. I also understand better now why people may lean toward socialist or communist governments, because I talked directly with Europeans, North Americans, Australians, and Latinos about their opinions on those topics.
Most importantly, I was challenged to see all of this through the eyes of Christian faith. Not only did I question, "Where is God in all of this?" but I studied the Bible more in order to keep focused on His love and promises. At the same time, I was made more aware than ever before of the world's very painful and very real need for a Savior.
Describe your best memory from this experience.
In only the third week of our stay in Peru, Bethany classmate Missy Bergemann and I participated in a GINORMOUS festival-parade celebrating the Incan/Cusqueno festival of Inti Raimi (summer solstice). Amauta provided us and our classmates with traditional Peruvian costumes, and for days we rehearsed a historic dance to the beat of a local band. We marched through the entire plaza on Inti Raymi, and this desfile (parade) was broadcast live on national Peruvian television! Never in my life could I have imagined that I would have an experience like that. Ever. Awesome.
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