An often forgotten part of study abroad experiences is, quite frankly, the studying. While though it might seem through my updates to friends and family that I spend all my time exploring Lima or traveling Peru, I spent three very full, very long days a week at PUCP – la Pontificia Catolica Universidad de Peru – my home away from home.
When I signed up for classes, I had a few requirements that helped me narrow down the choices. I wanted at least one Spanish and one political science class for my majors, I wanted classes that would offer me a perspective unique to what I would find in the US, and I didn’t want classes on Mondays or Fridays (so I could volunteer. Luckily, I managed to find four classes that complemented my experience in Peru well: Andean Ethnography, History of the Environment in Latin America, Foreign Relations between the US and Latin America, and Introductory Quechua.
University life in Peru is different for exchange students from the United States in countless ways. The classes I took were less interactive than what I’m used to at IU, and there were fewer assignments (often just a midterm, final exam, and long paper). As a Peruvian friend of mine (who has studied in the US and in France) explained, “Peruvian academics focus on reading; French focus on speaking, and the US focuses on writing”. I found myself agreeing as week after week we were greeted with hundreds of pages worth of material to read. For the first time in my life, schoolwork came less than easily to me – especially writing. It’s quite humbling to have to live up to equal standards as Peruvian students, and sometimes feedback was contradictory. In one class, my professor commented on my paper rough draft that I absolutely must have a Peruvian proofread my final draft because it was hard to understand, while in another class, my professor made a point to congratulate me personally on my Spanish ability and the ease he had in understanding my paper. In one class, I almost blanked on the midterm essay questions, yet after studying much harder and feeling much more confident in my final exam, still received the same grade. Regardless, I learned valuable lessons in each of my classes.
My political science Foreign Relations class reminded me most of home; it was taught by a visiting Puerto Rican professor, and because of my background in American history and my research experience in Central American revolutions, I was quite familiar with most of the materials. However, the presentation of the history was so different than what I would’ve found in the US, and I loved comparing what I had learned previously with what I was presented with in the class. It was also the class I did the best in – as one of three international students, we were all very nervous about our oral presentations. Imagine my relief when I received a 20 – the highest mark – despite my language barrier!
My History of the Environment class promised to be quite interesting, but a lackluster professor with non-compelling lectures made the three hour class a challenge. However, our section about Andean environmental and social trends tied in beautifully with what I was learning in Andean Ethnography. That class was taught by a slightly intimidating but also approachable professor who had been Minister of Culture and had decades of field work under his belt. Although the lectures could be tedious, I learned so much that I was able to observe firsthand in my travels through the Andes.
I was especially interested in the topic after working with indigenous groups during my internship in the US Embassy in Guatemala this summer, and I often found myself making regional comparisons in my head. Taking Quechua also made Andean Ethnography easier, as I already knew what some of the indigenous terms meant. Quechua was one of my favorite courses – the younger professor was incredibly enthusiastic and compelling, and we covered a huge span of material including vocabulary, grammar concepts, and cultural patterns. When I think of my classes I took in Peru, I’ll think back to the benevolent terror of getting called on to write a Quechau sentence on the board, or my professor using English words (ship and sheep) to explain how different languages can have trouble distinguishing different vowel sounds.
The interconnectedness of three, and really all, of my classes during my semester at PUCP was a goal that I’m happy I was able to accomplish. That – as well as the communities I found in my salsa classes, my Internacia (student international relations) student group family, and simply seeing familiar faces, both foreign and Peruvian, around campus – helped me make PUCP a home away from home.
IU pride at PUCP!