Winter Break Across Peru Study Abroad Program Lauded a “Beautiful” Success by Students, Faculty

Charlotte Tuggle | Communications Editor

After journeying across Peru’s exciting, diverse landscape during winter break, students are back in Auburn with a fresh perspective on the world around us. The program was a new opportunity offered by the College of Human Sciences’ Office of Global Education and College of Sciences and Mathematics, designed to be a shorter, more affordable option for students to study abroad.

Following the bulk of the holiday season, the group travelled to Lima. This was just one stop on the tour across Peru’s major cities, Andes Mountains and the Amazon rainforest. Stops to historical landmarks such as Machu Picchu, the Cathedral of Lima, the Sacred Valley and the Sacsayhuaman Fortress were included, along with walking tours and visits to local markets across the country.

For Haley Turner, a junior majoring in Global Studies and Psychology with a minor in Intercultural Communications, the experience opened her eyes to Peruvian culture.

“I never realized how amazing the country is and, after exploring it, I am amazed by the diverse environment and the great people. I really hope to go back some day,” Turner said. “It’s also made me a much more curious, adventurous and confident traveler and person, in general. It has inspired me to want to explore new places abroad and in the United States.”

Prior to leaving for Peru, students were assigned several research papers about the culture and history of their destinations. Turner said her research on Pisac, Miraflores and the Amazon rainforest enhanced her experience while she was there. She said she was surprised by the kindness of the Peruvian people and their willingness to share stories, which lead to meaningful connections with the locals she encountered while studying in the program.

Turner said one experience in particular moved her to want to return to Peru someday.

“We visited a school called Cooperar Peru. The town that housed the school was very different from the other cities we had explored. We learned that many people in this town had very little and the town had only recently installed water pipes,” Turner said. “This school touched my heart because they are working to uplift the children in this community and provide them with an education that they may otherwise not have had. It was an extremely eye-opening and inspiring day and I hope to one day revisit the school and contribute to their cause in any way that I can.”

COSAM Academic Advisor Katie Cooper was one of the faculty directors that accompanied the group of students to Peru. She said a group of ten students was perfect for the program, and hopes to send more students and faculty to experience the country in the future.

“My expectations were far exceeded regarding this program. I fell in love with Peru and think that we got to experience some really great parts of it in such a compressed time frame. The country is so environmentally diverse, the people are so welcoming, the food is incredible and we had great support and educational opportunities in country provided by the tour guides and the EF Tours logistics team,” Cooper said. “Looking forward, I think we can come up with a more comprehensive packing list and better describe what the students will encounter in each city, hotel and mode of transportation.”

Global Studies junior Tori Haynes said her research helped her prepare for the trip, especially when it came to the significance of the places she visited. Haynes said her expectations of the trip were far exceeded.

“I was ready for an action-packed trip full of hiking and trekking, but the moments of stillness were surprisingly impactful as well,” Haynes said. “The beauty of Peru exceeded my expectations and as I sat on the bus riding through the country, I was able to get a good look at the magnificence and magnitude of the land. I was in awe of everything from the mountains to the jungles.”

Haynes said her favorite part of the journey was when the group witnessed a weaving demonstration, where Peruvian women taught them how to weave and dye fabric. The practice had been passed down for generations and their designs held ancient cultural characteristics. Haynes said it was a special moment, knowing the women were proudly sharing aspects of their culture with the American student group.

Haynes said the group also really connected with the tour guide, who provided insight to the places they visited and gave great life advice to the travelers.

“He warned us of missing the beauty by focusing instead on distractions, like the unpredictable weather,” Haynes said. “I was able to see that Peru is so much more than Machu Picchu. This trip has taught me to explore the area around me. I realize that there is beauty everywhere and a strong history behind every place.”

For many students, Haynes included, the trip to Peru marked the first time they crossed the equator. Human Development and Family Studies Associate Professor Kyle Kostelecky marked the occasion with a ceremony naming the students “shellbacks” – a rite of passage for travelers -- and giving each a certificate commemorating the accomplishment.

On the ground, Kostelecky said the group was moved by what they saw of the Peruvian people.

“We saw Peruvian families in all kinds of contexts, working, playing, eating and living – just as they do every day. Our students saw how people different from themselves, with much less or with different priorities, can be extremely happy and content,” Kostelecky said. “At dinner each night, a few students were asked to share about their day in the context of something they learned, how they can apply it to their major or career and what they are looking forward to the next day. The students couldn’t wait to have their turn and these conversations started earlier and earlier each evening, and lasted longer and longer the deeper we got into our trip.”

For some students, visiting the ancient hidden city of Machu Picchu brought tears to their eyes. For others, it was an impromptu visit to an afterschool program that worked with impoverished locals that stirred emotion. Kostelecky said the group was also “amazed” at two young children that spent all day tending to a huge flock of sheep high in the Andes Plains. On the last night, the group was “transfixed” for hours by the locals dancing in a plaza in Lima and watched how the many generations created a community.

“According to the students, almost everything was unexpected and amazing,” Kostelecky said. “They consistently lauded the uniqueness of this experience and were planning to tell all of their friends to go on this trip the next time it is offered.”

Both Haley Turner and Tori Haynes – two of the first students to embark on this unique opportunity – highly recommend the experience to any student interested.