Lima, Peru Study Abroad Experience

Name: Pierce Ciccone
Type of Project: Study Abroad

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  1. Please provide a brief description of your STEP Signature Project. Write two or three sentences describing the main activities your STEP Signature Project entailed.

The first month of my STEP project centered on taking classes at a local university in Lima, Peru called Universidad del Pacífico. The second month of my time abroad was spent volunteering with an organization called Aprendo Contigo to provide educational opportunities to children in two separate hospitals within the city.

  1. What about your understanding of yourself, your assumptions, or your view of the world changed/transformed while completing your STEP Signature Project? Write one or two paragraphs to describe the change or transformation that took place.

My view of the world and of myself grew and matured immensely during my time in Peru. For example, while in Peru I had to learn and utilize public transportation to go to and from my service-learning site each day. This was something I was not used to and rarely did in the United States. In addition, I had to experience for the first couple weeks what it felt like to struggle to communicate with a majority of the people there due to the language barrier. I now realize and can empathize with people from other countries that immigrate to the United States but have difficulty communicating to others. In regards to myself, I learned about my ability to handle challenging situations and my capacity for empathy, both very present during my time volunteering in the hospitals with the children. One of my responsibilities was helping to teach the kids basic educational concepts in math, science, reading and communication to keep them on track to continue school after they had healed. However, at times it was difficult to properly explain what I was trying to say and had to ask the children for help by giving them context clues and by finding an alternate way to express my idea.

  1. What events, interactions, relationships, or activities during your STEP Signature Project led to the change/transformation that you discussed in #2, and how did those affect you? Write three or four paragraphs describing the key aspects of your experiences completing your STEP Signature Project that led to this change/transformation.

There were three main aspects of my time in Lima that led to these transformations of thought and feeling over the course of my two months there. They were: the Peruvian friends I made in university, the children I served and my trip to Machu Picchu.

First, I made multiple lasting friendships in Lima with students from Peru attending those universities. What strikes me the most now, as I sit here reflecting on how our friendships were forged, was that even though we had our differences, we were also very similar. For example, they would ask about the United States and our culture because they were naturally curious (if they had not already traveled there to visit family or for vacation), just as all of us were about the culture in Peru. They had strong beliefs and attitudes about the corruption and poverty facing their country as we have similar sentiments with issues closer to home such as immigration and the economy. They taught me to keep an open mind and pushed me to get out of my comfort zone by trying new foods, going new places and most of all, talking in Spanish. Even though at times we had some trouble communicating, we could still hold conversations well enough to make each other laugh and have fun, which demonstrated to me just how easy it can be to meet someone you might not think is possible before it’s done.

Secondly, the children in the hospital showed me and told me many things about their life that made me realize things about my own. For example, some of the kids would talk about their inadequate living conditions, but yet were always grateful to be in the hospital where they were going to “get better”. Their parents shared the same idea; they would not complain about having to sleep in a metal chair alongside their child for nights in a row or how overcrowded the hospital was. They would only thank me for everything that I was doing and say how grateful they were to be there. It gave me some perspective into what I have to be grateful for here living in the United States, where the healthcare conditions in public hospitals are much cleaner. Working with the kids also taught me empathy, for their were days that even when communicating with each other was difficult, simply doing a puzzle or playing a game was enough to entertain them for a couple hours. They showed to me how to welcome someone completely new (me as an American) into their lives and want to understand where they come from. Their curiousness and resilience will be traits that I remember and try to better in myself for the rest of my life.

Lastly, the other students in my program and I took a weekend excursion trip to Manchu Picchu. This trip revealed to me my love for exploring other cultures and their historic roots. It also convinced me to return and travel to other parts of South America in the future. While there, I decided to dive into the unique culture of the Incas in Cusco. I tried “Cuy” which is guinea pig. I witnessed a parade that occurred in the streets for two days straight and most importantly, I realized something that significantly impacted me. It was a thought that just because something is different, that does not make it worse. For example, just because you cannot flush the toilet paper, this place is not worse than the United States; the conditions are simply different. This idea has stuck with me ever since I left and will be with me moving forward in college and afterwards.

  1. Why is this change/transformation significant or valuable for your life? Write one or two paragraphs discussing why this change or development matters and/or relates to your academic, personal, and/or professional goals and future plans.

These changes are very relevant to my academic and professional goals in the future. For example, I want to attend medical school after graduation and eventually become a doctor. I then want to move to South America for an extended period of time (over a year) and provide service to those that may not have as great of resources or access to resources as we do here in the United States. I also want to continue learning Spanish and diving into the culture of Peru and any other country I decide to visit. The natural curiousness, the empathy, the ability to think through challenging situations and find innovative solutions to problems and the resilience that I have learned from not only the children I served but everyone I met during my two months in Peru will carry over well into my professional career as a doctor but also in my quest to become a more globally conscious citizen. Whether it be through my efforts in the hospital or those in the classroom, Peru was the opportunity of a lifetime and will continue to be my inspiration long into the future.

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