Erin Smedley's Peru Experience

Erin Smedley's Peru Experience

Note: This story also appears in the December/January issue of the Sho'men Club Newsletter. To become a member of the Sho'men Club, click here.

Women's soccer player Erin Smedley spent the Spring 2015 semester in Peru and writes about her time on South America's Pacific Coast.  Here is her experience.

Erin Smedley - Peru

Spending a semester in Peru was not as much of a culture shock as I expected.  We (I went with a friend, Caitlin Byrnes '16) picked PUCP (Pontífica Universidad Católica del Perú) because it was the most unlike WAC of the Spanish-speaking study abroad options—big city, big campus.

I had initially wanted to live with other international students, but eventually was persuaded to live with a host family, which was one of the best decisions I made. My house was filled with people: my host parents, their son and his wife and two-year-old daughter, two other exchange students (from Arizona and Germany), and Sasha (their cranky old schnauzer). That semester was the first that my host family housed more than one exchange student. It really felt like a family; when they would have family events we were always welcome.

I had wanted to live close to the campus so my bus fare was cheap and I could walk to class if I wished. Since I chose to live with a family near the school, I was in a poorer district of Lima, Pueblo Libre, rather than the affluent and tourist-ridden Miraflores. I enjoyed that this afforded me a more representative Peruvian experience. Though Peruvians love people from the United States, they can tell immediately if you are a tourist, which means you also get overcharged for everything. I never really got used to the fact that the prices of everything were negotiable, though with the advice of my host family I learned the Peruvian prices of things (we would joke about el precio gringo).

Transportation was a little difficult to get accustomed to, but that was probably because I have always lived in a rural area and have had no experience with it. On our first day we paid between 20 and 30 soles to get from Pueblo Libre to Miraflores (three soles is about one dollar) and by the end we would never pay more than ten. But there were always taxi drivers who would try to absurdly overcharge you because they assume you are a tourist on a quick vacation. And always have exact change because the taxi drivers will not always give it to you—I once had an extremely uncomfortable ride with a driver that asked me a lot of personal questions trying to gauge how much money I had and tried to change the fare we had agreed on. The buses are a huge shift from anything that would exist in the United States. There were three sizes—micro, combi, and ómnibus—and I most often would take the micro, the smallest. Some of these buses were so small that I could not stand up straight (I am 5'6''). There was never space to move and there were no stops; you had to call out when you wanted to get off and hope the driver (chofer) or collector (cobrador) heard you.

But the prices of everything were much cheaper in Peru, especially if you took buses instead of taxis. There were a few really beautiful beaches where friends and I would spend the day. San Bartoló is far from Lima, but it is where most Limeños would spend their vacations. There is also a really incredible ruin, Pachacamac, on the way to San Bartoló; people say if you cannot make it to Cuzco and Machu Picchu, it is the next best. My other favorite beach area was Callao, a port near their national guard (I once watched their sailing team practice). I also went on a boat tour there where we got to swim with sea lions. We befriended a group of Peruvians and one weekend went with them to a friend's beach house a little farther outside of Lima.

I did not travel as much as I would have liked outside of Lima, but with our international and Peruvian friends we were able to enjoy exploring Lima itself. There is a lot to see and even some great Indian Markets that really give a feel for the (at least marketable) culture. I did, however, spend an extended weekend in Huaraz where we visited and hiked in historic towns, lakes, and glaciers, some of the highest altitudes in Peru. We also tried guinea pig, which is one of their historical dishes and not a pet.

I loved Lima and its people, but I definitely prefer WAC to the university in Peru with our small class sizes and genuine relationships with professors. I did, however, get to take a class on the main dialect of Quechua, one of native Andean languages, which was exciting but also gave me more insight into the culture. Also, people really appreciate it when you know a little of their language. Quechua itself has 47 dialects and is in danger because there are a lot of linguistic barriers that prevent speakers of only Quechua from having access to many important resources.

The students are energetic and extremely involved in campus life. There was no women's soccer team, but I did play futsal with Computer Science students every week. There were also inter-disciplinary games where each faculty would compete against the others. If we ever felt like playing soccer we could just go to the university's fields and there would always be at least one game going on that we could join. There is not really anything like that in the United States, for soccer at least.

I miss Peru and the friends I made there more than I ever thought I would. Before I went everyone told me how great an experience I would have and though it feels cliché, it really was amazing. Sometimes I will even have flashes to something as simple as standing on my corner waiting for the bus that will make feel super nostalgic. Now I tell everyone that if you have the chance, whether you are trying to learn a language or just expand your worldview, definitely go study abroad (probably in Peru).