Last year I was able to take advantage of an opportunity to study abroad in Peru for a quarter. I don’t want to overwhelm you with everything I did for four and a half months, but there were definitely some highlights that made the experience rewarding, as well as challenging in a positive way. I always tell people that opportunities like this one are great to take advantage of, but at the same time, they play out differently for different people; some may really enjoy going abroad, while others might prefer to do an internship or research in the Chicago area. Regardless, it is important to realize that you aren’t limited at Northwestern. It’s possible to tailor all of these things to whatever may be the best fit for you.

Now for Peru: I spent most of my time taking classes in Lima at a university called La Pontifica Universidad Catolica del Peru. I took five classes, four of which were taught in Spanish. I actually got a special exception to take the class taught in English because it was really interesting to me; it was a class on Tropical Ecology in the Central Andes. The other classes I chose to take focused on Peruvian culture and different environmental topics. Every day I got to the university by taking a combi bus, which is a small bus crammed with people that hurtles through the streets of Lima.

I lived with a host family, which was a very welcoming experience. My host dad Alvaro and host brothers Joaquin and Martin were three of the best ping pong players I have ever met; so naturally my own abilities improved slightly. I realized how easy they were going on me because I watched them play against each other. If they had tried one hundred percent, I never would have stood a chance!

Of course, when students study abroad the excursion aspect is often what is most enticing. I was lucky enough to have some amazing travels throughout Peru. I made the required visit to Machu Picchu, which exceeded expectations. I explored the ruins with a group of friends, and then I climbed the famous mountain Huayna Picchu that extends up behind them in all of the classic pictures. I also visited Lake Titicaca and found my other favorite place in all of Peru (tied with Machu Picchu), which was Taquile Island. It is a small rural island with gorgeous views of the lake, and I got to wander around it on my own.

Finally, part of my program involved working with Peruvian non-profits, and I was with a group called La Semilla. We worked with children in an under-developed part of Lima providing extra-curricular educational opportunities. I went just about every weekend and got to build relationships with those children. At the end of my time there, they put on a presentation that helped wrap up my study abroad experience.

–Jason Smith

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