Official Blog of the Latin American, Caribbean and Iberian Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Studying Abroad in Peru – Interview with Elana Siegel

What is your major and year in school?  What are you professional aspirations?

I’m a senior studying International Studies. Eventually, I would like to work in international development in communications.

How did you decide to study-abroad in Lima, Peru?

I knew that I wanted to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking area in order to better my language skills. I settled on Latin America because I wanted an experience different than the ones I’d already had during travels in Europe. The program in Lima attracted me for its flexibility – for instance, there are no required classes. In general, Peru has a little bit of everything. It’s a beautiful and varied country, with everything from the Andes to the Amazon, the northern beaches to large cities, and incredible history and ruins.

What was the most difficult thing to get used to while living in Lima?

One of the most challenging things in Lima specifically was the size of the city. Nine million people live in Lima, making the capital city comparable to New York City. Coming from Madison, a city of 330,000 people, that was quite a shock! At first the city seemed like it was perpetually in chaos. It was only after some time living there that I was able to find the rhythm and pace of the city.

In general, one of the most challenging aspects of study abroad was my frustration at not being able to communicate. I struggled for the first two months or so with the language barrier. I wasn’t confident in my language abilities, and felt that I couldn’t express my personality. Instead of being my normal talkative and outgoing self, I found myself acting reserved and shy. I got over it though, and one of the more rewarding parts of my study abroad experience was overcoming that language barrier. By the time I left, I was much more confident with my Spanish skills and had re-discovered my personality.

What aspect of your life in Peru was most exciting or fun?

The discotecas!! The discotecas play all sorts of music – salsa, reggaeton, the Beatles, jazz – and you just dance the whole night away. It was awesome.

What is your impression of Peruvians and more specifically, Peruvians living in Lima?

Oh – tough question. The phrase “Peruvians in Lima” encompasses such a wide range of people. In a broad, sweeping generalization, I would say that Peruvians are friendly, energetic, and very relationship-oriented, meaning that friend and family social ties are very important to them.

What did you learn about the Peruvian political system or economy while you were living there?

The economy is based largely on natural resources, especially mining. The economy has been doing well despite the recession, and is in fact one of the fastest growing economies in Latin America. Politically, the government has been gaining more control and is now a little  better able to enforce its policies. There are areas of Peru, especially rural areas, mountainous regions, and the Amazon region, that are still on the fringe of government control.

Would you go back to Peru to live or work there?

Absolutely!

What other places did you visit besides Lima?  What was your favorite and why?

I went all over – the northern beaches, Iquitos (a city in the Amazon), Huaraz (a village in the Andes), Cuzco, Machu Picchu, Arequipa, Puno, Lake Titicaca, and then south into Bolvia including La Paz, Coroico, Sucre, Potosi, and Uyuni.

My favorite place was definitely Huaraz, in the Andes. I did a four-day trek there to a pass at 4,750 meters. The mountains were just beautiful – and the difficulty of the journey to the pass made arriving there a beautiful moment.

Was it difficult to make Peruvian friends?

No! Peruvians are very friendly, and very much want you to like their country. They go out of their way to be friendly and nice to you. Plus, they really value friendship and are extremely loyal friends.

What do you miss most about Lima now that you are back in the US?

I miss the sense of adventure of being abroad. It’s like stories you hear of people that go through near-death experiences and then come out the other end with a new appreciation for life. When I was in Lima, I felt like I had just come out the other end of a near-death experience. I wanted to experience everything, do everything, and see everything. I never said no to any experiences or opportunities. Here in Madison, it’s hard not to fall back into the routine of university and work. I have to remind myself that there are adventures here too – I just have to go find them.

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