Now in its fifth year, the Service-Learning and Language Immersion Program in Peru is a collaboration of the Center for Civic Engagement, the Master’s of Public Administration Department in the College of Community and Public Affairs and the Office of International Education and Global Initiatives. It combines a course at Binghamton University with 3 weeks of on-site language immersion and service-learning in Cusco, Peru.
Below are excerpts from participating students' final reflections on their experiences in Peru. They discuss readjusting to American culture, reflect on what they're most proud of and offer advice for future participants.
"One thing that I am especially proud of is the Comedor Popular that we helped build. This is something that is such a big use to the people because they will have the ability to serve the people from the community more efficiently. With the construction of the comedor popular, the people will no longer have to worry about the expense of rent, and will be able to save the money that they receive to buy more supplies, and resources, making the comedor more reliable and more useful to the people in need.
Another thing that makes me proud is my improvement in the Spanish language. Being in Peru, I was able to practice the language that I had been learning for so long. My confidence speaking the language definitely grew because I had to speak it to get around and ask for whatever I needed. Whether it was food, direction, or a discount on some souvenirs, I had to make the effort and speak it." --Jennifer Augustin
"There were so many things I loved about Peru and many experiences that made me very proud. My time at the service sites made me feel accomplished in a couple different ways. The manual labor jobs that went into Abre Puertas and specifically Comedores Populares was something that I would never have guessed I could do. Never before this program would I have expected myself to sand/prime a mural, paint an entire office or build a brick room from scratch. The fact that I was able to accomplish these tasks reminded me how important it is to have an open mind about all things and how I am capable of so much more than I sometimes think I am.
I think the hardest thing to explain to people now that I am home is why Peru was so important to me. I think a lot of people were surprised/confused when I told them I would be studying abroad in Peru, because somewhere in Europe is the more ‘typical’ place of choice. It’s hard for me to put into words why Peru was so amazing and the reasons I wanted to go there but since I’ve been home I have already been planning when I will be able to go back. I really had one of the best experiences of my life there and am so thankful I was able to be a part of such an amazing program." --Sara Herlands
"I think the hardest adjustment I came home was the feeling that my life and perspectives had been changed and so much had happened in three weeks, yet I came back and it seemed like nothing had really changed that much.
My advice for the group next year is to be open-minded. To start, go into the trip with the knowledge that the culture is not worse or better, simply different. From there, my advice is to make the most of the experience and try everything. If you get a traditional dish you like, great! Try other things though. If you grow comfortable with one mode of transportation, try another type another day. You will be tired, especially in the beginning but really throughout the trip. Try not to let it ruin the experience, though. Don’t be grumpy with your group, don’t decide against doing things because you just want to go home, and don’t choose an extra hour of sleep over an hour of talking to your host family. Most of all, enjoy every day of the trip, it goes by too quickly." --Sydney Dunn
"Now that I am home, I guess the hardest adjustment to being home right now is the amount of time on my hands. In Peru, there was so much to do and see and so little time.
As for students that are wishing to embark on this journey in Peru, I have some advice. As one of my new friends presented to me, bring a good attitude. You are going to travel to a new land and experience new things that may make you uncomfortable at times. I'm sure you're not going on a service learning study abroad trip to be comfortable. Remember that and make the best of it and have fun." --Sedonia Lake
"I don't think that I have ever been as out of my comfort zone as I was in Peru. I left my friends and family in the US for a completely different culture and a language that I barely spoke, and I am so glad that I did. I learned what it is like for individuals who come to America and do not know the language, and how frustrating and scary it might be for them. I think this made me more of an understanding person, because I now know what it is like to go to an unknown place and not speak the language." --Danielle Schulman
"The hardest adjustment to being home is the processed food. [In Peru] I ate mostly fresh foods and everything was usually freshly prepared. Being home and eating the snacks I normally keep stocked have caused me to actually not feel too well and I really just miss the taste of the fresh vegetables and fruits that I could easily get on my way to class.
I am also extremely happy with the amount of hikes/walks I was able to do. I had hip surgery in December and have not been very physically active for about two years and I also didn’t know if I would be able to walk for long amounts of time. I have literally never felt better in my life and being able to walk and hike in Peru without any pain in my hip was a great personal accomplishment that I was able to achieve." --Alison Jones
"Looking back, I notice a marked improvement in my spanish skills from the beginning of the trip to the end. Conversations in class, with taxi drivers, and with my host family all became a lot easier to have as the days passed. I was very happy with my improvement in my spanish class in particular, as what started as uncertain, probably poorly-formed speech gradually became confident, second-nature comments and responses.
Things I would recommend for future students: 1) Be ready for long days of work. 2) Make sure that you get plenty of rest and take care of yourself, otherwise you will get sick. 3) Talk to your host family a lot, they are great people, as well as great sources of information for you."--Zachary Malik
"I feel like I have expanded my horizons with this trip. I was less knowledgeable about Peru and South America but with this trip I have learned much more and have a better appreciation for a different way of life. Being able to interact with various people has helped my understanding of Spanish speaking cultures. I also have a newfound appreciation for the efforts people are making to preserve Quechua and other indigenous languages and cultures. The history and culture of Peru is rich and learning about it has only cemented my love and curiosity of languages and culture." --Angelina Brooks