[the what] On June 20, 2015 at midnight, I arrived home from a three week journey to Cusco, Peru on a service-learning and study abroad trip. When I woke up the next morning, I took the longest, hottest shower of my life and went down to greet my family. As I walked downstairs, I found my parents and my sisters waiting for me to regale them with crazy stories from my time in a foreign country. They prompted me with, “how was it?” to which I replied, “it was incredible,” and that was all. Apart from a horrible, vomit-filled story of me paragliding off a cliff in the Andes, and of course, the awe of seeing Machu Picchu, after about five minutes, I found myself having really nothing else to say. Everyone seemed confused and slightly concerned. “Well, did you have fun?”, my parents prompted. Fun? It felt like such an odd word to use, and I told them as much. “What? So you didn’t have fun?”, they responded. But it wasn’t that I didn’t have fun on the trip; that really wasn’t it at all. In fact, I had such a great time, and it was probably the most amazing experience of my entire life. Yet, to call the trip “fun” seems to miss the entire purpose of the trip.
[so what] I went on the trip to Peru to learn more about sustainable development in a new country, practice my Spanish, and meet new people and live in a place that was much different from the place I call home. What I got out of the trip was much more than that. I have seen things in Peru that I never thought I would ever see. Snow-capped peaks, ancient civilizations, extravagant outdoor religious celebrations, salt mines on the side of a mountain. All of these things were intriguing, exciting, and beautiful. However, I also saw a lot of other things during my time in Peru. Plastic bottles jamming up rivers. Children running around with no shoes. Old women begging for coins on the side of the street, carrying all of their belongings on their back. Extreme poverty. And that was hard for me. I don’t think of myself as living a very sheltered life in the States, but I also don’t think anything could have prepared me for seeing the poverty and despair that has struck many of the towns and villages we visited on our travels. Even as someone working in public service, the truth was hard to swallow. I wanted to have a “fun” time in Peru, but I couldn’t seem to ignore the reality that was in front of me. That was, until we visited the three service sites at which we worked.
The organizations Abrepuertas and Corazón de Dahlia and the comedor (dining hall) Virgen de Fatima all worked extremely hard to tackle local development and make life better for everyone in their communities. Seeing the optimism, good spirits, and faith of the directors, leaders, and workers at all three of these sites was not only reassuring, but also incredibly empowering. The community leaders, most of whom were women, worked tirelessly and selflessly for the betterment of their societies. Being a part of that experience was inspiring and motivating.
[now what] Tomorrow I am moving to Boston, Massachusetts to start an internship at an environmental nonprofit. Having come fresh off the trip, I feel I can bring a lot of the experiences I’ve had in Peru to the internship and my work in public service. Now, no problem seems too large to tackle. When faced with a situation that seems unjust, unfair, and utterly hopeless, I know that I can call upon the lessons learned from the strong community leaders in Peru and work my way through it. So, while I may not describe my trip to Peru as “fun,” I would definitely call it the most rewarding, eye-opening, and inspiring experience of my life. I now feel excited to work on new problems, and know that my work in public service is only just beginning.
Master of Public Administration (MPA) Graduate Student
* This CCPA blog series is by CCPA graduate students participating in the Peru International Service Learning Program led by CCPA Professors Susan Appe and Nadia Rubaii. The blog series allows participating graduate students to reflect on their experiences during their time in Peru in June 2015, using a what, so what, now what? model (see: Rolfe, G., Freshwater, D., Jasper, M. (2001). Critical Reflection in Nursing and the Helping Professions: a User’s Guide. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan)