It is the end of day 4 on our abroad trip here in Cusco, Peru. In only 4 days it feels as though an entire lifetime has passed. I’m starting to get comfortable walking around the city without a map and life here is starting to normalize. One of the most shocking aspects of Cusco that I did not expect were all the protests. From what I understand, the buses raised their ticket prices without informing Cusceños of their plans. University students rallied together and created a strike of all transportation in Cusco (including taxis). The city was shut down for an entire day; banks, stores, and restaurants all closed. As someone coming from a country where this would never happen, it was a very powerful image. The second day of the strike a variety of community members were protesting in the streets, not only university students but professionals and business owners with police in tow. The media portrays the protestors very differently than they do in the United States. In Cusco, they are respected and almost praised. I have enjoyed seeing the protests, almost giving me goosebumps as they walk by.
I studied abroad in Uruguay during my senior year of high school and I thought I would see a lot of similarities between Uruguayan and Peruvian culture however this has not been the case. Although they value family the same, Peru has richer cuisine, is cheaper than Uruguay, and projects fewer stereotypes. Using my knowledge of the Spanish language has also been incredibly transformative of my experience. I am able to connect with Cusceños more profoundly because of my conversation skills. This has allowed me to understand their culture and hopefully understand the community here.
One of the most amazing parts of Cusco is being in a bustling city and looking up into the beautiful mountains. They seem to go on forever. I feel so lucky to experience the contrast between nature and city on a daily basis. Looking around, my roommate Juliana and I, always comment on how fortunate we are to live such a privileged life. Although drawing comparisons between Peru and the United States is practically inevitable, idealizing life back home can be dangerous. Both cultures and countries have their flaws.
To avoid idealizing life in the United States, I have found it most beneficial to keep myself occupied with activities in Cusco. Whether eating the local cuisine or walking around the city people-watching, I have been able to disconnect from life back home. The less I’m around wifi, the more I can appreciate and experience life as Cusceños do. When I studied abroad in Uruguay, I found myself occupying my time as much as possible to avoid homesickness. Although I do not think I will necessarily be homesick during this abroad experience, I do believe in order to maximize my time here, it is best to disconnect from technology. As beautiful as the views are, pictures will never do it justice therefore constantly having my cellphone out is unnecessary. I am actively trying to leave my cell phone in my backpack. I could share my point view with other students. My understanding of idealizing life in the United States has changed. I now see the dangers in constantly comparing both countries and cultures. Comparisons create judgements and easily generate stereotypes.
As someone working in public service I need to be hyperaware of the stereotypes that are formed. Talking to other students on this abroad trip can be a way to combat certain stereotypes. Discussing our host family’s way of life rather than criticizing them can be a constructive way to express ourselves. Although we are all experiencing culture shock in one way or another, it is imperative to remember: it’s not good, it’s not bad, it’s just different. As a public servant, we should not judge someone’s way of life. Rather understanding who they are and what we can do to help improve their situation – as they see fit. Public service is a collaborative effort, connecting the community to the public sector. Imposing judgements only creates toxic and harmful environments. Although this is easier said than done, it is something I am actively trying to avoid.