The ‘study’ part of being abroad

So you might all be wondering what I do when I’m not travelling. Since I’m not travelling about 75% of the time, that’s a great question. School, mostly, and exploring Lima. We’re in final exam week right now, and I’m busy of course with final projects and papers, though I don’t have it as bad as some people I’ve talked to. I’ll go through my classes to give you an idea of what they’re like.

First, I have Narrativa Hispanoamericana Contemporanea, which is in the Litertura facultad, or the literature college within the university. This has been my favorite class, as it is smaller than most of mine (about 15 students), and I really like the teacher. She speaks clearly and slowly, and like all good teachers has a passion and wide knowledge of her subject. She is actually a published author. One night my roommate and I were exploring Parque del Amor, a mosaic park in Miraflores that has quotes related to love, and Erin came upon a quote from our teacher. At first I didn’t believe she ranked up there with all the other famous authors quoted in this park but then we did a Google search and there she was! The literature we’ve been reading has spanned from Borges to contemporary authors like Andres Caicedo and Fernando Vallejo. Though I don’t participate much due to the language barrier, the other students in the class are very involved and add interesting insight to class. For the final in this class we have to write an 8-page paper and present in front of class.

Second class is Gender and Climate Change, which is in English and taught by a Peruvian professor who also has taught in Canada and I think the US. The class consists of representatives of at least eight different countries, mostly Europe and the US but also Japan and Peru, so it’s great to hear all the different perspectives. This class is three hours long once a week, and we’ve had to write papers and do presentations. My teacher provides great insights into Peruvian reality as far as issues of gender and environment go, but outside of that this class has been a review of many issues I’ve already covered in global health classes at UW.

Next is Ecoturismo, which turned out to be my least favorites class. Instead of being about the ecotourism industry and the benefits/negatives, it was more about how to start an ecotourism business. Almost every week we had to coordinate with a group of 8 people to meet and work on some questions he would give us. The group work gave me a good opportunity to work on my Spanish and the Peruvians were really friendly but it was difficult meeting all the time when people are typically late to everything and many times only 3 or 4 would show up.

Finally, I have Realidad Social Peruana, which was practical and necessary for me, who didn’t know much about Peru at all before I came. I now know the entire span of Peruvian history from the conquistadors up into the present. My teacher is the author of many of our readings. Though he obviously has a great knowledge of the material, he was sometimes difficult to hear and lacked enthusiasm during the two-hour lectures. For the grades, there was one midterm and two control de lectura’s, which measure your knowledge of the readings. For the final exam we have to answer questions in front of him for a half hour!

At PUCP, the students take two years of general courses and then they have three years in their facultad. Gender and Climate change is in the Economics facultad, and the other two are in Letras Generales. Although when we get to college in the US many people are in a hurry to pick a major so that they can graduate on time, I think this system is maybe better. The two years in general classes give students a good liberal arts foundation. For example, Realidad Social Peruana is more than a history class. It’s also a class to give students a realistic picture of the cycles of corruption and success in their country’s history and an analysis of how social issues such as racism or pueblos jovenes (or the poorer neighborhoods outside of Lima) have developed. I personally could really have benefitted from two years of general classes without having to worry about deciding on a major!

A few more thoughts: It was nice to be in the upper level classes given that I now do know what I’d like to major in. The Letras Generales classes are mostly 17 and 18-year-old students and I’ve sometimes felt like I’ve taken a step backward when I’m in a class filled with students who’ve just come from high school. For anyone that is thinking of coming to Peru, if you’d like to take classes relevant to your major you need two things: Go at least three hours early on the day when everyone signs up for classes to wait in line, and have good enough Spanish that you can comfortably take classes in which you might need to discuss and participate in class a lot. I did neither and ended up with classes in which I did not participate (partly my fault!) and feel integrated into class. It was nice to not have much pressure to participate though, and I would recommend trying to get at least one day free a week to travel.