Jasper Oshun - Archaeology, Inca Project in Peru
The memories of my time abroad grow more wonderful and fantastic each day I spend away from Zurite. Of course I enjoyed every moment I spent climbing the terraces, eating dinner with the volunteers, chatting with my family and the weekly cosmopolitan excursions into Cusco; yet each day that I spend in Providence, Rhode Island, my experiences seem more unbelievable, more otherworldly and are therefore more treasured. The transition from Peru to university in frigid New England has been very difficult for me, which I think is a testament to how wonderful it is to spend time abroad.
By the end of the spring semester 2003, I had completed two years in university. Uncertain of my direction, I tentatively filed for a concentration in International Relations, but I realized that I had spent a very limited time traveling, and that put me in the significant minority at Brown. Not only had students come to Brown from every corner of the globe, many had spent time studying and living overseas. I struggled to learn Spanish in the artificial environment of the classroom. Everything seemed contrived-the content of my international studies classes seemed contrived and lacked applicability to my life. The world was distant and I was trapped in a bubble, secluded from the reality of the world.
I knew I wanted to spend time abroad, and that a semester completely removed from formal academics would allow me to explore another culture and myself without the stresses of term papers and exams. The question of where to study came easily. From the time I saw my first picture of Machu Picchu at the age of eight, I had been drawn to its mystical beauty. Furthermore, I wanted to develop my limited Spanish that had not been tested in the world. While searching the internet over the summer, I found Projects Abroad .
A couple of months later, I arrived in Zurite, bleary eyed from a night's stay in Lima to find a town that fit the otherworldly lifestyle for which I was searching. Out taxi stalled, wheelbase straddling a canal of rushing water, while we waited for cattle, sheep and pigs to finish drinking and move down the earthy roads.
Unlike the other 13 or so volunteers, I lived with a local family across the street from the Projects Abroad house. Because learning Spanish was a priority to me, living with the Ruiz family was the best option. If you are thinking of volunteering abroad, think hard about the advantages of living with a host family. Not only does it force you to develop your Spanish in a relaxed atmosphere, but also instantly makes you a part of the community. I felt that I knew more people in Zurite and was more in tuned to the inter-workings of the community because I lived with a family. Furthermore, I had the opportunity to develop wonderful friendships with the parents and their three adorable children. I could take the kids to the football stadium and start tossing the Frisbee with them and other kids would fill the stadium, grinning, laughing and demanding the disc, "Aqui!, Jasper Aqui!"
The terraces are amazing. I arrived during the final stages of the Condor brush removal phase. Three to four days a week we climbed half an hour out the back of Zurite into the beautiful and impressively enormous cerro. My days were spent with a machete and a pick, cleaning and clearing the gnarly roots that had grown into the stones holding the walls in place. The view out over the Anta Plain became more gorgeous as the daily rains greened the valley, and an occasional rainbow would plant itself in the wide, dried-up lake. One day it was just a friend and myself who had the strength to climb and work.
The sun brought out the moisture in the rain-soaked ground and made it sweat through the afternoon. Flies floated around my legs in the stagnant air. It was a tough day for only two to be working, but I was used to it. I swung my pick down through the flies and dug out a block from the eroding wall. Beneath, centipedes and a tarantula ran for cover. The sun was descending in the western sky, but the heat persisted. The air smelled like rain, moist and heavy. Finally the rainy season had come in the form of daily punctual storms. As we worked we could see today's edition forming in the mountains across the table-top Anta Plain. Clouds grew around us; the rain was approaching. Now, rain could be seen between the terraces and Zurite. I tossed my pick to the ground and stared. I could see the sheets not more than 500m down the hill, shooting through the eucalyptus trees to pound on the bristly slopes. I hesitated, glanced at Tom, and watched as the ghostly blanket of rain enveloped the lower terraces, and then the hills to our side. The noise of hail bounced through the valley. It was too late. We grabbed our jackets and ran down the terraces as marble hailstones pelted our jackets. We jumped from ridge to ridge, avoiding the charging streams of hail water. The mountains erupted with thunder and lighting.
Projects Abroad provides an essential gateway between travel and volunteering, adolescence and adulthood, naiveté and world consciousness that prepares one for life. Most importantly however, living abroad teaches you about yourself. It may seem odd, but I had to travel to and live in Peru to begin learning about myself. Although I often feel more confused now that I have returned, I feel the confusion is a result of my mind being more open than it was before. Living abroad has taught me to think about life and myself differently than ever before. Traveling is wonderful. I know now that I want to find a job that allows me to travel and become involved in rich cultures that are strange and unique beyond imagination. The stresses of school and life often point us in one direction that is too sterile, too narrow, too incomplete, and just is not the reality of the world. A semester off took the pressure off, allowed me to explore myself and the wonders of Peru, and filled my head with memories that vividly remind me of the beauty of the world and fill my heart with optimism.