No amount of words could ever do justice to the past two months. I’ve spent an unhealthy number of hours trying to contemplate how I would describe my exchange to my friends, family, and even on this blog post. I’ve come to accept that I cannot. The raw happiness and love I’ve experienced here in Lima will stay with me in my heart forever, even though I know that no one will ever be able to fully understand the depths of my love for this beautiful country and these beautiful people. In fact, this ties into one of the main lessons I’ve come to learn on exchange: some experiences were meant to stay buried in your heart and trying to express such feelings is an impossible task. Too often in life we feel that we need to validate our experiences by posting everything on social media, or ensuring that we relay every story to our friends and family. On exchange, I learned that experiences can have just as much meaning even if you never tell the story. Because for every experience you have, you grow as a person and learn more about yourself.
My exchange in Peru was without a doubt the best two months of my life. That doesn’t mean, however, that it was all positive or easy. I learned that the most meaningful and fulfilling moments in life occur when you overcome a previous struggle or fear and see yourself grow from that. In other words, you get out that which you put in. These past two months were littered with moments like that. From gathering the confidence to walk up to a group of people and join into their Spanish conversation or even deciding to take a salsa class, every moment of the two months I spent here were educational on a level I had never experienced before.
I think of my exchange as divided into two parts. My first few weeks consisted of a lot of hard moments in which I ultimately learned so much about myself and found my footing at Markham. Throughout my second month, however, I was so purely happy and grateful to be where I was. Nothing could bring me down. I started planning after-school hangouts with friends every day. Whether we went to the cinema or out to sushi, I made sure that not a day went by where my schedule was empty.
One of the many reasons that I was so lucky on this exchange is because I had the opportunity to go on three completely separate trips within Peru, two of which required flights. The first one was Santa Eulalia, an outdoor adventure school-sponsored trip. Secondly, about a month into my exchange, my host took me to Cusco and Urubamba. While here, we stayed with one of their family friends who took us sightseeing throughout these two beautiful cities. We also went to see Machu Picchu, which was without a doubt one of the most beautiful sights I’ve ever seen in my life. Finally, for my last week of exchange, I went on a surf and service trip with the school to a small beach town in northern Peru called Poemape. Every morning we woke up at 5:30 AM, surfed for two hours, did service all day, and then surfed for two hours again at night. One of the service activities that we did was delivering a 15-minute presentation about micro-plastics and their effect on marine life to students at a local public school. At first, doing this 15-minute memorized presentation in Spanish seemed too daunting, but I finally gathered up the courage I had acquired in my past two months, and did the presentation in my second language. While I can’t say I didn’t make a few errors, it felt really rewarding to be able to do something so scary and challenging that I never would have done before this exchange.
I remember my first few days in Peru. I was convinced that there was no way on earth I would ever be able to understand Peruvian Spanish. I remember writing in my journal, “I don’t know what language they’re speaking, but it’s definitely not Spanish.” However, every day I could feel myself improve, in both my communication abilities and my ability to understand. By the last week, I could understand almost everything that was being said.
One cool thing about the surf and service trip in Poemape is that we were joined by other students from a less-fortunate background, and none of them knew English. Therefore, I was in a situation that was essentially full-immersion, with very little English at all. I slowly became good friends with these girls. Some nights we would stay up for hours, having long conversations exclusively in Spanish. As I lay in bed after exhausting my brain from a Spanish overload, I thought about who I was on the first week of my exchange, and who I now was on the last week. Spanish ability aside, I had changed so much as a person for the better.
I know for certain that I will never forget the strong impact that the friends I’ve made and the people I’ve met here have had on me. They unknowingly taught me about friendship in a different country. At Markham, people are honest and straightforward, yet they love their friends with their entire hearts. I am going to miss these people so much. The second I said good-bye to them on my last day of school, I got this horrible pit in my stomach. In some ways, two weeks after being home, it’s still there.
I got incredibly lucky with my host, Almendra. For two months I got to live with my best friend in the whole world. I will never stop being grateful for that. Alme and I are different in many ways, yet also similar. I have never cried more in my life than I did when I gave her and my host mom one final hug good-bye. It’s two weeks later and we’ve texted each other life updates every day since then. I have Athenian to thank for giving me the opportunity to make a lifelong friend on the other side of the world. I am going to miss Alme, our reggaetón dance parties in the kitchen, salsa dancing at parties, the kiss on the cheek when you meet someone new, booing France profusely in all their World cup matches, the food, the people, and, of course, my new second home.
I would like to thank Athenian and Markham for giving me the best two months of my life. If anyone is on the fence about exchange, I cannot describe how important of an experience it is. Few students have the chance to study in another country, and I cannot think of a single reason not to seize the opportunity. The way I see it, you will inevitably have some combination of good and bad moments on exchange. In the bad ones, you will learn about yourself, develop your independence, and grow so much as a person in ways you could never imagine. In the good ones, you will create friends and memories to last a lifetime.