Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Adventure Has Just Begun...

Greetings from the beautiful city of Arequipa, Peru!

After approximately 17 hours spent in airports and planes, an hour spent in line at customs to receive our visas, and a single night spent in Lima, all 22 of us have safely reached our final destination. We are already a week into our semester abroad, and what a truly wonderful and exciting week it has been!

Upon arriving in Arequipa on Saturday evening, we loaded up our buses and were shuttled off to la Universidad Católica San Pablo (UCSP, for short). All of us, despite being exhausted from our travels, were bursting with energy and excitement as the time came to see our new school and meet our Peruvian families for the very first time.  Our first night was one to remember. One by one we were called up to the stage to finally be united with our host parents. This mini-ceremony was followed up by snacks, beverages, and listening and dancing to the music of the university's "tuna" (a student musical group). After a short evening of smiles and laughter we finally went our separate ways to go to our homes for the next 4 months.

Our Calvin professor, Marilyn Bierling, stressed to us the importance of hospitality to the Peruvian people, and she was not exaggerating! The people we have met thus far seem eager and excited to have us - almost as eager and excited as we are to be here! Our host families have truly taken us in as their own children and have been so kind and helpful. On our first day at UCSP we had a "Welcome Day" orientation in the morning where we learned a little more about the school, met our compañer@s (UCSP students that helped answer some of our questions over the summer), and took a tour of the campus. Overall there are 44 students studying abroad here at UCSP this semester, and Calvin College makes up half of this group! I feel as though we bonded almost immediately - we have already begun to form strong friendships as a group. Considering how kind, helpful, inclusive (and a little goofy) we are, this semester is sure to be amazing!

One of our very first adventures here in Arequipa was a short busqueda del tesoro (treasure hunt) in the city, which was notably helpful in orienting us to the city around us. After being split up into groups and given a list of directions and culture questions, we were set loose into the streets to visit several important landmarks. We visited the Plaza de San Francisco, the Plaza de Armas, the Monasterio de Santa Catalina, and several other places - including some artesanía shops selling a wide assortment of beautiful, handcrafted merchandise.

Next on our agenda was a tour of the Monasterio de Santa Catalina (St. Catherine's Monastery), a magnificent and large monastery. We were guided through the streets and buildings of this remarkable "city within a city" that once upon a time housed a subpopulation of women. Surrounded by historical rooms and buildings, fascinating artwork, and gorgeous scenery (especially atop one of the towers), we just couldn't put our cameras down!

Probably the biggest event of this first week was Arequipa Day! August 15th marked the 473rd year since the foundation of the city. To celebrate this important holiday, the people of Arequipa went out to the streets for festivities, food, fireworks, and a 6+ hour parade. Music, people, and the delicious smell of Peruvian food filled the streets. What a party!

In addition to all these things that we have experienced collectively, individuals in the group have also gone on their own mini adventures with friends and family, including trips to...
... the large local sports complex, "Club Internacional".
... a venue called the FIA to watch a concert performance by Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.
... Pura Fruta for smoothies and sandwiches.
... local "discotecas" (clubs) to dance and socialize.

Just one week, and already there has been so much excitement. We have another 4 months to look forward to, as we relish this wonderful opportunity to develop our language skills and learn more about this marvelous city that is so rich in culture. Already we have overcome several challenges that have helped us grow - talking and taking classes exclusively in Spanish, talking to locals, taking public transportation, and making purchases with Peruvian currency - yet there is still so much to learn and take away from this life-changing cultural experience.

This is just the beginning. Everywhere we look is adventure! We still have so many more exciting things to come - places to explore, people to meet, exotic foods to try, and many more things to learn!

Bonus: A 360° view of Arequipa from the top of a tower at St. Catherine's Monastery

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