Greetings from Lima, Peru! My name is Isabel Torres and I am an undergraduate student majoring in Education at Texas State University. Before leaving for my study abroad program, I made sure to do some research about my host country and pack any necessities that I needed to take. Being prepared left me feeling more confident and positive about the upcoming month in Peru. My excitement and confidence, however, soon disappeared the day of my departure. I had never been on an airplane before or set foot in an airport. After saying goodbye to my family, I found myself standing alone tightly clutching my carry-on like a security blanket and looking somewhat like an abandoned puppy. My nervousness soon turned into frustration once I realized that my family had dropped me off six hours before my flight even departed. What was I supposed to do now? Why hadn’t my parents taken the time to at least feed me lunch? Feeling slightly betrayed, I found a convenience store and paid for an overpriced coffee and power bar and called that lunch. Despite everything, those six hours made me realize how much I depended on my family to get through everyday tasks. Reflecting about my experience now, I am beginning to understand that I still have a lot to learn before I can officially call myself an adult. Although those six hours seemed like an eternity, they did eventually pass and I soon found myself aboard the plane ready to journey the additional six and a half hours to Lima, Peru.
I stepped out of the plane around 10:50 PM and into an airport similar to the one I left in the United States. The only difference was everything was written in Spanish. Walking through the airport to the security checkpoints, I remember feeling beyond excited to experience a new Spanish culture that was different from my own Mexican heritage. Smiling, I handed over my passport and other official documents to the security inspector. Everything seemed to be in order, but before I could take one step to leave he quickly stopped me, saying “Cuántos días se quedará en el Perú?” My mind froze and began to whirl at the security inspector’s comment. I smiled even bigger, wondering if he was just trying to make polite conversation or if he needed me to say something back in order to stamp my passport. I guess I looked pretty stupid because he soon caught on to my confusion and began to speak broken English. That was the first time I actually felt embarrassed for not knowing Spanish. Although I seemed to fit in by appearance, my lack of knowing fluent Spanish hindered me from communicating with those around me. Throughout this week, I have been experiencing similar situations anytime I order food, take public transportation, or go shopping. What really surprised me was how much I was actually being bothered by it. In certain moments, I have even wished that I looked more like a typical foreigner from the United States so that others would be more understanding. After reviewing the stages of culture shock, I found that I was making my way through stage one—being super happy and excited—rather quickly and plunging forward into stages two and three where differences lead to frustration and helplessness.
Last night I attended a Peruvian dance show at Brisas del Titicaca with my fellow Texas State study abroad classmates and professor. The building consisted of a spacious room where tables were set up around a large dance floor and stage. Onstage, musicians were beginning to warm up and practice their instruments. Meanwhile the history of different Peruvian regions and dances that went along with that certain region were being showcased on a large projector screen behind the band. Soon enough, the lights dimmed and the band began to play. An announcer made his way to the middle of the dance floor and began speaking rapidly in Spanish. I later learned that he was giving a short summary about the area in Peru that had influenced the type of dance and costume the dancers were showcasing. Each dance was different and all the performers had brightly colored costumes and lively makeup. After each performance, the dancers would run off stage and get ready for the next dance. During this time, the band would start up again and anyone from the audience would be allowed to go on the dance floor. My classmates and I found the courage to go ahead and join in on the fun. The atmosphere reminded me of Quinceañera celebrations back at home. Everyone danced with everyone. There were no language barriers because the music was too loud to talk. In between dances the announcer acknowledged foreigners from different countries around the world. People from Brazil, Spain, France, and the United States had come together to view the show and celebrate through dance. By the power of smiles and laughter, I was able to connect with the Peruvian people for the first time. I sincerely felt like I belonged and I welcomed my new home with a warm heart.
As I look forward to this weekend of traveling to Ica and Paracas, I find myself slowly transitioning out from previous feelings of defeat and into a new positive attitude. Instead of dwelling on language barriers, I have decided to develop strategies in order to cope with my depressed feelings and difficulties. Along with another student from Texas State, I have begun to study ten vocabulary words and phrases every other night when I am finished with my required reading for class. By the time the month in Peru is over, I want to be able to have a full conversation in Spanish with another Peruvian. Until then, wish me luck. Ciao!