By Madeline Townsend, ISA Latin America Program Manager
I currently work at ISA as a Latin America Program Manager, but my time with ISA first started as a student. As an undergrad, I decided to enhance my Spanish and Global Studies degree by spending a semester in Peru. Why Peru? I may not have been your average student, but I actually chose Peru for its intriguing political past and wanted to conduct research on the internal war that took place there from 1980 to 2000. Like I said, not your typical student.
Despite my unusual motives, ISA’s semester program met all of my high standards for a study abroad program. Courses taught in Spanish, with locals, in various disciplines, at a top-rated university? Check. Housing options that would allow me to live with locals? Check. Staff support so I didn’t feel lost throughout the process? Check. Located in a large city where there is always something to do? Check. I was convinced. I had high expectations for the academic aspect of my program, but what I didn’t realize was how much I would learn from Peru itself during my time there.
Here are 5 of the most valuable lessons that I learned outside of the classroom in Lima.
1) How to Speak a Universally-Understood Spanish
Both ISA programs in Lima offer options to take courses with locals if you find yourself at the highly advanced level and want to push yourself toward fluency. Not advanced enough? That’s fine! There are now beginner options, too. Plus the clean, smooth Peruvian accent is easy for even beginner language learners to understand.
2) The Importance of Cherishing Cultural, Ethnic, and Linguistic Diversity
As the capital of Peru and home to about 1/3 of the country’s total population, Lima is home to a diverse population. You’ll meet limeños of indigenous, European, Asian, and African descent who come from all over Peru. Although a handful of Peru’s 40 known indigenous languages are at risk of extinction, there are constant efforts to raise awareness and preserve indigenous cultures. Even as a foreigner, you can sense Peruvians’ sense of pride in their country’s diverse identity.
The mixture of cultures influences the local culinary scene, too. Lima boasts the title of “Culinary Capital of Latin America.” If you want to eat well while studying abroad, Lima is full of world-class restaurants that serve up delectable, Instagram-worthy dishes. Take one bite of rocoto relleno and you’ll find it hard to resist falling in love with the diverse mix of cultures in Peru.
3) How to Stop and Appreciate the Natural Beauty Around You
Although Lima is a bustling mega-capital, its sprawling layout makes it easy to find quiet retreats. Every few blocks you’ll find a park lined with palm trees and bougainvillea. The cliff-side malecón is a perfect place to go to run, bike ride, or stop to watch a stunning sunset over the Pacific Ocean.
If you need a break from the city, Lima can also be a home base for travel around the rest of the country. Not only can you explore Peru’s rich history and biodiversity through ISA excursions, but you’ll have plenty of chances to plan independent travel too. One breathtaking look at the Andes from the airplane window and you’ll instantly gain a deeper respect for pachamama.
4) How to Create a Home 3,000 Miles Away From Home
I quickly made friends with locals and became part of a tight-knit community while abroad thanks to ISA and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú (PUCP). There are plenty of opportunities to foster friendships through the university (especially with your host university buddy), at ISA-organized cultural events, or through your host family.
The on-site staff in Lima is one of our most veteran teams. Michelle, our Resident Director, is an ex-pat from the U.S. who pioneered our programs in Peru. She has a truly unique point of view and understands when students are homesick or can’t find the words to express themselves in Spanish. Danny is our Academic Coordinator and resident limeño. He will be the first to suggest things to do and places to visit in Lima. Together they form an amazing duo who are there to make your study abroad experience the best it can be.
Lima leaves a lasting impression on our alumni, many of whom return to live or work in the city after graduation. Alumni mixers are held most semesters, where current and past students can exchange experiences. Interested in living abroad after you graduate? Lima is an excellent place to meet alumni who are living that reality and can share advice on how to make it happen.
Whether you are an expert traveler or have never left your home country before, the locals, staff, and alumni network will make you feel welcome and supported the second you arrive in Lima. You’re sure to leave feeling like you always have a family in Lima.
5) How to be a Better You
Living in Peru may test you at times and challenge you to do things you’ve never done before, but these experiences will push you to grow more than you ever thought possible. Spending a semester in Lima allowed me to flourish academically, personally, and professionally. I walked away feeling like a more patient, adaptable, open-minded, and overall better person. I know that I would not be where I am today if it weren’t for the semester that I spent in Lima, and I am eternally grateful for everything it taught me.
So, what are you waiting for? See where study abroad will take you. Lima awaits… discover it.