There’s a certain feeling, a certain ache that comes with Change. It hits at milestones: one week before, knowing that this is the last Monday that your life will exist the way it stands in front of you today. The moment you realize that you only have two more weekend days to sit with the version of yourself that exists on this warm Saturday afternoon. 24 hours before the Change, realizing you will only lay your head on this pillow once more, praying you dream of the exact day that you had—maybe you can extend this reality for eight hours more. The final wave hits you as you watch the landscape change beneath you from the sunlit plane window.
Six months ago, I would’ve told you that this feeling is dreadful, terrifying, sad. I would’ve asked you how it’s possible to leave so much of myself, so much of what I know to be true, just to spend my time rebuilding exactly what I have now. Friendships, comfort, love.
A few weeks ago, I celebrated my first birthday away from my family in all 19 years of my life. However, even thousands of miles from home, I had felt as loved as ever—loved by my cohort, loved by my host family, loved through the texts and calls by my family and friends at home, loved by the new place I called home.
On November 10th, my alarm went off at 7:15 am, and on the rare occasion, I didn’t hit the snooze button. I felt wide awake with nervous excitement as the breeze floated into my room. I walked down the balcony to the kitchen where all my nerves immediately melted away. My two little brothers cried “¡Feliz cumpleaños!”, and my host parents embraced me in a hug.
After my day with Zhiyi at our volunteer placement, I walked home—happy but also a little tired after spending hours with little kids and reading “Franklin” at least four times. At the door, my 6-year-old brother Gabriel urgently stopped me from looking out the window to our yard where my family was blowing up gold balloons for the party with my cohort. It was such a surprise and lovely gesture.
One of the first activities we did over Zoom (before we met in person) was to go around and say our favorite artists or songs. As soon as we met up on campus we made a shared playlist where we added anything and everything we were into. Since then, there has rarely been a moment without a carefully curated soundtrack.
“peru! 🦙💓🏔” is over six hours long, with 110 songs switching randomly from indie folk to high-energy Spanish pop to billboard top ten to French ballads. I love it, and it has ruined my Spotify Wrapped.
There are too many moments with music to write about them all (I finished this entire yak only to realize that I had forgotten Ligia teaching us to dance in her living room, karaoke, and having our very own at-home discoteca!), but here are some of my favorites.
by Iris, Ella, Jacob & Zhiyi, Civic Semester Participants
In honor of our last few days in Peru, here are four lessons we’ve learned in the last 3 months with some bonus footnote lessons from the group.
The biggest gift that this semester has given me is constant discomfort. Every day, I learn that I am capable of so much more than I ever imagined. At home, I thought of myself as someone contained. Careful. Introverted and always needing more time to recharge, never quite ready to take a risk. From home, the world felt so small. My school, and my friends, and my house. Now, the world feels almost unbearably large. There is so much to see and do, and I’m ready to embrace it all with open arms. Here, I am someone who says yes to a walk even when I’ve just been at the gym, who stays up just a little later to talk, who makes a plan past exhaustion. And in the wake of this, I have realized that I need so much less comfort than I thought. I’m sleeping less and doing more, but instead of feeling depleted or numb, I feel more awake than I ever have. I am invigorated by everything, excited by anything.
Somehow, being in Peru has unlocked more hours in the day. I no longer need to waste precious time hiding from discomfort and making sure I’m 100% “ready.” Instead, I trust that I can face any challenge head-on and without warning. And more than being able to face it, I know that I’ll enjoy it.
The discomfort and the newness create room for constant, inescapable awe. Nothing is regular, and I’m never used to it, and that means that every day I am blown away by sheer beauty, love, and joy. I’ve learned over and over that if everything is easy then nothing is special, and pushing through is what makes life satisfying.
I am learning to embrace every new challenge instead of shying away from them. I am learning to answer every question with yes. I am learning that there is almost nothing I can’t do.
We’ve all been sick here, and we’ve all pushed through. Last month, I felt quite sick at an org visit. Nauseous enough that I had to sit down at the end, and got special front-seat privileges on the van ride back. That night we had salsa classes, which I love. But I couldn’t help but hesitate. Really, I’m going to go to salsa, where we spin each other around in circles and take quick steps with loud music and strangers? Is that really the best decision in my current state? I went anyway, and had one of my best nights yet. I called my parents afterward and started the story of the day with being sick. Halfway through, my mom interrupted me – “Where is this story going? You sound happy, so there’s no way it ends here.” That is what Peru has taught me – the story doesn’t end with discomfort. That’s where it starts.
by Eleanor, Emma, Veena & Tziavi, Civic Semester Participants
Since we last saw you, we want to let you know that …
I am so excited to see you. Since last week I’ve been daydreaming about that flight home, about hugging my mom and dad in the airport, about finding my backpack in JFK’s baggage claim. I’ve never had this much time to myself to reflect and I definitely know myself better from it. I can’t believe I was away for so long and I wish that there was a way for you to understand my experiences using a USB cord from my head to yours to transfer all the memories. But I’m excited that now, for better or worse, I have experiences that are just my own, that I’ll never be able to verbalize. It’s an independence that I’ve never had before. I’ve never been as sick in my life as I’ve been in Peru. My body feels different now, stronger. I know I can go on long hikes and puke my guts out and recover. This is the most capable I’ve ever been and I can’t wait to see how I grow into this new existence when I get home to you. I have eleven new best friends and a newfound appreciation for stray dogs. I’m an early riser and I’m conversational in a new language. I know how to hail a mototaxi and I’ve gotten really good at catching spiders and scorpions alike. I’m different but mostly I’m the same.
Though I have loved my experience here, the warm thoughts of home linger in the back of my mind. The comforting smells of cedar and the sounds of crackling wood that I would usually be absorbed in are replaced with the aroma of sweet fruits and green Amazonian parrots flying above. Though I have missed home, I will miss the home I have created here. I will miss the market, the Andean mountains, Booms, but mostly my host family. I will miss waking up and drinking my daily tea with my host dad, shopping with my host mom, playing basketball with my host brother, and admiring our 17 year old dog Rex, who has seen so many things in his beautiful life. These memories will forever hold a place in my heart. As we prepare to go home, I am ready to go forward and create new memories. But I will never forget the adventures I had here in Urubamba.
First, I am so excited to see you all, give you huge hugs, and hear all your stories from the past three months. I know your lives and Medford have not been static, and I am so eager to join back into the community you have created. From my side, I want you to know that I have grown from this experience. Describing growth in words is really difficult, so I am excited instead for you all to see it in person. But here are some things I can say: first, and this may sound like a bad thing, but I do not feel like I have a set home anymore. During past experiences abroad or away from family, I was always counting down the days until I could be in my bed, back in my house. But now I feel like my home is what I make it. Home was Rocafuerte, living with my 14 friends 24/7. Home was living with my host family near Plaza Pintacha, cooking with my mom, playing cards with my brother, and making bracelets with my sister. Home is where I can be happy and feel loved, which now I realize can be anywhere. Second, when I get back I want to walk more and be more adventurous day to day. Meme, I will go on walks to Whole Foods with you. Dudda, I will go on hikes and go to the radio station with you more often. I will try and really embrace Medford and foster the intuitive curiosity I had for Urubamba. Anyways, I will see you all soon. I am excited to carry all I have learned with me, and come back to my home in Medford with new experiences.
I have had so many crazy adventures and I have become a person that I am really growing to love. The new me isn’t afraid to embarrass herself. I’ll talk to everyone in my broken Spanish, and sing and dance loudly even when I am off beat. I love hiking and sitting in the plaza by myself for hours. I am starting to get to know and love this new me and I can’t wait for you to meet her too. I want to make new adventures with you and I want to tell you all about the home and second family I have made here between the corner with the lady who sells churros, the women at Canastas Verdes who always give me a hug and a some free cherry tomatoes, the chocolate man who I pretend gives me a good discount but definitely doesn’t, my host family who never fails to make me laugh, and the eleven people I have shared this amazing experience with. I can’t wait to see you all and hug you and tell you all about my adventures, because the cuddly and talkative me is still here too. I want to visit you all in the new homes you have created and the new families you have made. I want to hear about your time in university and the memories you have made these past three months. See you soon!
by Teagan, Nica, Elaine & Sophia, Civic Semester Participants
You’ve opened your arms for us during the past three months. In that time, we have gotten to learn so much about who you are, and what it is that makes you shine. We’ve gotten to step over the cracks in your roads and splash in the rains from your skies. We’ve gotten to eat from the fruits of your fields and laugh along with the people of your town. And while we can’t say we saw and heard and felt everything you have to give, we can most definitely say that we are thankful for the way in which you have shaped our lives.
Gracias por recibirnos. It is difficult to contain all we are grateful for in one post. But here is an incomplete list of some things that we will miss the most.
I am thankful for my homestay family who welcomed me into their home with open arms. I will miss “dibujando” and “chapo” with my little brothers. I will miss dancing at zumba with my mom. I will miss the delicious food cooked by my dad. I am so grateful for this experience and my homestay family will forever have a special place in my heart.
One thing I will miss in the transition home to Boston is waking up greeted by sunshine. I never slept in my homestay without the window above my bed open—letting in the constant breeze and the sounds of birds chirping. I will miss walking to the plaza—the joy of putting on my headphones—and stopping to say hello to any one I run into.
Lastly, I am thankful for the market. The vibrant colors of the produce matches the vibrant buzz of the vendors. Looking at all the stands from the top floor brings me a reminder that we are all living such independent and intricate lives—and it is a miracle that I’ve found the friends I have in this vast world. I am thankful for fresh fruit. I am thankful for how personal grocery shopping is. And I am thankful for this slower pace of life.