|Davidson in Peru Students Blaze a Trail From the Andes to the Amazon
October 12, 2007
Reporting contributed by Richmond Blake '09, Melissa Gilkey '09, Olivia Jones '09, Caroline McDermott '09, Krista Timeus '10, and Kristy Marynak '05.
That furry creature known as the guinea pig has taken on special significance for the twenty students on Davidson’s first-ever semester abroad program in Peru. We are symbolic “guinea pigs”—the first to experience the college’s new, intense educational experience. Also, “guinea pig” is an especially appropriate moniker for us in Peru, because guinea pig, when deep-fried, is a local delicacy!
Students take a break while hiking along the ridges of Colca Canyon.
“It honestly does taste a lot like chicken,” joked gastronomic adventurer Aaron Robinson ’09.
Yet there’s a lot more than joking in Peru this semester. Our diverse group of Davidson students, whose majors include biology, neuroscience, sociology, and political science, are eagerly learning all we can about the history, sociopolitical affairs, economy, language, literature, music, and geography of this fascinating country.
Davidson in Peru was designed by Associate Professor of Political Science Russell Crandall, the current director, and Partin Assistant Professor of History Jane Mangan, who will direct it in 2009.
The program includes home stays with families for three months in the southern Peruvian city of Arequipa, and about a month of travel along the coast, through the Andean sierra, and into the Amazon basin. We are taking Spanish, anthropology, and history courses with Peruvian professors at the National University of San Agustin, holding internships, taking folk music and dance classes, and studying the Latin American political novel.
The Road to Arequipa…
The experience began with an orientation conducted by Crandall and Assistant Director Kristy Marynak '05 in the tiny riverside town of Lunahuanna.
Then it was two non-stop days in Lima, the capital city, where we visited the Institute for Liberty and Democracy (ILD), a world-renowned “think-tank” founded by economist Hernando de Soto that focuses on “informal” economies where citizens operate without formal titles or recognition.
We also had the honor of meeting Beatriz Boza, executive director of Ciudadanos al Dia, a non-profit organization recognized by many Peruvians as the nation’s protagonist in the struggle for a more transparent government. These and other meetings gave us a keener understanding of the problems of development and legitimacy in Peru.
Winding south along the Pacific coast toward Arequipa, we visited the towns of Chincha, Ica, Paracas, and Nazca. We drove past asparagus plantations, walked through a crowded fish market, lunched on ceviche, and visited archeological sites and natural reserves.
We spent a memorable afternoon at La Caravedo, the vineyard where the charismatic Rodrigo Peschiera Mifflin produces the only organic pisco (a grape brandy) in the world. Workers crush the grapes in their bare feet to extract the juice, and then distill it in a 500 year-old stone structure. Just a week later, we were saddened by the news that an earthquake had destroyed La Caravedo and many other sites we had visited. Don Rodrigo’s family was safe, but 100,000 people lost their homes and roughly 600 were killed.
|(l-r) Christoph Pross '10 and Scott Saldaña '09 prune the pisco vines at La Caravedo. |
A Second Home
Arequipa, Peru’s second largest city, stands guarded by three 20,000-foot volcanoes, and enjoys cloudless blue skies. Founded by the Spanish in 1540, it is an outstanding example of colonial city planning, with traditional town squares and impressive buildings of white volcanic rock.
Arequipans are justifiably proud of their city, and the host families that opened their homes to us are no exception. “The transition from dorm life to family life can be difficult,” said Marynak, who coordinated placement of students with families. “But in my initial meetings with host families, it was apparent that these Arequipeños would go beyond the call of duty to make our students feel at home. They aim to build enduring relationships with their Davidson sons and daughters.”
We have been warmly accepted into our host families, and are regularly invited to Arequipan confirmations and weddings, school functions and picnics. “They’ve shown me the countryside, introduced me to traditional food, and even taken me to ride horses,” said Jen DeKnight ’10.
Christoph Pross ´10 said his homestay experience complements his new academic perspectives on Peru. “It’s important that we engage in dialogue with our families about Peruvian politics and history because they are the ones who experience it,” said Pross. “They have lived through what we learn in class.”
The Misti volcano towers over Arequipa, and has become a proud symbol of the city.
At this junction of culture, communication, and intellect, we are finding the crux of immersion.
A Farewell to Brick and Ivy…
We’re taking Spanish, history, anthropology, and political science courses at the National University of San Augustín (the “UNSA”). Superficial contrasts between the UNSA and Davidson's campus are apparent. Walking to comparatively Spartan classroom buildings, we pass UNSA students practicing traditional Arequipan dances in a courtyard framed with posters of Che Guevara and murals of revolutionary leaders. In our course on Andean culture, taught by a native Aymaran professor, we have gained valuable perspective on the struggle to reconcile modern Peruvian culture with the diverse customs of Andean groups.
But the UNSA at its core has many similarities to Davidson. UNSA students are equally intellectually curious, highly motivated, and always eager for an engaging conversation. Matthew Bondaryk ’09 pointed out, "The truth is that we come from much more privileged backgrounds, and it has been great to meet and study with students who have succeeded academically despite their lack of resources."
|Lauryn Dunham '09 (c) hangs out with UNSA students. |
UNSA is a free university, but it admission is extremely competitive, and it attracts students from all over Peru. For most UNSA students, failure to gain a prized spots in the UNSA means no chance at college. UNSA student Aaron Estrella traveled all the way from the jungle near the Brazilian border to earn degrees in both education and sociology. In the next few years, he hopes to start a special school for children with autism. “It was very difficult to get accepted,” he explained. “In the jungle, the school standards are pretty low.”
We are cultivating friendships with UNSA students beyond the classroom—playing soccer, debating politics, attending birthday parties and bonfires, and enjoying weekly lunches on campus. More than just a temporary academic setting, the UNSA offers us a profoundly new intellectual, cultural, and social experience.
Finding their rhythm…
We have all been enchanted by Latin American music and dance as expressed in parades, concerts, shows, and even classes. Jordi Baron '10 recalled the first night in Arequipa as one of her favorite memories thus far. “After an eight hour bus ride, we were waiting in the hotel conference room for what we thought was a meeting, when all of a sudden, about fifteen young minstrels from a local university invaded the room, serenading us. Towards the end of the night all of us, even Dr. Crandall, were on our feet dancing. It was a great surprise and a wonderful welcome.’’
|Arequipan student minstrel Aaron Estrella helped Krista Timeus '10 celebrate her birthday.|
Our program offers weekly music and dance lessons for students interested in learning how to play instruments such as the zampoña,or perform typical Peruvian dances such as the marinera
On weekends, we study for classes, visit Arequipa’s countless colonial charms, and trek to surrounding Andean areas. Given the tempting setting, many of us have taken up mountaineering. One weekend, four especially adventurous students climbed the “Misti,” the most ominous of Arequipa’s 20,000-foot volcanoes. “It definitely took a few days to recover,” said Sarah Rhodes ‘09. “I still can’t believe how exhausting it was, but I’m so proud to say I hiked up a Peruvian volcano.”
Another group braved the long road to the mountain town of Cotahuasi over a long weekend, Mario Vargas Llosa novels in tote.
|Students hike a dusty trail in Lunahuanna.|
To satiate our intellectual curiosity, we convene every Monday night at a local café for Hora Politica (Political Hour) to chat about Latin American politics over coffee and pastries. “It has been fantastic to see that just about the entire group shows up each week,” said Crandall. “From the Peruvian government’s response to the earthquake to former president Alberto Fujimori’s extradition, we’ve had lots to discuss.”
We follow up the Monday afternoon cafecitos by watching a film each week for Crandall’s course on “The Latin American Political Novel.” The film list includes adaptations of Vargas Llosa novels and the works of German auteur Werner Herzog.
Regular field trips have also enhanced our understanding of Arequipa’s economy. We were the first non-business group invited to Cerro Verde, one of the largest copper mines in South America, and also enjoyed a tour of the local Backus brewery and Michel textile factory.
In September, as a capstone for our five-week course on Andean culture, we took a weekend trip with six Peruvian professors to Colca Canyon, the world’s deepest. Indigenous residents of the region live in the same manner as centuries ago. “We got to see the Cabana and Collagua peoples, who we had studied just days before in Professor Palacios’s anthropology course,” said Caroline McDermott ’09. This month we’re scheduled to travel to northern Chile to visit a sugar plantation and a major trading port.
Into the working world…
Internships are a unique component of Davidson in Peru. We all devote Friday of every week to service at local medical offices, law firms, eco-activist organizations, and orphanages, gaining a variety of new, often unexpected, experiences.
Economics major Paul Stroup ´09 is interning at a micro-credit bank. He accompanies credit analysts in visiting clients who are applying for loans to start or expand small businesses. The “informal” economy that Stroup studied at the Institute for Liberty and Democracy in Lima is evident in his internship. “It’s also amazing to see what I learned in microeconomics at Davidson come to life here,” he said.
|Kyle Konrad '09, Christoph Pross '10, and Paul Stroup '09 pose at the sand dunes in Ica.|
Biology major Jordi Baron ’10 has an internship 1,500 feet above downtown Arequipa at a medical clinic in Alto Cayma, one of the city’s poorest neighborhoods. “Last week I got to help test blood samples in a spectrophotometer,” she said. “The process was just what I had learned in biology lab, but it feels so different to know that I’m actually helping people.”
Other students have internships in Alto Cayma at a women’s greeting card-making cooperative, a food distribution program, and a childcare center.
Lauryn Dunham ’09, who is working at a home for disabled children, said her internship has been an indispensable part of the Peru experience. “It’s been a great way to give back to a place that has been so welcoming,” she said.
The road ahead…
It’s hard to believe that our time in Arequipa has almost come to an end. In November, we will go back on the road, concluding the semester with visits to Lake Titikaka, Cuzco, Machu Picchu, and the Amazon rainforest. Professors Crandall and Mangan designed the itinerary to provide maximum exposure to Peru’s broad range of climates and cultures. Crandall said, “At the beginning of the semester, we traveled along the coast from Lima to Arequipa. In November, we’ll be moving in a matter of days from pre-Colombian communities at 16,000 feet to the Amazon basin. The contrast is so great that it’s hard to believe you’re still in the same country.”
At the conclusion of the semester program in December, two-thirds of us plan to travel independently into Bolivia, Argentina, Uruguay, and southern Chile.
|After a hearty lunch, sophomore Wes Calton '10 naps by the Pacific.|
Reflecting on the experience, Rebecca Morton ’09 focused on her intellectual growth. “I’ve become a more independent thinker,” she said. “And I am excited to see how much more I will grow by the end of my time in South America.”
Words spoken in the true guinea pig spirit!
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars adn is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz