It’s 2 a.m. as I write this, procrastinating from writing a 40-page research paper due in 48 hours. This predicament is all too familiar, but the context in which I’m currently disrupting my already disrupted sleep schedule is totally foreign –– like, actually.
Usually, I’d go eat some late night or early morning bacon at Denny’s, but the nearest Denny’s to my temporary apartment in Lima, Peru is in another hemisphere.
Life has settled down somewhat for me here in Peru where I’m studying globalization, indigenous identity and the contemporary collective memory of conflict. But small discomforts and the need for constant adaptation are never far off. I have been living somewhat out of my comfort zone for about three months now. That gets old at times like these, but I’m nowhere near ready to return to “safety.”
These deprivations and discomforts aren’t an obstacle to learning. They’re the whole reason I studied abroad in the first place.
There’s a certain plateau one can reach when their learning is constantly done in a safe, comfortable way that doesn’t challenge preconceived notions or question taken-for-granted privileges. Being consistently just outside of my comfort zone — or way out of my comfort zone, which is inevitably, occasionally the case — is an integral part of the experience of studying abroad. From interacting almost exclusively with strangers or new friends and acquaintances to speaking another language all day, every day, living abroad has required that I make countless subtle and not so subtle changes to my daily habits. And in doing so you begin to see those daily habits of your life at home in a new context, from a new angle.
However annoying, the occasional discomfort and the varying but constant culture shock inherent to temporary life in another country is important. It provides the opportunity to learn and grow in a way that is often simply not possible in the safe, comfy environment of home.
It also makes you appreciate things you take for granted. Not to re-hash the tired old, “don’t drink the water” thing, but I look forward to filling a glass from the tap and downing it without my body turning on me later. I’m also looking forward to living somewhere again where my faith in the crosswalk will be less likely to get me killed. For real: Peruvian drivers appear utterly unperturbed by the prospect of a little vehicular homicide.
My time in Peru is almost over. In two weeks I’ll present the project to which I’ve dedicated nearly every minute of daylight over the last month. In three weeks I’ll be back in Maine, a college graduate equipped with much better Spanish than four months ago, and a depleted bank account despite the exchange rate (psst, someone pay me to do stuff).
I’m looking forward to drinking tap water, scarfing down an entire pizza from Otto’s, eating the Hobo Homefries at Marcy’s Diner and enjoying countless other comforts I haven’t had access to since I left the U.S. in August.
But I’m also going to miss Peru terribly, and I’m going to miss being challenged on a daily basis to speak with people I’ve never met in a language with which I continue to struggle. I’m going to miss getting some sort of language practice out of every interaction, whether it’s giving directions, buying food or taking a taxi, which is ludicrously cheap.
My experience here was an excellent antidote — though no panacea — to my often terminal cynicism. You try ignoring a sense of wonder while staring out a plane window at the peaks of the Andes poking through the clouds.
It sounds like goofy, eager beaver nonsense, but such experiences challenged me constantly, never allowing me to coast. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to spend a semester.
So jeez, go do it yourself already. You won’t regret it, probably.
Noah Hurowitz is the former news editor of The Free Press and is currently in Peru studying indigenous identity and collective memory of conflict. By the time you read this he will be done with his final project and hopefully fast asleep.