“You’re studying abroad this semester?”
“Yup, I don’t leave until February 16th.”
“So, you’re just hanging out until you leave? That must be nice.”
“Yeah. It’s crazy that everyone will be taking midterms by the time I start my program.”
“Well, consider yourself lucky. I already have an exam tomorrow!”
When I tell people that I’m studying abroad this semester, I can expect certain reactions. Students wistfully tell me that I am lucky, as they assume that I will be traveling every weekend, taking blowoff classes, and partying with foreigners. On the contrary, when I tell adults, most seem genuinely interested and excited for this wonderful opportunity that awaits me. That is, until I mention that I’m not studying in Western Europe, but rather in a developing country. As soon as they hear that I have chosen to study in Peru, the spark fades from their eyes. Wallowing concern floods their eyes, convinced that I have opted for certain death. “Be careful,” they whisper as they walk away, shaking their heads in disappointment.
Maybe I’m wrong, but I think that both of these approaches to a semester abroad are skewed. I didn’t choose Peru due to its low drinking age or unstable government. Although my reasons for choosing this particular area are mixed, studying in Peru is the best decision for my personal goals.
My name is Julia, and I’m an International Studies major at Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, which also happens to be my hometown. Although studying abroad is a requirement for my major, I probably would have opted to have this experience anyway. Within my major, I have a concentration in Development Studies, which means that I take classes that focus on the political and cultural environment of the Developing World. Since my second language is Spanish, the most obvious region for studying abroad was Latin America.
However, even though many of my peers in the International Studies program also have a concentration in Development Studies, most of them still choose to study in Western European countries. Although I understand that Western Europe has much to offer, I have never found it to be very appealing. I mean, EVERYBODY seems to be studying in Western Europe, and EVERYBODY seems to return with this “super great experience that totally expanded their horizons and helped them become a more well-rounded, cultured individual.” And while I’m not knocking or diminishing their semester by any means, it all seems a little manufactured. Western Europe is fairly safe, has mostly recognizable foods, and is culturally very similar to the United States.
And if I am going to say that I know ANYTHING about the Developing World, if I will say that I am truly willing to help alleviate poverty or do anything remotely beneficial, I believe that I need to actually live in the area. People are full of good intentions, but until they are willing to be uncomfortable for the sake of world change, nothing will really ever happen.
Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not saying that anybody needs my help or that I’m inherently better because I come from a rich country. Quite the contrary. All I know is that the world’s system is messed up, and if I can make even a grain of positive difference, I want to spend my life doing just that.
Even though I will be studying in the Peruvian capital of Lima, which is a wealthy metropolis, the city still has its issues that will help increase my understanding of the Developing World. The water supply is not safe to drink, most households do not have clothes dryers or dishwashers, and living conditions are not always sanitary. Going to Peru will push me outside of my comfort zone, and I couldn’t be more excited.
WHAT TO EXPECT
I already have a bit of experience with living in developing countries, so I want to ease the qualms that come with traveling, living in a foreign country, and navigating a completely different way of life. I’ve done mission work in Haiti and Peru, and the longest I’ve ever stayed abroad was for nearly two months in Peru. So while I will not be taking this journey with completely fresh eyes, I want to break down common misconceptions and concerns that follow life abroad by offering a mixture of past and future experiences.
This blog is not intended to be a diary. If that’s what you want, feel free to check out the other student blogs. Instead, I want to offer my best tips and advice to studying abroad, all through the lens of my adventures in Peru. The posts that follow will be specific to IFSA-Butler and the experience of studying abroad. If you would like to follow me more in depth, I have a personal blog that discusses mission work, travel tips, and aspects of faith. On that blog, I will be posting at least once per week. I encourage you to check it out at julesfortheking.com.
As for this blog, in the next few days I will be starting a seven-part series on the topic of packing for your study abroad program. I’m truly grateful for you to be joining me on my journey!