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Lessons in Serendipity

Time January 18th, 2011 in College Study Abroad | No Comments by

ser·en·dip·i·ty [ser-uhn-dip-i-tee] – noun

1. an aptitude for making desirable discoveries by accident.

2. good fortune; luck.

There has been a change of plans.

All of us, sooner or later, recognize that everything is not under our control. Some of us chalk this up to God, some to fortune or luck. But me, I give credit to Columbia University’s Office of Financial Aid.

The university reduced my grants this semester because it costs less to live in Peru. It makes sense, but I was told that while studying abroad my financial aid wouldn’t change. That students in Paris and students in Peru receive the same amount of money and are expected to get by. I’ve done what I can do, but without written proof of what I was told, I don’t have a strong case to push with the University.

All of which is to say that I will not be traveling in Colombia and Ecuador this winter.

But two weeks ago I met Claudia’s uncle, a high-ranking member of the International Labor Organization and resident of Lima. We had the cocktail-version of an intellectual conversation (the conversations a liberal arts degree most prepares one for), and it went well enough that by the end of the night my new uncle invited me to stay at his house. I’ve purchased my tickets, and I will arrive in Lima by way of Bogotá on February 17, 11 days before my program begins. Because I won’t be spending money on hotels/hostels, I should have enough to explore Lima and the surrounding areas before the program begins. ¿Cheverísimo, no?

And the news gets better. I never thought I would have the opportunity to see more of Venezuela than Caracas, but at the beginning of February I’ll be traveling with Claudia’s mother and grandparents to Maracaibo, a port city in western Venezuela. I’ve been told two things about Maracaibo: it’s hot, and they make really good cheese. So hopefully I’ll have a couple dispatches for you all from the hot cheesy port city in a few weeks.

It’s amazing the kind of things life throws at you if you’re willing to play ball. My travels, if nothing else, are teaching me to take advantage of opportunities that come my way while I’m going with the flow. I may not be doing what I planned to do, but I don’t think I could’ve planned anything this incredible anyways.

One final example: last night, I was invited to a birthday party of a friend of mine. There was no question in my mind about going – not only would we get to celebrate his birthday, but I would get to talk to new people, work on my Spanish, and hear Venezuelan music.

Forty people squeezed into the living room of an apartment. Thirty-six were musicians, including some of the most famous in Venezuela, like Aquiles Baez and the singer from a band called Mayonesa Guayanesa. Whoever didn’t have a guitar, cuatro, mandolin, cello, maracas, etc. in hand was singing along to traditional Venezuelan music, Argentine tangos, and even songs in Portuguese. The music filled the room, poured out the door, and spilled out of the window onto the street. People were laughing at the traditional contrapunteo, in which a man and a woman alternate improvising song lines directed at one another. They cried when a woman sang a love song she wrote, and they erupted in laughter again when a late arrival performed his musical stand-up routine, a multi-pronged assault on the slang of Venezuela.

Life became surreal as the significance of what I was seeing and hearing grew on me. I chuckled to myself, wondering, how did I get here? I didn’t know the answer, but I was glad to be along for the ride.

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