Global Service Scholar: Alexis Lewis
If three weeks ago you were to ask me what the biggest takeaway from my experience in Peru was going to be, I would have answered, “I’m not sure yet, but I know I will have a better idea when I get to reflect on the trip after I arrive back home”. Being at that place now, and having been home for around 5 days, I still have no better answer to the question.
Living in Peru for five weeks feels like it was a dream. We experienced a lot – from volunteering, to living with a host family, to touring the countryside. The experience of not just being a tourist in Peru, but someone who actually lives there (albeit for a short amount of time) made the entire experience more impactful, because we were really able to experience what life is like in Peru, not just what life looked like. That being said, I don’t feel as though I have a concrete response to the “biggest takeaway” question. I feel impacted in several ways.
I grew up in a small town and I never had the opportunity to travel outside the United States. Because of that, my trip to Peru was eye-opening in that I got to see how more of the world’s people live. The trip to Peru was not only a chance to try to help improve the lives of others, but to see more. One of my goals going into this trip was to get a better picture of what humanity is and means. I wasn’t exactly sure what I meant by this goal, or what I expected to find. What I did find were people. People living their lives: getting up in the morning, going to school or work, coming home, making dinner, talking with family. I found people more similar to myself than I expected, and with that came an awareness I didn’t expect or think I needed.
I always considered myself an open-minded person, one who always has been interested in other cultures and traditions. I was never consciously aware of a little bit of fear of the unknown. This trip gave me the courage to be a little more adventurous, and a little less timid. Some things, no matter how much they are studied or talked about, have to be experienced to be understood. I knew I was always accepting of people different than myself, but it wasn’t until I went to Peru that I realized that I have come to a different level of accepting than I knew even existed.
I went to Peru with so much fear of what I was getting myself into, I felt unprepared, nervous, and concerned with the logistics of living in a small, poor area in central Peru. Arriving in the city, I was completely overwhelmed. But I was impacted by the words of our host family’s coordinator, “Ayacucho is the best city I have ever lived in. Here, you will find real Peru.” I now feel as though I know what he was talking about. I have a greater sense of self, a greater awareness of those around me, and a better sense of what it means to be “accepting” after living in Peru.
I found a perspective through my service that I have heard other people talk about, but never experienced myself until now. Every morning when I wake up in the foothills of Northern California, Tonio wakes up in Peruin the same neighborhood that, when he was three, he saw a terrorist shoot a citizen point blank. Every morning when I wake up to a hot shower, Eddy wakes up 45 minutes before he showers to turn the hot water boiler on. Every morning when I complain that I wake up because my roommate is up early for work, Jorge wakes up in his bunk at the orphanage that he shares with six other boys, to start a day trying to keep himself busy as he waits for news about where he will be living in a year from now. Every morning when I wake up to my apartment at the University of California, Irvine, 20 people wake up in Peru wishing nothing more than that they had the money to study in America.
I met so many people in Peru that reminded me how incredibly lucky I am to be where I am in life right now. I met women who wanted nothing more than to be out of prison in order to hug their loved ones, little boys who wanted nothing more than to be adopted by a family in the United States, and grown adults who have always wanted to come to the United States but never had enough money. At the same time, however, I found from these people more hope, more courage, more happiness, and more genuine concern for others than I often see in myself. Most of all, I found more similarity to myself in the people I met than I ever thought I would. While most of Ayacucho’s roads don’t have crosswalks and mine do, while they are advised not to drink their tap water and I can, while they don’t have access to the newest and hottest gadgets on the market and I do, we all worry about getting a job, finding friends, making a family, and having a stable career.
I always felt as though I had empathy for those that were not as fortunate as I am, but with this trip I have both realized the extent of my privilege, and a growth in my feelings of empathy for others. While I can’t understand what it feels like to not have parents like the boys in the orphanage, I do feel an incredible urge to help them in any way I can. Talking with them and hearing their stories, I have a much better understanding of what struggle means. In addition, I see the concerns, problems, and struggles that I have had in a brand new light. My struggles have not disappeared, but they feel as though they have a different, lighter impact on me now than what I once experienced.
While I do not wish to turn a month of service to others into an experience all about me, I do feel greatly changed by my time in Peru. I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to go on this trip in the first place, in large part because of anxiety about travel in general, this having been my first trip ever. Jumping in with both feet was somewhat terrifying for me, but after my first week in Ayacucho, I realized that although the city is different than my hometown, or any city I had ever known, Ayacucho is special, safe, and fun. I am so glad I was able to experience such a life-changing trip at this point in my life, and I feel like I have a better perspective as well as an increased awareness of the world around me. I am even more grateful that I was able to experience all that I did with an incredible group of nine other Global Service Scholars, who taught me just as much as my service projects did.
While this trip did not change my ideas of my future explicitly, I do feel as though my future has been changed by the self-transformations that I experienced while in Peru. I came back more confident, less fearful and anxious, and more ready to take on projects than ever before. I feel so lucky to be where I am today, and I feel luckier that I got to have been shown this by the city and people of Ayacucho, Peru.
Perhaps what impacted me the most about this trip is that I actually found nothing at all. Although I definitely have found things that impacted me, I don’t feel as though I found one large takeaway for myself. I learned that some questions don’t have answers, and sometimes we can spend too long looking for answers instead of living in the moment around us. Living in Ayacucho made me slow down and stop searching. It allowed me to truly come to know what a moment means. From moments with teaching English to the women in prison, to moments laughing with the boys in the orphanage, I found a greater appreciation than before for each thing I came across. Moments, perspectives, awareness: I suppose these are my biggest takeaways.