Ezra Waxman is a Boston University sophomore who just returned from a summer studying in Peru at National University of San Cristóbal de Huamanga/Pontificia Universidad Católica del Peru (pucp.edu.pe).
HISTORY UP CLOSE: I chose Peru because it is one of the few Latin American countries that still has a strong indigenous population, whose culture I am interested in. I was particularly excited to study at Universidad de San Cristóbal, since the university played a significant role during the Shining Path uprising of the 1980s - the leader of the terrorist group was a philosophy professor there. Later I found out that my host in Lima's father was killed by gunmen of the group, and my host mother in Ayacucho in fact took a course at the university with the group's leader, Abimael Guzmán. It seemed like everyone I met, everywhere I would go, people were living the history I was learning about in my course.
KEEPING THE FAITH: I was keeping kosher during my stay, which greatly limited my experiences in the food facet of the culture. Keeping kosher provided me with a constant reminder that during this time abroad, where I am soaking up as much of this foreign culture as I possibly can, I must never forget my own rich culture back home. It was the first time outside of "Fiddler on the Roof" that many of my friends had ever seen a religious Jew, and so the dinner table became a platform for interesting cultural and religious discourse.
POLITICALLY INCORRECT: Peruvians generally have an absolute lack of political correctness. I had to swallow hard on some rather inappropriate things I heard regarding my Jewish faith. I later learned though that it wasn't just against me; my Pakistani and Indian friends were hit just as hard, if not worse.
FOCUSED STUDIES: In Peru, like many other parts of the world, you study only one subject. Seemingly everyone was in a professional school, and the concept of a liberal arts education was a foreign one. I found that it didn't make for such great small talk to ask what someone was studying, since they would reply with a very specific profession, which would kind of kill the conversation. It made me appreciate the American system.
TIME, TIME, TIME: I remember my first Sunday in Lima, my host mom organized a lunch with the neighbors that was called for 12. There was a big soccer game at 4 that my friend and I wanted to go to, which we figured would be no problem. But the guests didn't show up until close to 2, the cooking didn't finish until after 3, and we didn't end up finishing the "lunch" until way late.