Getting their feet wet

The semester ended with a final retreat in Kauai, a conference center located on the Pacific Coast two hours south of Lima.  This is winter in the southern hemisphere and the weather is cloudy and cold.  No matter — whether hot or cold, sunny or overcast, the view is immense, the ocean timeless and the beach a fitting setting for the students’ final days in Peru.  This last weekend together was a time for reflection, a chance to tell stories and begin saying our goodbyes.  It was also a time for questions:  What have we learned while studying, serving and living in South America?  What will life be like when we return to our homes, our family and our friends in the North?  How will we share our experiences when we reunite with our loved ones?

The retreat began with student research presentations on a wide range of topics:

  • Stories of Women in Ayacucho
  • Language and its Benefits
  • Catholic/Christian Relations
  • Natural Remedies of Peru
  • Punishment and Discipline
  • Perception of Mental Disabilities
  • Nutrition and Health in Ayacucho
  • When I Grow Up…
  • Classroom Management and Peru’s Education System
  • Coffee:  The Secret Revealed
  • Customs and Rituals of Death
  • Relationship Between Peru and Chile
  • True Legends
  • Ashaninka Hunting
  • Marching Bands of Peru
  • What the Hell is Culturally Appropriate?
  • Peruvian Marketplace Dynamics
  • Food by Occasion
  • Violence, Robbery and Corruption
  • School System of Peru
  • Alternative Medicines in Peru
Petey and Clay served in a native Ashaninka village

After finishing their presentations, the students had an opportunity to reflect and share about their service assignments.  Our theme this semester is change — a Changing World, a Changing Peru.  Each organization the students served — schools, churches, clinics, nonprofit organizations — is trying to bring about positive change in their communities.  So the students were asked to answer several questions: What change is their organization trying to make?  How are they trying to make this change?  Are they successful?  And, how did they, as North American volunteers, fit into all of this?

Gathered at the beach on their last day in South America

Our final day together began with worship and singing — the students voices never sounded so good!  Then they described what they imagine they might miss about life in Peru when they return to the United States.  We concluded with a discussion of “reverse culture shock.”  Though the students are excited about returning home, they are also changed people.  They have lived in the Global South for three months and will now see their old lives in a new way.  They bring with them a fresh understanding of what it means to be human, to live in community, to value people more than things and to lean into their faith when times are tough.