Connor Bradley
2013-14 Outbound to Peru

Hometown: St Johns, Florida
School: Creekside High School
Sponsor: District 6970, Florida
Host: District 4450, Peru
The Rotary Club of San Borja Sur

Connor's Bio

Life is an adventure, it’s not easy and it’s not fair, but it’s an adventure nonetheless! For as long as I can remember this has been how I’ve described my life and what I’ve always tried to do. My name is Connor Bradley and I am from the small town of Elkhart Indiana. When I was three years old my parents, my brother, and I all moved to Jacksonville where we have been ever since. My family has always been my biggest supporters and we’ve been through everything together. I am a competitive soccer player and I coach flag football at a local recreational league. School for me is always exciting because I get to learn something new every single day, not just about my classes but also about my classmates and myself. I always appreciate being able to go because I know how much work it takes for that type of opportunity. Outside of my classes I participate in several extracurricular activities. Clubs like Political action and Model U.N. along with Spanish and Science national honor societies take up most of my free time. When they don’t you’ll almost always find me on a field playing or coaching. This opportunity to me represents a chance not only to change my life but to change others lives as well, whether they be here at home or abroad in my new home country. I am a fun loving person but I care enough to be serious at the right times and I can handle stress when it comes my way. This whole experience from right now to the day I return and beyond will change my life and take me in a completely new direction. It’s hard to believe how far I’ve come but I’m here now and I could never be more excited. I think its time to throw caution into the wind and live in the real world the way we were always meant to: out of our comfort zones testing ourselves to all of the different cultures and people all over the world!

Connor's Journals

July 30, 2013

How can one begin to explain the feeling of being in another country, completely separated from everything they know? Language, customs, food, weather, the world becomes reinvented and every detail becomes not only important but also captivating. Last night around 11:00 P.M. local time I arrived in the beautiful country of Perú and got my first taste of what it means to be an exchange student.

Full of anxiety and excitement I found my way through customs, baggage claim and finally to finding my host family. My first moments in Perú were filled with "Welcome Home" balloons and enough hugs to fill a lifetime. It was the moment I had waited for, 10 months in the making I was standing in front of my host family, speaking the language and realizing that in this new world I was completely at the mercy of my wit and curiosity. All of my new lessons to be learned couldn't be helped by my past experience because my new home is very different then the one I left. There was one thing however that I discovered will always be the same no matter what country I am in: people care for each other, they look out for one another and although I was full of nerves and anxiety my family knew that and helped me feel right at home. Today was Peruvian Independence Day and I could not think of a better way to start becoming Peruvian then watching La parada militar with my host dad and brother. I wish I had the words to describe what it feels like to become a part of another culture, but I guess that’s why it is such an incredible experience to be an exchange student, especially in a country as special as Perú.

I can't explain waking up and having un cafe con leche with my family and chatting about what the day will bring. Or having lunch en La bistecca, a famous restaurant here in San Borja Sur. Tonight I met my first Peruvian friends and its funny how much we already get along, they remind me of so many of my friends back home and yet in new ways they are completely different. The food, sights, and sounds of Peru are incredible and I couldn't be more thankful for what Rotary has done. If you are a student reading this please take it form me: this experience is well worth it in every way… I know this is only my first full day but I promise you that all of the activities and assignments are well worth it! I remember my first informational meetings, my first interview with my home club, cherish the entire process because it will make memories for you that you will never forget.

Every time I turn around there is something new. A new sight, sound, friend, memory, it is hard to believe that after one day I could be filled with so much emotion. It truly is the little things in life that make all the difference and I am very certain that this adventure is just beginning; the real fun is just starting. Now that I am here it will probably be a little while before I send another blog. There is much to do for me to become Peruvian and I think its time I got started! Tomorrow my friends and I are going to a movie, and it is hard to explain how something I am so used to could now be a life long memory. Thank you Rotary for this opportunity, thank you mom, dad, and Samuelito for everything you have helped me with I know we are always going to be family and I love you guys incredibly. And finally thank you to all of the Rotarians here in Perú… without your help and dedication I would not be sitting where I am right now. Its time for me to go and begin this adventure with all of the love and support that my life has blessed me with! ¡Viva Perú!

 August 22, 2013

Hard to believe really that it was more than three weeks ago that I stepped off my flight to Lima Peru and walked out into a new world. Now it almost seems like a dream coming here, as if it wasn't even real. Then again after more than three weeks with a new family, school, city, and country I guess that feeling can almost be expected by any voyager who has left there home in search of something truly important: adventure. Much has happened since my last entry so I won't drag on the sentimental peace for all of you readers who are busy at work or school! The last note on my thought process here would be that Peru is growing more like home to me and the quaint differences between my lives in Florida and here in Lima are becoming just a part of my existence here. I can't change them so I adapt and smile knowing that at the end of this year my customs in Florida will be the ones who seem different to me! Anyway on to business matte rs!

First and foremost my biggest change since my first week journal has been that I am now in School here in Lima! A very good private school named San Ignacio de Recalde. With a Green and cream colored uniform, school song (which happens to be slightly catchy), and rotating teachers instead of students it was very easy to see the changes I would be making between my new school and Creekside Highschool, the one I left back home. I have over 10 different classes including different Maths, Sciences, Language and literature classes (Spanish obviously), Dance, Gym, Civics, and of course History! *A short side note on the dance class, the guys in this class learn traditional Latin Dances and a fellow inbound and I are learning a dance from the traditional ranchers of Peru, some of the most fun I have ever had! I find my classmates to be great people and the teachers are all extremely caring for all of the students making sure that everyone (including the exchange students in my class ) know what we are doing everyday. The first day of school the Director announced us as Cultural Ambassadors from different countries here in Peru to learn what there is to learn and live what there is to live. Its very hard to describe the significance of what he said on all of us who heard it, it reminded us just what it is were doing here.

Outside of school my life has expanded here in Lima and everyday it seems that life is taking me off into some new adventure with friends or family! The food, music, people, and atmosphere of Peru as a whole is incredible and I am positive that there is not a better country for me to do exchange with (yeah maybe a little biased ;)). My host family is incredible and my host sister and brothers have been so nice in showing me the ropes about moving around the city so that now I am doing it by myself, a feeling that seems insignificant but I promise you is very important for an exchange student! We have taken trips to Los Alamos, Barranco, La Molina, Chosica, Chincha and many more wonderful places all around Lima. The food and music here is to die for and whether it be Chicha Morada, Chifa, Bembo's or La Bistecca I found myself with great cuisine. My life here is a Peruvian one and after that I couldn't ask for anything more.

The language for me improves everyday and each time I speak I find myself with new vocabulary, new conversations, and new ways to branch out to the people with whom I am sharing this new world. I am becoming a part of the country not as a tourist or a foreigner, but rather as a Peruvian, perhaps that is the feeling that I will always carry with me. The Rotary camps, school, social events, are all fun don't get me wrong and I love them. But what makes them all worth while is that I am taking part in them in a culture different then my own, I am finding new customs, new connections with where I am, and I am writing a new story that one day I will be able to tell in full to all of the wonderful people who have supported me.

Thank you to my family, friends back home, Rotarians hear in Peru and back home in Florida, my fellow inbounds, and now my fellow Peruvians. Through all of you and through the help of the Lord I am here living the adventure I have always dreamed. I have been blessed with so much during my life, may I never forget the love that has been shown to me both here and at home. Until our next meeting my friends!

September 4, 2013

Vivir es dar cuenta a las experiencias de la vida, recordar los momentos increíbles, y compartir su aventura con el resto del mundo. Si se hace eso entonces es imposible no disfrutar las cosas básicas que existen en cada oportunidad… especialmente las oportunidades de un año de intercambio. Eso fue mi meta para este año acá en Perú y hasta este momento todo ha pasado con energía, amistad, y el amor entre personas de países diferentes. Les he dicho las cosas de mi mente pero ahora es el tiempo para compartir las cosas “raras” que existen en esta cultura… en mi nueva casa aquí en Lima.

So you think you know Perú? Well that’s what I used to think to so if you find yourself thinking this then please sit back, keep all hands and feet in the chair, and enjoy the ride!

Peruvians I must say are some of the most loving people I have encountered and if you ever decide to come down to this incredible country you will learn pretty quick that personal space is a thing of the past and everyone starts becoming your best friend rather quickly. When you first meet someone in public it is courtesy to kiss them on the cheek granted the two people are both women, or one of them is a women, normally two guys give a firm hand shake and a warm “¡Hola!” to start the conversation. This is true even at formal meetings like Rotary Reunions where its respectful to meet and greet every person before the meeting starts and somewhat disrespectful to leave someone out!! And I do mean EVERY person! :D Here in Perú its best you forget embarrassment because people don´t really judge you for the little mistakes you make, they understand we’re all human and they are really quick to forgive! One of the really comforting things I have found out about my new home! In school the story is roughly the same, the people are incredibly nice, sarcastic, and love great humor, they really love enjoying life and for me that’s really refreshing! We make jokes, work on assignments, have some hilarious conversations with the teachers and at the end of the day it really feels like I am a part of that class, and they´re some of my really good friends here in Lima which is why I will never forget some of the little ins and outs of Peru that they’ve taught me!

In my house if you enjoy your good health then you better greet my host mom when you get to the house and always say goodbye when you leave with a kiss on the cheek and a quick ¨¡Chao!! That’s just a rule of thumb for my house and if you don´t…. well you can expect to hear about it later! ☺ My house is one of the warmest places I think I have been and I don´t mean temperature-wise obviously (although we are in the middle of winter here in Lima so some warmth would be nice!) but rather just in spirit, my host mom, brothers and Dad always ask me how my day at school was and it seems like it hasn´t taken them long at all to really “get” me. It seems like even now they understand my personality and what type of Intercambista I am, which goes a long way and I don´t really feel like a foreigner in our house anymore, I feel like a brother, and a son to them which is exactly what they told me I was! “Ahora hijo, no er es gringo, eres Nuevo Peruano con nosotros!” those were the words that my friends and family told me a few weeks into my exchange, welcoming me into “being Peruvian” with them! My older brother Julio is a soccer playing star who´s always looking to help someone out and I really couldn´t ask for a better older brother! He started taking me out my first week and because of that I´ve got the confidence and the know how to do some exploring, make some memories, and really become a part of Peru and the city life here in Lima!

Well the weather here is something to behold I tell you and it changes as quickly as some people change their minds when you start driving into different regions of Lima! As of right now its Winter and that means cold, windy, and not a whole lot of sun with the exception of a few days here and there when we´ve seen it peek through the clouds over the mountains! I wear a lot of undershirts, sweatshirts, and of course my Peruvian “Chullo” a traditional hat here in Peru with its colorful Alpaca and Llama designs, a real trademark here in my country! In about 2 months we should be getting into summer and I´m already excited! Although winter really hasn’t been too bad, coming from the blistering heat of the sunshine state a little cold air and some mist has been something different and fun for me!

Well if you ever wanted to live life on the edge you should come down and see the traffic in Lima, its probably one of the biggest differences between my country back home and my new found love here in Peru. We have over 8 million people and it definitely shows, living here in metropolis is slightly different then my little suburbia of Saint Johns country and watching the cars drive bumper to bumper with no rhyme or reason at first made me scratch my head but now is something I have really come to enjoy! Every car ride seems like a roller coaster and traffic laws are not exactly the norm so when you are riding in a car, hold on to your hat! What I love most about being in Peru is that the mindset of our culture is to really make your own way, live your own life, and enjoy what you find important everyday! Friends, family and memories are the true “measuring sticks” so to speak of the happiness down here and Peruvians enjoy a very rich cultural history, something that they take great pride in. Here in our country “being Peruvian” is a great honor and something to be very proud of! Life here is dominated by public transportation and it really is the lifeline of the city, if you want to go somewhere its time for a bus, combi (my personal preference) or a taxi! I think what you really need here, not only to duck and dive in between morning traffic but also just to exist here in Lima is some real grit, you need to have some confidence in what you’re doing and who you are because being in the big city there are some times where you need to keep things under control and make the best of a situation. As long as you do that, you live with energy and passion, and respect the language and historical culture of this country then you will not only like Peru, you´ll fall in love with it like I have. It really becomes a part of you and you realize that you’re changing even if you can’t see the immediate effect s yet!

I couldn’t be more happy or feel more at home than here in Peru, of all the countries in the world I could have been sent to it brings me the greatest joy to sing our anthem, wave the red and white of our flag, and remember that this place will always be a second home to me. The adventure has one month under its belt and already I’ve got enough memories to keep me busy for a year! It will be awhile before I write again and perhaps the most important thing to remember is that life doesn’t exist in a camera’s photo or the page of a book, its in the everyday differences you make and the wonderful things that you see. As they say in Perú: Chao! And of course

¡Viva Perú!

October 5, 2013

Perú… ¿Cómo puedo describirte en más palabras de que ya he dicho? Cada día yo paso acá en este maravilloso país se encuentra más fácil ver tu cultura, sentir el ritmo de tu corazón, y entender más de que significa ser Peruano. No quiero salir de ti y cuando imagino estar en otro país me da pena. Cuando una persona dice Perú yo sonrío porque yo sé bien que estoy acá en el país más bonito del mundo. Gracias a ti por todo, mas de dos meses y ya me siento parte de la patria, parte de ti.

¡Hola a todos! Obviamente este es mi blog y sé que hace mucho tiempo que publiqué algo pero por fin estoy listo para contarles como pasa acá en Lima, y en general, en el Perú. Por favor quédense en sus asientos porque tengo mucho para decirles ☺ ¡Empecemos!

Hi everyone!!! It’s been awhile huh? (I apologize if my English is bad… its starting to decline pretty quickly these days which for my Spanish is a great sign!) Well I promise you all that it has been a great part of the plan and now that I have held the suspense for about a month now I think its time to inform everyone how the trip is going, how this incredible country is changing everything me and at the same time reminding me deep down the person I am! Everyday is something completely new and I love it so much I could not be happier to be in this beautiful country with these amazing people and this vivid, colorful, loving culture! Well a lot of crazy and wonderful things have happened since I last wrote to you so I think its time I got started!

First thing first, my language learning has hit hit a huge learning curve and started to floor through the roof. Now switching between English and Spanish is becoming harder and harder, hearing instructions in Spanish is by far easier then English and I am definitely seeing fluency development at a very very exciting pace! Through a lot of hard work at home before this trip and during my time here in Peru my Spanish has increased nearly ten-fold and at every turn I see new benefits come from that, whether it be simply talking to strangers, Rotarians, my classmates, or my host family I am just loving being able to communicate so much and it is mostly for that I am feeling so at home here in Peru, I don’t feel like a stranger because the people aren’t seeing me as a stranger, (If you are excited about joining Rotary then this should definitely be something that gets you excited!) Of course I have had my translation mishaps like everyone else! Which have been some of my favorite memories here in Peru! Everyday is new vocab, new grammar, street slang or Jerga as we call it down here! The tempo has become 10,000 times easier just being down here and when I speak I realize that I am speaking very very quickly even if it doesn’t feel that way! I am so excited about everything going on with the Spanish here and it is such a beautiful language I know I will be bringing it back with me to my home in the U.S. and I know it will always be a part of my life, I will never forget it because it represents such a crucial part of my “Peruvianness”!

Okay so now we start getting into the last couple of weeks since my last posting! Well I don’t know about other countries and what they are able to do through Rotary in their countries but I do know that here in Peru we have incredible opportunities to do amazing things that other students might not be fortunate enough to take part in. Nearly two weeks ago we were able to visit the National Congress of the Republic and meet representatives from one of the most powerful bodies in the entire country as well as meet the vice president of the Congress himself! When we entered the Congressional offices I hardly knew what to think, I was inside one of the most historically important buildings in the entire history of my new country, it gave me chills just to realize the history wrapped up in such a place. I really don’t know how to describe the feeling of taking part in an event like that which we did in the congress, we were presented to the congressional members by co untry, we were able to take pictures with them and we even received pins for our blazers and copies of the Peruvian constitution from the Vice President of the Congress! That day in the congress I did something that I don’t believe I will ever forget. On behalf of my country, my family, my state, and myself I presented the Vice President with a gift on National television in Peru. I gave to him a book of American Statesmen that had been printed in 1942 and when I handed him that small but humble sign of respect between my country and his he told me that as a student, person, and as an ambassador I was representing my country well and he finished be telling me that with people like me the future peace of our generations will be met. How could I begin to describe to anyone the feelings I had. With all of the emotions that were running through me I thanked him, told him that I would accept such a challenge with all the heart I could, smiled, and returned to my seat. I gue ss you could call that a “Rotary Moment” one of those special times where you remember just how much you mean to the name of your country and what your actions really say about where you come from. I will never be able to forget such an experience and I know it is something that will always remind me of just how big and connected the world is!

Well it wasn’t long after that trip to the congress that I began my first trip as an Exchange student inside of the beautiful country of Peru! Our first destination was to the South where we would visit several key beautiful places in such an amazing country! Arequipa, Colca, Tacna, and Arica (Chile) all made the list of our first Viaje and it was in these places that we really gained a feel for what being Peruvian really was. We left last Thursday, which feels like a year ago now, and I think it was worth every hour of lost sleep that we left the house at 3:30 A.M. to be at the Airport in Callao. When we all arrived at the check-in I don’t think our feelings could have been more excited! I was so anxious to see the world outside of the Middle Western Coast, which I had become so fond of, and go visit some of the most historical and cultural sites in the whole country!

Our first day was our trip to El Cañón de Colca a huge canyon that runs down the south of Peru in the Sierra. We flew first to Arequipa, which is the second largest and most important city in the entire country. From Arequipa we took a several hour bus ride to Colca, which in reality is a series of towns that is scattered at different sites along the canyon. The elevation of the canyon was about 16,000 ft so altitude sickness at first for a lot of our group was very common, the air was thin, and water was an absolute necessity as was chewing the traditional Coca leaf. Since the Pre-Incan period of the highlands Coca leaves have been chewed because of their help in respiration. When we stopped at one of the small stores in Colca we were recommended to buy several small bags. Not exactly the tastiest item but they definitely did the trick. Usually you place three or four small leaves in a small bunch, and then you fold them together and place them in one side of y our jaw kind of like gum. When you chew you don’t swallow the leaves, just the natural liquid inside and it’s this liquid that helps you breathe at much higher elevations. Everything in Colca was made from Coca: tea, candies, the leaves themselves, everything. It had been and is currently used by the people of that area to battle altitude sickness. In Colca we found several incredible examples of Peruvian wildlife, which truly represent so much of the history and culture here. Llamas are obviously very well known here In Peru and around the world it seems to be a very common fact that they can be found in numerous places here in Peru where they used to be used as beasts of burden. However several other animals maybe less known to the world exist in this great country. Alpacas (perhaps the more traditional and cultural form of the Llama) the Andean Condor (one of the largest birds flying birds found in the world), and the Vicuña (the oldest descendent of bo th the Llama and Alpaca) all roam the Sierra and great highlands of the country.

The first day we drove from Arequipa to Colca we saw a lot, numerous Vicuñas and Llamas in the wild stretches of the highlands and as I watched the great mountains and deserts of the Cordillera pass by us I couldn’t help but feel nostalgic, the place by which we were passing was incredibly old and far more ancient then we could ever have imagined. People had been connecting to the those hills as a source of life for thousands of years and numerous families and communities were following the same traditions there ancestors did so long ago. That night we ended up in our hotel/paradise. Built in to the side of the canyon our lodging was situated near the bottom of a deep valley and laid right next to a runoff of the River Colca. With naturally fed thermal pools found next to the river it was one of the beautiful places I have seen. We enjoyed singing some songs as a huge group that night around the huge fire pit that had been made in the center of all of the rooms.

We had over 6 languages spoken between us and yet we all sang and that night is going to be a memory I will always have as an exchange student! After the fire that night we all got on the bus to go to a small restaurant in the center of town where not only did we taste traditional food of the canyon (I personally got to try an Alpaca Steak which was amazing!!) but we also got to witness traditional dances performed by several traditional Andean dancers. It was incredible and I could hardly believe my eyes when they pulled me out of the crowd to go dance with them! I heard a great cheer from my Rotary Group and there I was dancing traditional Peruvian dances in the middle of the Andean Highlands… How could I describe it more?

The next day we went to the Cruz del Condor, a viewing point for Andean Condors in the area. What an experience! Situated at one of the higher points of the canyon we were able to hike around the cliffs and we actually did get to see one of the condors. What a beautiful creature! With great contrasts of black and white in its plumage the Andean Condor is one of the most amazing birds I have seen! The Condor was once seen as a God amongst the Andean peoples before the arrival of the Spaniards and rain was believed to be one of the gifts it was thought to bring which gave life in the form of crops and grasses for grazing animals. In some parts the Condor, Mountains, and Rivers are believed to be Gods and especially in the area of Colca there are numerous traditional beliefs that still maintain great popularity!

After our time in Colca and the Canyon of the Condor we soon packed up our things and traveled to Arequipa the second largest and most important city in all of Peru. Known for its great agriculture and historical importance, Arequipa represents the largest influence of politics and culture outside of Lima. It was here that we got to visit several historical sites like the Plaza de Armas, Monasterio de Santa Catalina, La Catedral de Arequipa, la casa del Fundador, and so much more. Also it was in Arequipa that we were given free time, a couple of hours were given to us over several days of the trip to go out by ourselves to experience Arequipa and with my group we had an amazing time visiting several historical sites, tasting the local cuisine, and really getting a feel for the city!!! Each site brought something new and it was such an amazing time just to be able to spend sometime with some of my best friends in the world here in Peru, they are like my family and I will neve r be able to forget any of them! We all have so much in common and just being able to spend time with other world travelers who are ready for anything is just incredible, I couldn’t ask for anything more and I couldn’t help but smile when I was with them during the entire trip. They are always going to be there and that is something truly exciting and special about Rotary Youth Exchange.

Arequipa is settled between the Volcanic Mountains of Misti, Chanchani, and Pichu Pichu (or the sleeping Indian)! In these mountains several years ago was found a mummy so well known here in Peru and throughout the world that it has been described as one of the best preserved specimens of mummies in the world! Nicknamed “Juanita” we were able to visit her museum in Arequipa! The city was not only an anthropological symbol but represented also one of the turning points of the Pacific war between Chile and Peru. Arequipa was one of the final advances of the Chilean Army before they were turned back towards the south. All in all Arequipa is a mix of traditional cultural ideas and modern concepts; it was really an amazing place to visit!

Proceeding from Arequipa we travelled about 6 hours by bus to the south to the desert town of Tacna, which lies very very close to the Peruvian-Chilean border! The sun was always out, and the city was definitely in the desert environment, outside of the city were giant sand dunes as far as the eye could see and I realized just how harsh the Cordillera could be to someone that was trying to survive it without being in a city like Tacna. In Tacna we visited numerous cultural cites like El teatro municipal, El ferrocarril, and so much more also traveling to the Plaza de Armas de Tacna and the Catedral which had been partially rebuilt since an earthquake struck the city some years ago. The night we arrived in the city we were welcomed by Rotary club of Tacna to a dinner that everyone enjoyed, it was a great blessing to be brought in by the different clubs who were willing to help provide food for nearly 40 Exchange students!

The next morning we had to be up very early because we crossed the border into Chile (a process which took nearly 2 and half hours)! Now you see there has always been this great Rivalry between Chile and Peru since the War of the Pacific in which Chile took territory from Peru and then Bolivia. When we entered the border no more than 100 yards from the border control offices we began to sing the Peruvian National Anthem together as a whole. The sound of it gave me chills! There we were, mixed group of students from over 7 different countries all-residing in Peru and we were singing our new home’s Anthem in the borders of her rival! We were all filled with a tremendous Patriotism in that moment for Peru and it was such a gift to be a part of. We realized then how much we loved Peru and how it had become our home. When we went into Chile we visited the city of Arica, which was a historical battleground between the two countries in the 19th century. Chile was a beautiful c ountry with a great climate and a beautiful coast but I don’t think it can compare to the beauty of Peru <3 ☺ .We visited several museums and we were able to pass through several artesanía shops in the city in order to buy some souvenirs.

Finally after one more day in Tacna after our day in Chile we returned home to Lima last night. After so much travel, tours, dinners, official Rotary events, and in overall just fun I cam back to Lima as happy as I could possibly be because after a trip like the one I have just taken I can’t help but feel closer to my fellow exchange students and my new home.

Everything in Peru is just going as well as it possibly could and for that I must be so thankful. The language, like I told you all earlier, is running so smoothly and everything is falling into place just like I thought it would at this stage of the game! The weather is getting nicer as we turn into summer here and I actually have a week of vacations after this weekend because last week were exams! My friends in my Colegio are amazing, friendly, and funny, and I couldn’t think of not being in San Ignacio de Recalde. This coming week I have no idea what my plans are and yet I am very okay with that, really my mindset (and the mindset in general here) is to let your worries go, try your best and enjoy yourself, which has been something I have really held on to. Just being here in Lima and in Peru in general has me so excited and I could never thank Rotary enough for what they have done as well as all of the people back home which have made this possible for me, whether t hey be teachers, friends, family, anyone who I can thank I am going to because this is a life changing experience in everyway and I couldn’t be more blessed to be here! I have so much to tell you guys about everything that is going on here but I suppose I will stop there and let you take a breather! Next time I will give you another “Cultural Update”! Until then I hope that everyone has a wonderful time! As for me I’m going to keep living this Peruvian life, learning what it truly means to be a part of my new culture, and loving every second of it. Until we talk again everyone! ¡Chao, y Viva Perú! <3

October 28, 2013

Perú… tan bonito es su bandera, el pendón bicolor de rojo y blanco. Los Andes se quedan en su tierra tan bonita, maravillosa, llena de historia y tradición. Espero recordar este país tan importante y su belleza para siempre. De la selva, la Cordillera, la sierra, dentro de todo se encentra nuestro orgullo de ser Peruanos… ¡Viva Perú!

(Spanish in Progress…Please excuse the English Mistakes!)

Well today is a very very special day for my journey here in the beautiful country of Perú. Today is my official third month mark for being here and I really didn´t know where to start trying to describe it. So much has happened, so much has changed in three short months and it is so hard for me to try and explain everything and anything that has happened here! There´s simply too much Perú for a blog like this!

Lima, and what I really love about this place is that in every street and corner you can find more of the amazing Peruvian culture we enjoy here. After the trip last month I returned to my colegio to reintegrate myself with being back here in Lima instead of out and about in the countrysides of this great country. Unfortunately things here are still a little cold and damp as we are just starting to move into spring! However we have had our first few days of sun here in Lima and when it comes out everything definitely changes! We are extremely close to the equator so obvious the sun is much stronger here than it was even in the Sunshine State of Florida! As we get to see more and more of Summer weather we all begin wishing more and more that it was December so we could swim, surf, and enjoy the beautiful climate here in Peru.

School life has been very very very entertaining and a great experience for me! My classmates are awesome and hilarious which makes every class funny and a new experience for all of us. The teachers here joke around a lot too which is a lot of fun because they really do a good job of being friendly with the students and that is one particular difference that I think there is between the United States school system and our program here in Perú. The schools are slightly smaller here in Lima because they are private, so the student’s don't have as many in each class and everyone gets to know each other a lot more! That part of school I am really enjoying! Kids in the same grade level all know each other and yeah I am sure you´re probably saying ¨well that’s easy if they only have 10 kids! ¨ But actually our grade has over 100 students and yet everyone seems to be good friends! Likewise we don´t have nearly as many problems with the &u ml;norms of highschool: Drama, fights, people really disliking each other, we really don´t see as much of that here in my School of San Ignacio de Recalde and so it is really a friendly place to be! I also have a few Rotary Youth Exchange students that I have gotten to know really well and that has been a lot of fun to kind of discover all of this together with them! My best friends in school are absolutely incredible people and they are what I would like to call the “Traviesos” because they are snappy, sarcastic, funny, and I would miss them in a heartbeat! We always have a lot of fun no matter what class we are in and I always talk to them when there is something on my mind. Great people and some of my best memories have been from my School!

Speaking of a great times I got to have one of the most important days of my life celebrated here in Peru, and let me tell you, what a day! My 18th birthday was this past Friday and I wish I was lying when I write that the party started at 12:01 that morning and ended at 8 the next night! :D Peruvians pretty much are allowed to do everything at 18 which is why that it is such a big age to celebrate here, and I really got to see that in full form this past weekend! It all started at midnight that Friday morning! I woke up to someone tapping me on the shoulder and before I even know what was happening my entire family was in my bedroom singing me happy birthday in Spanish and very broken English! They brought me a chocolate cake and at 12:30 we were all eating as a family celebrating my “coming of age” in Peruvian culture, it was so much fun just to be there, just to realize what extent my family had gone through to remind me that even in a different continent then my home, I was still in a house where I was loved and that feeling can’t have a price tag, absolutely unforgettable. There is something about that situation, that no matter what language you hear the song in, you remember the most important things in life and that was what was so impressive about that moment, just how much love, and caring I saw from my family, even if I wasn’t their son by blood, it didn’t matter at all, they loved me all the same and for that I thank Rotary for showing me that moment because it is on that short list which will always be remembered.

After about an hour of eating cake, making jokes, and simply having a good time we all got back into bed at about 1:30 and that morning I had school so I had to get up at 6! The party continued at school the next day and I was really able to see what “friends” really mean here. In the United States usually the person who is celebrating brings some food, drinks, enough for us to have a party, relax and enjoy. Here in Peru, the person having the party is not expected to bring anything, its their day being celebrated and that’s why its not there job to bring food, or drinks for the others, its their day to enjoy! Now here too I got to see something extremely heartwarming, my best friends at school all prepared for that day and during our Recreo we had a birthday party with a chocolate cake, Inka Cola, Chips, cookies, the works and I was honestly surprised at how much they were really willing to spend for someone else. Back home that is one thing that I have alw ays wished for, just a little bit more of an open mind in our culture to spend money for other people sometimes, and that’s why that party having a good time with my friends really showed me something culturally significant about my new home! When I was making my birthday wish we moved on to our next tradition regarding birthdays! When a person is celebrating they have to take a bite of the cake as a whole, when they do this everyone has to push their whole face into the cake! After having my head smashed into a delicious chocolate cake I brought my face up with a complete chocolate mask just in time for a photo with all of my friends!

Up to this point it had been a fantastic day and it just got better! That night my host family asked me what I wanted for dinner and we had a huge feast with Polla a La Brasa (a famous chicken dish) with Rice, French fries, a salad, and a nice glass of red wine! It was incredible to be able to share such memories with my family and the stories we told and laughed about will always stay with me. Simply a great birthday and with me I had my best friend here in Peru Emilie from Denmark whom my parents encouraged me to invite. With a great friend, a tremendous family, and incredible food it was one of the best ways I could possibly think of ending my Cumpleaños.

The following day however the real party started! At 10 A.M. I met all of my good friends at a local spot here in Lima and we all went to play soccer with our Rotarians for a few hours before heading to lunch. It was great to get everyone together and to see our Rotary Members again, who are always ready to get back in touch with us students and see how life is going! After that and a nice lunch made by our Rotary members my counselor gave me a few gifts and they too proceeded to sing Feliz Cumpleaños! I was so happy to be with all of my good friends that I couldn´t have prepared a better afternoon! Finishing our lunch we all decided to go to the Miralfores District for some great markets and great spots to hang out and enjoy some great company as a group. After passing a few hours in Parque Kennedy we finally finished up and went our separate ways home, I got home about 8 and after two days of partying I was happier than I could possibly try to put down on paper !

Well now we have what I would like to call LAS NOTICIAS IMPORTANTÍSIMAS!!! Ok so here´s the deal, in January I will be able to travel to the very far North of Peru for a month and a half to stay with a host family in the city of Piura! :D A coastal city with plenty of sun, great food, and cool sites to see I am extremely excited about this rare opportunity! As my Rotary organization here in Lima has connections with other clubs throughout Peru, we were able to make the transfer and I am extremely excited to be able to travel to a city with only about 200,000 people compared to the ten million we have in Lima! The history, culture, food, will all have a much smaller influence from international powers and companies and that I am excited to see, how do the people there live differently then they do here? Are any of the perspectives different? This opportunity is truly important and very special to the kids who are here in Lima because only a few of us are going to be able to take these trips! To know another part of Lima culturally will be a tremendous time and I will be making the trip with a good friend of mine Colin from Belgium! Being able to make such a journey to the far extremes of Northwest Peru will be another once in a lifetime trip!

Well everyone that’s it for this edition of the blog! I can’t tell you all how happy I am to be here, simply to be a part of it and there isn’t a day that goes by in which I don’t think of thanking Rotary, my family, my friends, and everyone back home and here in Peru who has helped me and supported me over the last 18 years! I am the luckiest guy in the world for all the great lessons and memories you’ve given me and to repay you I am going to do everything I can to live this opportunity like the life changing venture it is! I love this country, its people, and I will always be proud to be a part of it! Thank you Rotary! ¡Viva Perú! <3

November 30, 2013

 ¡Buenas Tardes a Todos de la Ciudad bonita de Lima en el Perú! Les escribo esta vez para compartir una aventura importantísima de mi vida y también para contarles cómo pasa la vida acá en Perú. ¡Ojalá que leas esta publicación y la disfrutes completamente, saludos de Lima! ☺

Well everyone long time no see huh? I think the last time I posted was in early October so perhaps it would be a great time to play a little bit of catch up and let everyone back home know how things are going here in the beautiful city of Lima! First off this post will be a little bit of a longer writing because of the fact that our last trip to the south of this beautiful country was very long with lots of historical sites, amazing memories, and numerous cultural points that I am anxious to share with you guys! SO I promise that if you read through this, even if it is long, you will hopefully not get bored because we are going to have plenty to talk about! Alright well enough chitchat I think it’s about time I got on with it!

Well it all started the 7th of November and ended the 15th of the same month, although it might not seem like a long time you are going to learn just how much a Rotary group can do in 8 days! We kicked off our tour to the South by beginning in the ancient Capital of the Incans: Cuzco, a beautiful city with a very large amount of historical tradition and significance for the once great Incan Empire, which dominated life in in the Andes region for several centuries before the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century! Our first stop was to the beautiful temple of Curicancha, which used to act as a traditional center of the city before it was partially destroyed by Spanish troops and renamed Santo Domingo. Here we found a very important spiritual center dedicated to the Incan gods of the Sun, Moon, and Stars, astronomical phenomena that the Incans believed guided and watched over their civilization! We saw several different types of important building styles and were taught how and why many of the structures of this great Empire appear the way they do. Continuing on our trip we visited such sites as Q’engo, Tambomachay and Saqsayhuamán, all of which held particular functions in the days of old for the bustling city of Cuzco, some acted as important agricultural sites, some as guard sites, others as the earliest forms of center for transferring information in the form of male runners who would carry goods such as seafood from the coast or information regarding other parts of the empire! It was said that a runner could run 25 Kilometers in one day and that the Incan Leader could enjoy fresh seafood brought all the way from the coast!

Our following day of adventuring was by no means less exciting than the first and as we traveled further and further into the interior of the Valle Sagrado. It became much more clear to me how the Incans believed that the world around them, the water, mountains, sun, how all of those things could be Gods for a civilization. Some of the most beautiful sites I’ve been to and simply the view was enough to take your breath away, I make no joke when you could feel just how ancient that world really was, and maybe it was just me but I tried to imagine Incan families scattered throughout those high terraced walls, living life like they had been for centuries. One of my favorite aspects of this trip as a whole was that the feeling we received from being in these sites were important for many reasons and to many people, not just people with Incan heritage, or Peruvians, but in general just as a human being it was impressive to be standing in one of our father societies, one of the largest in the two Americas, for me that feeling at times simply robbed me of words and a new sense of Peruvian patriotism swept over me, and again I realized just how much this country has become a part of me. Its not a vacation, or a simple tour, it’s a life changing experience that has changed me in some ways I can see and some ways I will never guess at. I could never be more thankful for such an opportunity, not just for this life changing trip but for receiving Peru in general because I couldn’t dream of being in another country, it is as if I was always meant to come here! Well now that I have successfully gotten off on an emotional hallmark moment let me bring it all back with the actually tour!

Alright so where was I? Oh that’s right! The Valle Sagrado was the home of some of the more famous Peruvian animals and plants including the Llama, Alpaca, Condor, Vicuña, Parrots, and Guanaco! We had the pleasure of visiting a wildlife reservation in this valley to become face to face with these beautiful creatures and learn a little bit about how conservationists are working with the government to stop illegal trading of materials like Toucan feathers, and illegally sold furs from animals such as the Guanaco and Vicuña. In the reservation we also were able to view Pumas, and get a “bird’s eye view” of some Condors! ;) I had to try a cheesy joke at least once throughout this blog, if I didn’t how would I know you were actually reading? Well off we go again back to the straight facts! Jaja! Alright after the Valle Sagrado we went to two very important sites of Pisaq and Ollantaytambo! Pisaq was a very rich agricultural sector of the valley where the people would normally grow Corn and potatoes to keep their nutrition well balanced and healthy in the high mountain altitude. Great terraces had been built into the side of the mountains and it was said that the storehouses of Pisac were so efficient using only the sun and high mountain climate that it was calculated they could keep some vegetables fresh for up to 5 years!! That kind of makes our refrigerator look like a tin can if you ask me! Pisaq was extremely impressive and the work it took to get the terraces etched into the side of the mountains must have been incredible work, really something to appreciate because the Incans were an advanced civilization but they were still working with basic tools made of stone and wood.

Well our next city was just as important and perhaps even more so politically then Pisaq was, the next city on our Great Peruvian adventure was Ollantaytambo! Ollantaytambo served as a temporary capital for the Incan Leader Manco Inca when Pizzarro arrived and conquered the original capital of the Cuzco. For several years Manco Inca was able to defend this great city valiantly but the force of the Spaniards was too much and eventually he retreated to the final capital of the Incan Empire to Vilcabamba where he was finally defeated and the Incan empire brought to an end under Spanish domination. The city was extremely impressive and the great look it had over the mountains was nothing short of jaw dropping, it was quite clear how the incans chose it to be a capital city, it over looked a very low set valley which would have allowed Manco Inca to notice any Spanish assault ahead of time and plan accordingly! After a long day of touring, many names in Quechua, and a great Incan history lesson we were finally ready to hit the “Mack Daddy” ultimate tourist spot in Peru…. Machu Picchu!

It was a very very foggy morning from what I can remember when we left for Machu Picchu, a site that no doubt has gone a long way in changing not only my time here in Peru but life in general for me, how I look at the perspective we all find ourselves in. We were stationed in a small tourist town just at the base of the site and I remember the night before I was trying to prepare myself for the moment I had waited so long for…. What would I be able to say? Would I be able to say anything at all? The second question as you will see later on was a much fairer question, but that's later in the story. So leaving from the small town of Machu Picchu we mounted our bus and before we could believe it we were ascending up the steep sleeps of the mountain ranges and because of the fog that was so heavy around us it felt as if we were diving right into the heavens themselves. About 20 minutes of our serpentine road and finally the bus pulls to a halt. We all got off, got our tickets punched and passport checked, and continued into the site. At first we saw almost nothing because of the density of the mist circling around us, and after several minutes of hiking the guide finally stopped us near a small ledge that overlooked the valley.

Out of the corner of our eyes a small ray of sunlight poked through the clouds and slowly as if the mists were blankets over a slumbering giant they peeled away until finally we were left with a view that at least for me will represent one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen. The city of Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan empire, sitting in the morning sun, there were no words to describe it, just a still peace and tranquility flowed through that place and there was no force I didn’t think that was going to stop it. We had the pleasure of visiting all of the temples, living quarters, and other import facilities including two very well known sites: the Incan bridge, y La Puerta Del Sol. These two sites were extremely important in maintaining the city and La Puerta del Sol acted as the only means of entrance. It was truly a tremendous city to visit and the history I truly believed was living in those walls, you could feel it when you were hiking through the variou s sections of the city, it was simply there. Now as for someone who loves history as much as I do Machu Picchu was like a kid in a candy store, the techniques they used, the equipment, the beliefs all of it was something I could and did appreciate and more than that, it was a culture I could still see continued today in some respects here in Lima and other places around Peru. Here are the truly important phenomena that this culture of the Incas is not completely gone and it helps influence all of us living here in Peru, no matter what city you are from.

Finally after a long day of touring, numerous hikes, and countless panoramic photos we returned to camp and got to take a short rest before eating and returning by train to Cuzco. After a day that started off at 5:30 in the morning I had finally seen Machu Picchu, jewel of the Incan Empire, from what I could tell it was a day very well spent and one (in my opinion) that I will never forget! The day after we were able to take a free time in the city of Cuzco and a small group of friends I find myself traveling with decided to go to the Plaza de Armas in order to really appreciate some of the beauty of the city. It was not a disappointment, the city center was stunning and of course La Catedral was situated right next to the Central building sets! Our touring in cuzco would not be over quite yet however! The following day we visited to more historic sites of Moray and Chinchero. Alright Moray first! Moray was actually a beginning laboratory for the Incas who were trying to dis cover at which temperatures and altitudes best grew the crops that they were using to sustain themselves. In order to test these variables the Incas used a system of large agricultural rings set between several medium sized valleys. By encircling each ring with in another ring in ascending order until they were at the same level with the base of the valley the Incas were able to use the temperature changes in each depression to determine at what setting best grew there needed crops. At first glance the site struck me as a religious center of some sort so it greatly surprised me and filled me with some awe when I realized how their system had worked, truly an impressive thing to see. Chinchero was not as much as a city known for any deeply made ruins, or tourist spot, it however was significant because was the city that has been found to adhere most to the traditional beliefs, languages, and religion of the Incas. In essence it is one of the closes places you are going to fin d still living as their ancestors did so many years ago. We had the pleasure of visiting a fabric-making center where 6 or 7 families lived together and they showed us some of the traditional customs of their culture deeply rooted in the Andean fashion. A very respectable sight for sure and something that I really appreciated, seeing this ancient culture in action is a moving experience I would believe for anyone who saw could see it.

Finishing our tour in Machu Picchu and thereafter in Cuzco we made our final push during our trip, this time to the city of Puno located on one of the highest lakes in the world: Lake Titicaca! About 6 hours by bus from Cuzco to Puno the trip was well worth it and the adventures that would follow the next two days would always be remembered. The first stop was the island of Taquile a very high rocky Isla that reminded me of being on the Greek isles, very beautiful! We were able to hike to the top, take plenty of beautiful pictures and then make a nice peaceful descent back down! Our second visit, which was incredibly memorable, was to the Island of Amantani. On this island we got to try something slightly different, instead of staying in a hotel that night we actually got to live with traditional families on the islands and most of them had been living in the ways of their ancestors for years. Some, like my family for example had limited electricity and only used it for a lit tle lighting, not for cooking, washing, or anything of the sort! It was truly a humbling experience to get to live with a family like that and share a historic culture with them! That night they brought all of us to the center of the Island and gave us traditional clothing because that night we were actually able to have a huge “Welcome” party that was centered on traditional dancing! I don’t know if I have ever had so much fun and I know it was a memory that I am always going to keep!

After our fun-filled dance night we made our final push on the tour, our trip to the Los Uros or better known as the “Floating Islands”. It was hard to believe but if you can try to picture a huge raft big enough for 6 families with houses, a kitchen, and everything on nothing but floating reeds situated out in the center of the Lake. That is what we saw when we first arrived and I think it had every one of our jaws dropped! It was an incredible process on how they made the islands and the was really a work of human engineering, everything was made out of this reed material that had been growing on the lake I am sure for centuries. Much of their food, boats, houses, all came from this reed and it was incredible to see how a people could actively sustain themselves with one major product, very very impressive! We were able to have lunch on the islands and enjoy the beautiful sun settled on the water. Finally after 7 or 8 days of intense travel, touring, and numerou s hotels we ended our viaje.

As a whole this entire trip really helped me understand more about this beautiful country and I was really able to see and realize the ancient routes of this culture and how customs started centuries ago can still influence our lives here. I loved it and the connection between Peru and me has never felt stronger than when what it is now after that trip and nearly four months in this incredible nation. I love it, I learn it, and I live it everyday and that for me is a complete dream to live here, speak the language and be a part of what has become my culture. I must say that I could never have asked for a better country for this program and everyday I stay here my life becomes more and more changed in the best way possible. In two days I will be here for four months…. My how time flies when you’re changing your life… ¡Viva Perú! ¡La nación de mi corazón! Te amo Perú <3

January 5, 2014

Its wonderful and yet dreadful how time flies isn’t it? It certainly doesn’t seem like a little over five months since that cold Peruvian winter night in which I landed in Lima, Perú. It’s nearly impossible to believe that I have been through so much here, in so many ways I have changed and I would like to think that those changes are all for the better. Perú has been the biggest self “remapping” project in my lifetime and I must say that even though there have been ups and downs, in the end I see the life I led returning stronger than it could have ever been without this year abroad. One thing I notice is just how different our exchanges are as exchange students and yet at the same time how similar. We all face different challenges that take on different forms, and yet in the end we solve those problems in the same way using: determination, optimism, reflection, and a drive to change where we are a nd what we are doing for the better. Exchange students can be some of the most inspiring friends and family you can have because there comes a moment when you realize that you have surrounded yourself with people who believe that they can make a difference in the world and more importantly they have STARTED DOING IT!

Things have been incredible while I have been here in Perú and I could never be more thankful for that, it has become my home and I cannot imagine leaving (which is why I have distanced myself from thinking of June and July!), it has become the country I know and my “home away from home” has been found and I have never been happier than I am right now. During one of those most important family times of the year I am away from my own, away from my country, and yet I am having the time of my life. Now that doesn’t mean I don’t miss my parents, grandparents, brother, aunts, uncles, and the whole gang! What it does mean is simply that I know that I am going to be here for one year and instead of wishing I was home (which some people do quite often) I am going to leave my eyes open, take it all in and in one year’s time be 100% Peruvian American! That was the mission I set out on back in the end of June and I am very happy and proud to say tha t goal is being reached. And more importantly, I am making family and friendship ties that will last a lifetime, I have shared my life with them and they have all become inseparable parts of my story, my world that will always stand out when I look back on life.

There has been a lot going on recently and I have a lot to tell about this beautiful and amazing country that I have been able to call my home. First of all is the fact that while I was here I was able to graduate from San Ignacio de Recalde, my colegio here in Lima, and getting the opportunity to see my friends walk and receive their diplomas was simply incredible, one of the more reflective moments of my exchange, watching a group of students achieve what they had worked a long time for resonated well with me and reminded me just how fast life really does pass us by and why everyday we should try to run out and grab as much of it as we can! ☺ I think I will backtrack just a tad however because I forget to tell you that I was included in a very large traditional dance show in the beginning of December before the graduation! My friends and I danced a dance named Tucumanos as well as accompany another group by playing the Cajón! As I was saying we too were given our diplomas and to become a part of the school was an incredible rewarding experience, even though the system was very different from ours and what I had been used to, Colegio is where I met all of my very good Peruvian friends and for that I am thankful to have been not only included but truly given a very graciously accepted courtesy of the school when we as exchange students needed it.

A few days after the official ceremony we had our unofficial ending to the Promoción of 2013…. Prom. Now before you go off guessing at what Prom was like here let me tell you one thing, it is NOT like the prom in the United States and I say that meaning it is much much better… If a prom starts at 8 at night and ends at 6 the next morning and people are dancing the entire time then you know you have a very good party going and going to Peruvian Proms (I was actually luckily enough to be invited to two!) were two of the most entertaining and memorable nights of my entire life and I mean that with absolute seriousness because it was a night that will always be remembered by those that were able to take part. I spent it with my friends, bestfriends, and very good people and of course that just puts the cherry on top of it all! Thank you Promotion 2013 for making my time at San Ignacio de Recalde the best I could ever have imagined!

Outside of our party going mentality the Exchange students and myself have been visiting some very important sites here in Peru and we have had the pleasure of recently visiting the Palacio Del Gobierno very near the center of Lima! A beautifully constructed and decorated modern palace it was a spectacle and certainly contained a number of Peruvian historical items and accounts which play a major role obviously in the Peruvian national identity!

Of course recently we have had the major holidays of December and January and those of course come with their own stories! Christmas was spent very very well with my host family and it came with its own Peruvian customs of course! First we went to mass at 6 P.M. and got back close back to 7:30, afterward we had our own time of Prayer and we sang Spanish worship songs to show just how thankful we were for the blessing of another Christmas remembering that Jesus christ was born for us! Truly moving and it was fantastic to take part of! After chatting and greeting the entire host of uncles, aunts, and cousins, we all sat down for a large christmas dinner at 11 complete with the traditional “fixins” simply added with some Peruvian Spice! Turkey, Ham, Camote, Rice, fruits, numerous other foods, and a tall glass of Red wine! At midnight we sat round the christmas tree and everyone opened up their presents! The kids were so excited and the smiles people had will be a memory I will always keep with me! Finally we walked outside and watched the Christmas Fireworks because fireowrks here in Peru are incredibly common and for about three more hours we kept the party going into the christmas morning, finally getting home at about 3:30 A.M.! Certainly impossible to forget!

The last week of mine has been filled with mixed emotions really, as it commonly is with the New Year’s celebration my year of 2014 has its ups and downs. When I say “down” I don’t mean that it is sad or upsetting, simply a change… this week I am saying goodbye to my first host family. I could never be more thankful for all that they have done for me in these first five months here in this country and I know I could never forget them as my host family, they took me in when I knew nothing about this new world and they taught me everything I needed, they are my family and I love them very very much. As excited as I am to be traveling to Sullana a small city in the northern reaches of the country, I know that I already miss my life here in Lima a little and miss my host family a lot. I know that I was lucky enough to live with an amazing family and we have moments, memories, jokes, and stories that will never leave me… Mamá, Pap&aac ute; , Jorge, Julio, y Johanna, los quiero un montón y nunca no podré decirles a ustedes el amor que he sentido estos cinco meses pasados, me aceptaron como hijo, hermano y amigo, gracias por todo y sé que algún día los voy a visitar y nosotros nos vamos a acordar todo de lo que ha pasado. Tenemos nuestros chistes, cuentas, memorias, y momentos inolvidables, gracias por todo que han hecho por mi y los quiero como familia.

Everything in Peru is going so so well right now and I couldn’t be happier with what I am doing and who I am becoming, so many things have changed and I still have over half of my Exchange ahead of me which is a very very exciting thought to me! I have so much more I want to change and I know things will happen in the next months that I could never dream of! Thank you to all of my friends and family everywhere out their in the big world who have made this entire year such a blessing, my special thanks go out to all of you, I wish the best this holiday season and may your days be blessed with good times with the people you care about! Chau de Lima, Peru! :D ¡Los quiero un montón! ¡Viva el Perú!

March 31, 2014

We have all imagined the scene right? The traveler throwing their belongings in a bag and leaving at a moments notice for the first chance of adventure even if he is unsure of the path in front of him, where it may lead, and where it will end. We have all imagined the scene… but the last two months I feel I have actually gotten to live it. The last time I wrote in this blog I believe it was the beginning of January and change was certainly easy to find, a new year, new family, a new half of the exchange, the journey was at a turning point and even if I didn’t know it then the months to follow would be some of the most memorable in my life.

It all started one hectic day at the bus stop in Lima, as I was awaiting my bus to Sullana; a small northern city that I believe I had mentioned in this blog before hand, I received a call from my chairman here in Lima saying that for some unknown reason the Rotarians that were going to take me in were not available and so in the blink of an eye I was forced to cancel my ticket pick up my bags and go back home… my trip had been lost and it appeared that the rest of my summer was going to be spent here in the capital. However, being lucky as I have been during my exchange that is not the end of the story, about an hour later I received a call from the same chairman offering me not one but two separate trip opportunities one to the Highland city of Huaraz, and the other to the more tropical city of Pucallpa situated in the Amazon. I am sure an onlooker would have said that my racing around to leave that same day for Huaraz was quite in the fashion of Mr. Baggins. Hoppin g in a car with a Rotary family and four other exchange students I began my first day of what would be a chain of trips. And how did I finish it? Sleeping peacefully at the doorstep of the Peruvian highlands. That, my good friends, is where my adventure would start.

Huaraz was a very small peaceful town with the traditional culture of the Sierra, it was based on tourism because the local mountain ranges of the Cordillera Negra and the Cordillera Blanca offered a number of tours and foreigners were abundant. The culture in that city is incredibly close to the traditional way of life practiced by the Incas for centuries. The idea of a cyclic relationship with earth and its products like the Potato, corn, and fish are symbolic of how the customs of that empire have been passed down and conserved in the highlands of this beautiful country. Quechua is spoken regularly and most know Spanish as a second language. Seeing the history of its people in the social norms of the city Huaraz was a great cultural stop for us to get to know and understand more of life in the Andes. In total we were there for 6 days, however everyone of those six days was used incredibly and we were able to book tours to several large hiking spots such as Lake 69, a beautiful crystal blue lake at nearly 15,000 reached only by a three hour intense mountain path! We were able to bungee jump from a bridge about 120ft high over a rocky canyon with a small river at its base and we were able to climb down canyons in and through waterfalls. We were able to eat huge amounts of fresh trout, which was the primary dish of the town as well as corn, and potatoes, which here in Peru are absolute staples for almost all meals. All in all it was a fantastic trip and I could not imagine not being able to make a stop in the region of Ancash. Unfortunately my stay couldn’t have been longer, and after six short days I was already leaving back to Lima.

However my stay in the capital was not to be drawn out. I was only able to just shake of a short-term traveler’s rest before heading to the airport. This time my destination was going to be a little bit farther and (if possible) even more exotic because I was going to the tropical Jungle city of Pucallpa. Arriving it reminded me much like home, the warm humid jungle air, the mosquitos already swarming as you stepped off of the plane, it was a much more familiar site to me and from the first minute I stepped out of the airport I know that Pucallpa was going to be special, and by the end it flew higher than my most built expectations could have imagined. I was staying with my friend Colin a Belgian, and our host family, Chelita, Hernan, Erika, and Pia in a beautiful house nearly six kilometers away from the center of the city. It was much more distant and that reminded me or of the peaceful lifestyle I had seen and become apart of back home and in Costa Rica. Truly loving, warm, and radiant people, Colin and I know knew that the hospitality of the Selva was going to be very different than we were thinking previously. We begin eating a lot more meats and fish and several incredibly delicious plates such as river trout, Piranha, fried sweet bananas and so much more. We were in the region of Yarinacocha, which has a beautiful, and captivating range of rivers and lakes situated at its banks. There we were able to spot river dolphins and fish for the famous Piranha. When we were not out venturing in the Amazon we were back at home with the family enjoying a very warm, kind, loving culture where parties and family cookouts were incredibly common. Everybody brought their favorite food or drink and the whole family enjoyed and danced for hours and hours. The warm climate of the Jungle was only matched by the emotional friendliness and warmth of its people.

From the Coast of Lima to the rainy highlands of Ancash, to the tropical sunny shores of the lakes of Yarinacocha and Ucayali, the journey just didn’t stop for me and in every place I had the pleasure of traveling to the last few weeks it reminded me even more just how special this country is, each region has its own customs and traditions but all of the different zones of this country recognize their pride in being Peruvian and for me that is an inspiring idea. The food was incredible, the tours spectacular and the adventuring endless. This is the experience I had always wished for in an exchange year and now as I said earlier I have the pleasure to live it! I could not be happier or more content with all of my surroundings. This country with its foods, dances, histories, and tales is made purely from culture and I couldn’t imagine a better place to be sent to. It is home for me and I am proud to say that! All in all my January and February were full of nonstop travel and the adventure of the last few months doesn’t stop there… two days after my return to Lima from Pucallpa I left for a two week trip to the Northern Coasts of Peru where I would get to spend my days on some of the most beautiful beaches of South America, but to hear that story you are all going to have to wait for my next blog! (I have to somehow keep some interest flowing don’t I? ;)) Take care all of you, and remember, seize everyday, there are beautiful moments simply waiting to be enjoyed! Cuídense mucho y abrazos para todos! Nos vemos pronto! Chau! Y por supuesto Viva el Perú! :D

May 2, 2014

Well I think I have had you all waiting long enough… some of you have been patient enough to wait for my next entry, other seem to be a little pushy! I will take that as a sign that perhaps my writing is at least a little enjoyable for you all! ☺ This time I have news of another Rotary Trip, our trip to the Northern coast of Peru as well as some short stops in our neighbor Ecuador! It was an incredible trip all around and it helped us round off our visiting experience to the four corners of the country that we have been so lucky to call home! So here it is: Our trip to the North!

Our excursion would start in the beautiful city of Trujillo one of the most distinct and important cities in the country well known for its incredible seafood and Marinera Norteña (a traditional dance found along the coast which represents a significant portion of the Peruvian culture). We were situated in a small district just outside of the city named Huanchaco and while we were there we were able to visit and enjoy the Pacific beaches that the coasts offered as well as excellent dishes such as Chicharrón de Mariscos, Ceviche, and many others. The first major archeological site on our tour was to the site of Chan Chan, the large set of ruins on the coast constructed by the Pre-Incan civilization of the Chimú. This site acted as one of many capitals owned by this culture and it was one of the most significant trading posts for the region. Its architecture is constructed to resemble many of the most important aspects of the civilizations everyday life. This can explain why symbols such as waves, pelicans, fish, and sea otters can all be found in abundance. The Chimú were a very successful entity and like many other cultures of their day they worshipped the natural bodies around them such as the sea, the sun, and the moon. Chan Chan offered tremendous sites and was crucial for getting to know the northern culture that inhabited the north of my country before the Incan Empire came into power.

After our trip to Chan Chan we were able to continue our tour with a visit to the capital of another Pre-Incan power, the Mochica culture that flourished in the North and held a political and religious capital at the site of the Huaca del sol y de la Luna. This beautiful site gave us the chance to see beautiful and detailed Pre-Incan architecture and witness the advanced society of the Moche. We saw sites used for human sacrifice as well as the wonders of a city situated at the base of el Cerro blanco which is the mountain jutting up from behind the Huaca. Perhaps a little clarification is needed. “Huaca” is a word in Quechua, which means sacred place and the Moche held this zone in high accord not only politically but as well religiously and it was crucial in the governing of this society. Crime was incredibly low, the people only took what they needed, respected laws, and an army was raised to protect the civilization from its local neighbors. Ending our first day amongst the ruins of the North we finished off the day with a trip to La Plaza de Armas in Trujillo, which actually has the largest square footage of all of the major plazas in the country!

From Trujillo we traveled a few hours North to the next major city found along the coast: Chiclayo. In one of the largest fishing capitals in the country we were able to enjoy not only a beautiful city and busy beaches but also a tremendous jumping off point to visit one of the most well known men of the ancient world… El Señor De Sipán! The Lord of Sipan is a famous leader of the Moche culture who was discovered in 1987; one of the most significant attributes of his remains is that he is one of the most completed sets of remains that have been found in South America. Little to no action of robbers had been witnessed to the site in which he was found and because of his intact remains scientists have been able to determine physical features such as hair color, skin color and other basic physical components. He was wrapped in numerous gold ornaments in the tradition of the Moche and was buried with his wife and several of his favorite aids. A unique tradit ion performed by this culture was the wearing of a small piece of gold worn right over the mouth. When one first looks at this very odd facial jewelry it doesn´t seem to have much purpose. However it served tremendously for leaders both religious and political, the sound waves that they spoke would resonate off of the gold allowing them to hear their own words more clearly and therefore better enhance their pronunciation and dictation to their people.

Being the busy and travel loving exchange students we are however we were not going to stop there! After our trip to see the Lord of Sipan we took the long bus ride to our final stop in Peru: Tumbes. Tumbes is also a fishing community and is significantly more tropical than its counterparts to the south. While in this beautiful city we were able to enjoy several trips to natural aviaries, crocodile and caiman sanctuaries, and an incredibly active and friendly northern culture. Situated much closer to the equator, Tumbes was much warmer and at the same time it gave us the perfect opportunity to swim in its warm tropical beaches after tours through its canals which we took by boat!

Following our ever-winding path up the northern coast of Peru we eventually went so far that we crossed into Ecuador stopping in the beautiful city of Guayaquil! A beautiful modern city, Guayaquil offered a breathtaking fusion of Spanish Architecture and modern innovation, our touring through the bustling city included trips to see Tortoises from the Galapagos, The Park of the Iguanas where iguanas are permitted to roam freely, as well as a viewing tour provided by a double decker viewing bus. Our adventure into Ecuador however would not end there, after two days in Guayaquil we pressed onward to the beautiful beaches of Las Salinas known in Ecuador as one of the most beautiful area of beaches in the region. We were able to soak up some sun after several long days of touring, and experiencing a culture that was different to our home in Peru.

Finally as our trip started coming to an end we crossed back into our beautiful Peru and traveled to the last stop on our busy escapade: Zorritos. Zorritos is a well-known area full of beautiful beaches and great food. With a tropical setting all around us the Exchange Student group was able to relax, strengthen even more so those bonds between us and really take the final steps into making all of us one big happy family. With beach bonfires, seafood, and hours spent among the surf I would say the last few nights of our visit to the North were not only successful but some of the best times I have ever had! Thank you Rotary for all of the opportunities you give us and to all of you I can only say: until next time! ☺ ¡Que disfruten cada día! ¡Y que viva el Perú!

May 6, 2014

I suppose I have never felt more confusion about who I am or what I do then the last few weeks that I have been here in my new home of Perú. For all the future exchange students that will be taking on this incredible journey you should know that this once in a lifetime experience is incredibly rewarding, but at the same time you must also realize that what almost every Rotarian who knows this program will tell you is true: You will not come back the same person that left the United States the year before. For me that realization has never been clearer.

The last few months for me have been hard simply because now the reality of having to go back home has finally hit. With all the trips, friends, and Rotary family I started to realize just how much of a home Perú has meant to me and how hard it is going to be to leave. I can remember my first days of school, my first day in my host family’s house and how scared, nervous, and excited I was to take on my new world and discover everything it had to offer. Its been nearly 9 and half months since I left my home in Florida and now I feel as if going back home will be not only the closing to one chapter in my life, but also the beginning of another.

Its a confuisng feeling, we are prepared to gain a new world, language, customs, and culture and yet we can never be prepared enough for the return journey that at one moment or another hits us all. For me the most important idea that I have found is that Perú will never truly leave me as long as I remember all of the incredible things that it has taught me. And when I return with every song I teach to my family and friends, every dance I enjoy, every traditional dish of food I make, and every word of Spanish I speak will always keep me close to the country that has been in my heart since day one.

I have come to appreciate so many different things while I have been here, a new appreciation for my home in the United States and Florida, a huge appreciation and love for my family whom without I would never have been able to take my adventure the way I have, my values as an American and the simple pride of being able to see my country from a view point that maybe I would never have had had I not gone on Rotary Youth Exchange. For me this experience has opened my eyes to so many things, and although I have faced hardships culturally, linguistically, and socially, every one of the challenging moments that I have experienced I know have made me a better person and that is the heart of this Exchange for me, falling in love with a new home, discovering a new world, and at the same time discovering the sides of me that perhaps I never really knew.

So the expedition is finally coming to a close… as the months count down and the day of my return draws nearer I will not stop living this dream of mine, everyday brings a new oppurtunity for me to enjoy, reflect, and remember all of the great moments that have come to define my Exchange. I can remember the day I recieived the application, the day I was told I would be an Exchange student, and the day I left Jacksonville Airport and said goodbye to my family. For me it always seemed that a year would be so much longer and now my journey has come full circle. Thank you Rotary International for everything you have done for me, thank you for a new world to discover, a new country to call home, and a new sense of pride for the person that I am. For those things and so much more I will always be grateful. Thank you