Meghan, outbound to Peru

This is my life. This is Peru. I couldn't be happier.

So here I am in an unmarked taxi between 2 strangers on my way home from a 'tourist' day. I don't know either in the slightest way, not even their names. One is asleep on my shoulder and the other has her feet over mine. This is my life.

This is Peru. I couldn't be happier. Why you may ask? Because I am here. I am living a life many only dream of. I am living a life that for many either is or seems impossible.

I wake up most mornings to about 10 nursery school children singing in Spanish (if you were wondering... No I don't understand the is made for kids under 5). I am then greeted by my sister, mom, or brother all in Spanish usually with a question that my brain forgets is in Spanish. I eat breakfast, bread with some sort of reddish jelly I really don't know the fruit but it's good.

Then, for the first 2 weeks anyway, I went to whatever Rotary events would partake that day via an hour car ride with my host dad and Davíd Parades (who thinks it's funny to say oh, hi, I'm David walls in America). It's actually kind of funny. I have partook in a 3 day camp, language classes with local professors, a tour of governmental places in Lima, and a welcome dinner. The thing they all have in common? Rotary! And that we are late.... Always. No, wait for it..... always!

I enjoy these events none-the-less and am very thankful for the Rotary here and for Connor (my Rotex) because many people come up to me just because I am from Florida to talk to someone as great and enthusiastic as him. After these events I will go home which is my favorite adventure because it usually entails going somewhere random, 2 buses, and a super sketchy car in my neighborhood. It's great really.

The streets here look like you would imagine India's to minus the farm animals but with more stray dogs instead. (Still doesn't top I-4) And after that, we eat. My mom prepares every meal and they are all pretty good. During dinner we talk about the day and what tomorrow entails. Because I can't understand perfectly names, places, and foods are very difficult for me to understand because it's hard to tell if it is just a word I don't know or a name. This leaves many things a mystery. People can say what they want about how learning the language is very important (and it is) but I very much enjoy the adventure that entails in having no clue what the instructions and plans said.

I live far from Lima in a town called Chaclacayo that many of my friends here refer to as Never-land. It is in the mountains which I love. They are more breathtaking every morning.

My school is a zoo. I don't mean to make any type of metaphor here, I mean this literally. In my school we have puppies, sheep, llamas, alpacas, a turtle, and rabbits scattered with some Peruvian humans and now me. This is not typical, my school is just cool. I just started school recently and came into the beginning of the 3rd semester after a long holiday break for Independence Day. I didn't expect school to be super easy, but let's just say it's more of a social event in matching outfits.

I am a senior in my school (everyone more or less graduates at 16) and this could contribute to the fact I've only had about 6 classes all week, but that's what has happened. We have a dance show next weekend and have spent every day either practicing the dance or fooling around. My school here is private as are most. It is named Nuevo Mundo which means new world in English. Everyday we have 9 classes about 35 minutes each, but many are double blocked to make an hour. I really enjoy math and of course English class. From what I understand grades are mostly participation and tests. We get stamps for doing work although I'm not sure what they are good for quite yet.

We have religion class here were a little man in a big black dress walks around waving this cross (rosary?) in his hands all the time. I didn't go to this class because I said I wasn't catholic and so no one wanted me to go thinking it would hurt my feelings. Instead I hung outside with the other classmates who are Mormon (not common in Peru but just so happens I have a culturally rich class for the area).

We have 2 breaks in school both basically for lunch, even though we eat lunch when we get home. (Gosh this country will make me fat).  I, and every other student and teacher, have to wear a uniform. It consists of a grey and black polo or red and green shirt, skirt or spandex shorts or track pants, black shoes, and knee high socks. The fun part is your hair must always be up, you can't wear makeup, you can't wear jewelry besides small earrings, and you can't have painted nails. These rules are actually pretty much followed so I don't question them.

There is also a weird level of respect here. My classmates typically refer to the teachers as profee, like saying 'yo teach' which is perfectly acceptable and they crack jokes constantly in class. Jokes here are cruel but the teachers and everyone else thinks it's so funny and well sometimes it is. They also now crack jokes in English randomly. A few days ago the bell rang and a boy screams 'the zombies are coming,' I died laughing. My classmates are absolutely the best.

I am accompanied in this country by 60 exchange students, but besides one girl living alone in Ilo and one boy living alone somewhere near the Amazon, I am the farthest away from the rest of the students. Given this it's important I have awesome Peruvian friends and that has already started. I recently had a dance festival at school that went something like this: Sometimes you find yourself dancing Saya in front of 100 strangers with a guy whose name you can't remember. What? That's only me? Well regardless, this is what my day consisted of.

My school hosted a folk dancing event today consisting of each class presenting a dance we have been learning for 2 weeks. Each dance was traditional to Peru and/or the native people. I danced Saya, which was fun, fast paced at times and slow at others consisting of many couple parts. I enjoyed it immensely and was excited to take this crazy leap out of my comfort zone as I danced with my hips (like wait I have those), in heels (huh), and of course with instructions completely in Spanish (and charades). It turned out pretty good and my class tied first!

At the festival I also got to cook and sell American food which was cool. Cooking has become a really good thing for me here and I always look forward to days I get to prepare an American dish for everyone. For me it's an easy and unique way to share not only my American heritage, but also my southern roots.

I am now in my second week of school here and can honestly say I am blessed. My professors, classmates, principal, and staff all are incredibly welcoming and strive to make me comfortable and help me every single day. Being alone in my town can sometimes feel like a disadvantage but since I've started school I know it is not. Not only am I surrounded by Spanish, but I am the first exchange student many of them have ever met so they are all so willing to include me and help me. All in all I like school here and am glad to be where I'm at.

From the moment I arrived in Peru there were more than a few differences. Here are some fun ones, some crazy ones, and some that aren't my favorite:

There are gates with sharp tops in every place (Which we usually reserve for prison and alternative school)

The rules of the road don't really apply/the cops are useless.

To motorcycles absolutely no laws, for cars you have to wear a seatbelt in the front seats which isn't really followed either and it is not uncommon to see 8 people in a small car, and also there isn't much of a speed limit anywhere but it is enforced via speed bumps everywhere (so basically every drive is a roller coaster).

The cops I guess get paid to direct traffic but really they just stand and watch and cause problems by leaving to go nowhere with their lights on. But there are some stop lights (which count down your time like there is always a drag race).

The mountains. Las Montanans. I'm in love. Every morning they somehow become more beautiful and my phone is just pictures of the mountains. I am told they are just hills but to me they are majestic mountains.

The food. It's awesome, my mom cooks every meal and they are all pretty good. They do eat like mostly raw potatoes here though and it's a bit odd. I love the food but i dislike the drinks. They are all very sugary so my family now has a joke about me and water that I don't quite get yet. They also have a joke that the dog eats very well since I have been here because I can never finish anything.

There is no heat or air conditioning and in many places no hot water but in my family we have hot water if you switch these 2 switches. (thank goodness)

They take USD like everywhere but you end up paying more.

The buses! I took the bus home with my host brother which was my first time on any public bus besides Disney. (Yay Rodrigo for not calling me a stupid princess in Spanish). It was crazy. You flag them down like taxis and I don't understand how you know which one but he did. I live decently far from the city so we took 2 buses. While on the bus you get a ticket when you have paid, and random street vendors just hop on for a few stops to sell you things. I will be a Peruvian when I truly understand the bus system. So ya, our ride home consisted of 2 buses and a super sketchy car that barely ran (I thought he was like a family member or something but we paid him so I'm not really sure).

There are stores and Kindergartens mixed in the neighborhoods which is cool until it is 7 AM and 20 small children are screaming in Spanish a few houses down.

A lot of things are half built, which I still don't understand. Like the steel poles you start a building with and then pour cement or put bricks over.... they just skip that and don't cut them off or anything. I don't know about this one. I just don't know.

Kisses and chevere. You are always greeted by a kiss on the cheek and when you leave you are followed by the same thing. They also have a Peruvian only word 'chevere' which means like chill in English.

You can't flush toilet paper. Not my favorite if you were wondering.

Oh, and my favorite difference.... * DRUMROLL * my grandad has a cactus collection complete with over 70 types of cactus? cacti? cactuses?

I've been in Perú a month but it feels like less than a week. It hasn't been the most perfect month of my life, the worst, or even the craziest. I embarked on a journey that will continue to bring me places for the rest of my life. I will be the first to tell you goodbyes are the hardest even when you know they are only truly a 'see you later.' And as I said goodbye to all I have ever known, my family, my friends, Florida, and the United States of America, I also said hello to my new home and family in the country of Peru. Though this is the most challenging thing I've ever done it is also the most rewarding.

The longer I am here the more I realize I made the right decision. Leaving your comfort zone is well... Uncomfortable at times, but the benefits are incredible. Every day that goes by in Perú I learn so much. I learn language, heritage, customs, culture, history, people, and opportunities. I've seen and heard things America never could have offered me. I've lived moments some couldn't even dream up and there is joy in that.

Thank you Mia for introducing me to this opportunity and being my support and best friend along the way. Thank you Scott for pouring your heart and soul into an amazing program to lead me to this moment. Thank you Rotary for providing a platform and connection between thousands of miles, seas, countries, and languages. And Lastly thank you to my family and host family for being my family, I couldn't have wished together better ones.Until next time, lots of love from your favorite Peruvian