Emma Fortmiller - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I was inspired to go abroad because I was seeking a life-changing experience that would somehow enlighten me with new career aspirations. Naively enough, I was fully expecting that at some point in my time abroad the lightbulb above my head would light up and tell me what my path should be in life. While this didn't necessarily happen, I was hopeful nonetheless. 

Besides my intention of finding a new path in life, I knew that I wanted to be able to practice my Spanish on a daily basis and that I didn't want to go abroad with anyone from my university. I was searching for an opportunity to completely be myself and meet new people.

Indigenous women of Huilloc Valley in Peru
Indigenous women of Huilloc

Why did you choose SIT Study Abroad?

I knew that I wanted to study abroad in Peru, but it was SIT's program that sealed the deal. I was thrilled about the idea of getting to visit so many culturally important places in Peru and the opportunity to conduct my own research project, written and done all in Spanish.

What was your favorite part about Cusco?

The best part about living in Cusco was that the historic plaza was a five-minute bus ride away from my apartment, and from there I could explore for hours at a time. There were countless coffee shops, stores to browse, museums to walk through, street vendors to talk to, and this electric energy coming from all the people there. Call it the magic of the Apus, but the plaza was a spiritual place that I never got bored of exploring.

What made your experience abroad unique?

While a lot of people study abroad in Europe to see as many countries as they possibly can, I chose Peru so I could immerse myself into its culture and learn as much as I could about this beautifully diverse country. This, in turn, made my entire abroad experience unique. I saw Machu Picchu before the masses overtook the ruins, swam in the Amazon, learned how to speak Quechua, lived with an indigenous family on Isla Taquile, tried cow heart, lived without an internet connection, and that's not even half the experiences I can think of. Peru made my time abroad unique because Peru, it itself, is unique.

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

The local staff was an incredible support system. They helped our group understand how the country of Peru worked, what we needed to look out for, and gave us helpful tips on how to adjust to living in a new, foreign country. They encouraged us, as a group, to follow our aspirations and to always ask for help if and when we needed it.

Cusco plaza, Peru
Cusco's beautiful historic plaza

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Off the top of my head, I wish that I had spoken up about my likes and dislikes to my host mom earlier on in the semester. Concerned that I would hurt her feelings or be culturally insensitive, I didn't want to tell her about what foods I liked or disliked, which made it harder later on in the semester when all she was cooking was food I was not very fond of. It was a good life-lesson though, and I grew to speak up during my program more when things were happening. Besides, what's going abroad if you don't eat some food you're not used to, right?

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

A typical day in Peru would go like this: I would wake up around 7:15 a.m. to the sunshine blaring through my poorly curtained window and would start to get dressed. Soon enough I would hear my host mom calling me to eat breakfast and I would quickly eat my oatmeal and pan con queso before leaving for the day.

I'd wait for my friend Jackie outside my apartment and then we'd walk to the buses together. Navigating the Peruvian bus system was not easy, but we always made it in time for class. Spanish class was first, then our lecture, and maybe a methods class or a pre-trip meeting. When class was done, we'd all take the buses back to our neighborhoods and eat lunch that had been prepared by our host mothers.

The rest of the day was up to me. Sometimes I'd head back to the plaza to explore, other times I'd sit in a local coffee shop or meet up with friends from my program. I'd always make it back in time for dinner, where my host mom and I would have extensive conversations until 10:00 pm, and then I'd go to bed, excited for the next day to start.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time most?

In my free time, I enjoyed exploring the city of Cusco with my friends from my program. It always felt like there was so much to do in the city that I never felt bored or trapped. Being able to have afternoons free allowed me to get closer to the people I was surrounded with day-to-day.

International student reading a book in hammock in Peru
Enjoying the Amazon and a friendly visitor during my ISP

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

I lived in an apartment with a host mom whose kids were all grown up and out of the house. She cooked me three meals a day and always made sure my room was clean. It was nice to have a place of my own to come home to every day, and not having to worry about meals was nice, although I didn't love all the food.

I could tell that my host mom truly cared about my well-being and wanted me to succeed. We gained a lot from each other. She asked me lots of questions about the United States and I helped her practice English, and she taught me a lot about the Peruvian government and her views on the world.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

I think the most important thing that each participant should know before studying abroad in Peru is to always keep an open mind and live in the moment. Living in a different country can be overwhelming at times, but it's important to acknowledge that while something may be different, that doesn't mean it's wrong.

Embrace the culture and try not to compare everything to what you've grown to be accustomed to in the U.S.

Try to live in the moment and not worry too much about what's going on at home without you. I had a much easier transition to life abroad when I wasn't constantly checking social media and worrying about updating my friends and family about what I was doing.

International students at Colca Canyon in southern Peru
An endangered condor flying in front of our group at Colca Canyon

Now that you're home, how has your program abroad impacted your life?

Now that I'm home, I find myself daydreaming about Peru on a daily basis. While sitting in my American Gun Culture class, I often drift off and pretend to be back in Cusco, imagining that I'm sitting in a coffee shop with reggaeton playing softly in the background. I crave adventure now and have become more conscious of how I affect my environment and the people that I am around. I find myself in more in-depth conversations and have been focusing on how to use my time abroad as a way to remain focused in school. It's nice to know that a simple song or smell will trigger a memory and that I can be back in Peru if I just close my eyes.

Would you recommend SIT Study Abroad’s program in Peru to others? Why?

I would absolutely recommend this program to others. Not only was it the greatest three and a half months of my life, but it was a time in my life where I felt like I have grown the most. Being able to travel through Peru and learn about how the world is impacting this beautiful country was truly eye-opening. Everyone should be able to have an experience abroad like this and make lifelong friends because of it!