By Lauren Phan, 2013 Teen Science Scholar
The past two and a half weeks I have spent in Peru have been some of the best days filled with the most memorable experiences. If there is anything I learned the past two and a half weeks, it is that there are certain learning experiences that cannot be replicated in a classroom. The opportunity to travel and study abroad in a foreign country is unparalleled to anything that can be taught in a classroom. My time in Peru has been tremendously rewarding, exhilarating, and inspiring!
The opportunity to travel abroad through an anthropology internship has been the most gratifying experience in my life so far. I have received an opportunity that is nearly mind-boggling to most young people: the chance to travel internationally. I find myself incredibly fortunate to be able to see a vastly different part of the world at 17 years old. I mean, how many people get to say they’ve interned in Peru for a month while in High School? Not very many. The reality of my experience fully hit me on my seven hour flight from Fort Worth, Texas to Lima, Peru. It was in the middle of the night when my eyes glazed over a swirl of yellow and ivory lights through the compact airplane window. The swirl of lights represented a city, a small piece of the world, a new piece of the world that I have never seen, a piece of the world I was going to explore.
One of the major challenges of traveling abroad at a young age is the issue of being far away from home. Although the transition felt slightly odd at first, considering this is the first time I have traveled without family, it could not have progressed into a more thrilling experience. From now on, I will never pass up the opportunity to travel for fear of separation.
Another major challenge that I have sufficiently conquered is the language barrier. If there is one subject that cannot be adequately mastered in a classroom setting, it would be a foreign language. Upon arriving in Peru, I have discovered that my Spanish is not nearly as great as I thought it was. I have spent the last five years of my education learning Spanish in an American classroom setting, only to find out that it is vastly different from actually utilizing language skills in the real world. In order to speak to natives, it takes a certain level of confidence and patience that cannot be taught or learned in a classroom environment. The first few days were a struggle because I felt lost and unable to communicate any of my thoughts, making the language barrier seem much more terrifying. It wasn’t until I spoke my first few words out of desperate necessity did I build the confidence needed to use the skills I learned in a classroom. I had to ask the house caretaker for hot water for my shower. I wasn’t going to take a cold shower, and there was no one around to translate for me so I took a risk and blurted out the first few relevant words. And it was a success! My first shaky attempt at communicating in Spanish was rewarded with confidence and a hot shower.
I have also learned that others have a genuine interest in learning a foreign language as well. While I make an effort to learn Spanish from the natives, they are eager to learn English! I have found myself translating quite a few words and phrases into English for others to learn.
Learning a new language in a foreign country coincides with learning and being immersed in a new culture. Staying in Peru for two and a half weeks has given me a decent amount of time in absorb the different aspects of the culture. The first aspect that struck my attention the most is the issue of time. In Peru, the lifestyle seems to go at a slower pace. I never noticed America’s exceeding need for a fast pace lifestyle until I experienced something different. It always seems like there is not enough time in the day because there is always something that has to be done in a limited amount of time when it comes to work, family, and even leisurely activities. Americans make their lives busy, and construct a quicker pace of life. In Peru, sometimes it can feel like time stalls because activities take much longer to accomplish. Even a trip to the grocery store can consume an entire day. The biggest shock to me was learning that sometimes store owners close their shops for a few hours in the afternoon to take a long lunch. Experiencing a slower paced lifestyle for the time being promotes more appreciation for what is being done.
Working in the field all week always provides exhilarating adventures, because exploring the Peruvian deserts and valleys is no bland job. There is always something new to see or do every day in the field. Especially on this particular project, we are consistently surveying new archeological sites and landscapes. Any particular site can take us off-roading in a 4x4 truck, ascending a basin in the valley, hiking 10 miles across a desert plain, or trekking a windy sand dunes. Life really is an adventure when traveling with an archeologist! Archeology is much more than analyzing samples in a lab. It takes quite a bit of tenacity and thirst for adventure. Days in the field have been phenomenal because everywhere we go has been wonderfully stunning. It is incredible to know that some of the sites we have seen have never been formally discovered. The landscape is also gorgeous.
The skills and knowledge I’ve developed through this internship has instilled in me a passion for science. There is no better way to learn about real life archeology than in the field from professionals, because it is incredibly inspiring to learn and work with archeologists while they are in their natural habitat. I have thoroughly enjoyed watching Michele and Ari survey and discuss different types of sites from ancient agricultural fields to larger colonial structures. We also get to have lectures about the material from the people that know it best. Archeology and anthropology is a field that is constantly changing and thrives off of continual research. Being able to see actual research in a scientific field happen before my eyes is exciting and encouraging.
I have also loved seeing how modern technology is starting to play a major role in research. Throughout the fieldwork, we have consistently been using GPS systems that can be accessed through an iPad, technology that would have been unfathomable years ago. We can map points and find coordinates with the tap of a few buttons.
There is also an enriching aspect about seeing famous archeological sites in person versus seeing them within the confines of a computer screen. Before this trip I did quite a bit of research on the main tourist destinations to familiarize myself with the area. Although the images found online were fantastic, nothing compares to exploring a site right in front of me. The most memorable site we saw was Huaca De La Luna, a frequently visited archeological site in Trujillo. Not only were we able to go and see the grand structure, but we received a personal “behind the scenes” tour. Our personal tour guide took us off the tourist pathways to get a closer look at the immense site. We were able to view much of the iconography much closer, and were allowed to climb to areas that were still being actively worked in. Afterwords, we met and had lunch with the director of the site. Again, it pays off to travel with an archeologist!
Another astonishing site we were able to experience was the press release of a newly found priestess at San Jose de Moro. The burial of a priestess was excavated recently in the summer, and was being covered by the major press the day we visited. When we first arrived on site, the entire area was dusty and looked relatively plain. It wasn’t until I walked over to the edge of the excavation site did my jaw completely drop. The site was in a cleanly excavated pit about 6 meters down, and what was at the bottom of the pit was spectacular. The priestess, and much of her grave offerings were in plain site. There were people everywhere either excavating the site, conducting interviews, snapping professional or amateur pictures, or just watching from a distance. Again, that experience cannot be replaced by a television screen or the pages on a book, there is something marvelous about it unraveling before my eyes. It was truly a once in a life time chance to see something of that magnitude. I later learned the excavation was covered by BBC News.
From my time in Peru, I take with me many enriching, thrilling, and influencing experiences. I feel like a small part of me has grown up as well. I feel more worldly, and ready to take on new challenges without fear of feeling young or ill-prepared. The chance to travel at a young age and use a foreign language has been extraordinarily rewarding. Being immersed in a new culture and working in the field with experienced archeologist as been exhilarating. And touring famous archeological sites with the very people who excavated them has been inspiring. All of my adventures help me gain skills and knowledge that can only be taught while abroad; a classroom setting cannot achieve the level of enrichment that is acquired while traveling and studying abroad. Teen Science Scholar has truly given me the opportunity of a lifetime!
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