I can’t believe it’s already over! The past three months in Cusco, Peru, have flown by. I look back on how much I have done, the friends I made, the family I gained, the places I’ve seen, and I realize that I am so infinitely blessed to have been able to have this opportunity. From just exploring the streets, to attending class, to hiking mountains, this has truly been an experience that has changed me as a person.  From the day I arrived nervous and excited on May 17 to the day I left crying on August 5, I can honestly say that Cusco made itself a home in my heart (and that I’ll probably be back). It is a city so rich in culture and vibrant color that you just feel joyful to be present. Just one of the many examples I can give is when there was a flashmob in the Plaza de Armas. A live band was playing and after a few dances, the dancers went around and grabbed people from the crowd and soon everyone was dancing in small circles and chacha-ing in spirals in the main plaza. After Peru won their semifinal game in the Copa America, there were people hanging out of honking taxis screaming “Viva Peru!” and others chanting in the main plaza, celebrating with complete strangers because here, everyone is like family, especially when it comes to futbol.

I have had so many adventures: Machu Picchu, Sacred Valley, Rainbow Mountains, Puno, Salkantay, Valle del Sur, Checacupe, Salineras, Tres Cruces, and Choquequirao are just the big ones. The small adventures like climbing to the viewpoints on the outskirts of Cusco, hopping on bus rides to a zoo in a neighborhood on the side of a mountain, learning how to make traditional Peruvian cuisine, and volunteering at the local dog shelter, played big roles in making this trip truly amazing. And I cannot forget the people who I met from around the world who supported me and accompanied me on my spontaneous trips. My host family, Male and Humberto, and their four kids (already adults) were kind, helpful, and loved me like a daughter. I could always count on the Cusco bread for breakfast, a soup and main meal for lunch, and leftovers and a treat for dinner. I loved all the Spanish practice when all the family was around the table for mealtime and they were patient when I stumbled over my words while I excitedly explained what I had done that day.

Nancy, my study abroad organizer/Peru mom, may have been a bit overprotective but she helped me to organize all my crazy expeditions and called in all the favors to her doctor friends when I got E.coli… twice. Niara, my roommate from the first semester, was a blessing, as we were able to explore and acclimate together, trying all the chocolate cake in the process. Angelica, one of my Puno travel buddies, could always be relied on for a laugh, though most of the time the laughs were one-sided as she fearfully used you as a human shield against a roaming street dog or a pigeon. Elliott was the only other student who stayed the whole summer with me, and it was a good thing because we are very similar. He was my spontaneous adventure buddy who would walk 50 kilometers through a mountain pass with me or 5 kilometers through the streets of Cusco, always stopping for a quick pastry. Amalie came in the second summer term all the way from Norway and she shared the adventuring spirit, so together we conquered the switchbacks of Choquequirao through Disney songs and chocolate.

I never imagined I would climb a mountain twice, eat a guinea pig, visit a cult, get e.coli twice, walk about 10 miles per day, visit a graveyard on a field trip, eat bread every morning for breakfast, or wake up at 2 am to see a sunrise, and still have one of the best experiences of my life. Cusco really has been an amazing adventure and I am very excited to see what the future has for me as I find my place in this beautiful and vibrant world.

Lauren Williamson is majoring in Art (Graphic Design) and spent the Summer 2019 semester studying abroad in Cusco, Peru through KEI. Lauren had the following to say about studying abroad, “Studying abroad was such an amazing experience. Be sure to step outside your comfort zone sometimes and try new things. Those small moments of courage pay off in the end.”

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