When I arrived in mid-August, December seemed like years away. I was unaware of just how quickly the time would pass and how much I would learn along the way. While my Instagram shows the beautiful places I visited and the fun times I had, it cannot portray what I have felt and learned over the past 15 weeks. My goal for the semester was to practice speaking Spanish, to travel, to learn about Peruvian culture and history, and to continually try new things. I believed that language differences would be my biggest challenge but surprisingly, it was probably one of the easier things to overcome. Rather, I found the biggest challenges in the adjustment to the Peruvian education system and my own mental health.
El Sistema Escolar Peruano
UT is a huge institution, and it has very clear and streamlined processes which make perfect sense to me after four semesters. During registration time, classes are listed in a way such that you know how many credit hours it is worth, if it is lower or upper division, and exactly where the class will be held. On the contrary, at my Peruvian university PUCP it took hours of digging and asking other students to understand a class’s level of difficulty, the building in which it was located (here, every building is listed from A to Z, with no correlation to the name of the building), and when important things like exams or essay due dates were, because these were not listed in the syllabus. In my history class, we had assigned readings that could not be found online or in the library. I had Stats quizzes and tests on Saturdays. The icing on the cake was that our work was never held to a clear standard of grading, so it was impossible to know, especially as an exchange student, what our essays and presentations needed to cover exactly. This caused a great deal of stress and confusion before every quiz, test, project, and presentation.
Another learning curve I faced was the subject of class times; I am used to class starting at its listed time. Here, however, our passing period is usually the 15 minutes after the listed beginning of the class, and many classes went past the listed end.
I don’t mean to paint this university as anything negative; on the contrary, I feel as though I was really challenged academically and I appreciated having incredible professors. My economics professor was the previous Minister of the Economy and my history professor was a well-known historian who actually taught at UT during the 80s. For those who are considering studying abroad, Perú was an incredible place to learn and especially to gain experience speaking Spanish. However, I would recommend really looking into how classes are structured and being prepared to ask a million more questions to your professors and classmates than you might back home.
During the spring semester I started using the CMHC’s mental health services and I greatly benefited from them. This semester, through the international insurance we were required to purchase, I found a therapist in Lima that I visited every few weeks. I am really happy that I made that decision early on as it allowed me to speak with someone about the challenges I was facing and to relieve stress.
Being away from your support system is tough enough, and when coupled with the challenges of adjusting to a new world, it can feel like you have no one to reach out to. Luckily I made some amazing friends who were really supportive of my mental health!
The time has flown by, and while I will admit I do miss my family and friends and life in Austin, I am so grateful for the incredible experience I had. I visited incredible places, tried amazing foods, and met extremely interesting people in less than five months. I am already planning my next international trip: definitely Cuba in January, and hopefully Mexico or Colombia after finals! I will miss greatly the delicious Peruvian cuisine and kind people without a doubt.
Enjoy some random photos from this semester, and thank you for reading my blogs!
This post was contributed by Elena Pojman, a 2018 Global Ambassador. Elena is studying at the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.
Don’t get left behind. Read more about Elena’s experience in Peru>>