Inside USD

Peru Immersion Educates One’s Self Perception

Monday, March 18, 2013

Ten USD students and two coordinators traveled to Peru for a 12-day immersion trip through USD’s Student Leadership and Involvement Center (SLIC) in January. The group consisted of seniors Georgia David, Kelly Fromm, Beau Osland, and Samantha Slavinsky; Juniors Mallory Collins and Farrah Coltrain; Sophomore Carmelita Salazar-Dodge; freshmen Aubrianna Butler, Vincent Cabral and Courtney Windju; and SLIC coordinators Laura McNaughton and Jason Schreiber. Below is Vincent Cabral’s reflection.

Just two flights from San Diego and our 12-person group found themselves in Lima, the Peruvian capital late at night. The journey had begun. These members of the USD community were ready to immerse themselves in a new way of life: a challenging, yet exciting, alternate lifestyle where social justice and privilege were unpacked.

The primary destination was a village in the highlands of Peru (approximately 9,000 feet above sea level), Chuquibamba. It was a community not found on a map and where residents just received electricity two years ago. We welcomed the challenge with a phrase, “no expectations,” meaning they weren’t expecting luxury, accommodation, or an easy transition, but were fully prepared to have fun and learn no matter what hardships and challenges they faced. Little did they know the people of Chuquibamba were readily expecting our Toreros with smiling faces, kisses on the cheeks, and warm soup! We were some of the few foreigners the people of Chuquibamba had ever hosted, and we were very grateful for their friendship.

The people of Chuquibamba lead a life of simplicity. They plow fields, clean their homes, cook, and promptly, at 5 p.m. each evening, gather around the community court to play a game of volleyball together in solidarity where even we were welcomed. We admired this way of life so greatly and, to the “no expectations” phrase, added the idea of living simply and happily. Along the journey to Chuquibamba we were graced with amazing friends and relationships that were unforgettable.

The people of Peru are extremely generous and hospitable. Peruvians share whatever it is they have with natives and foreigners alike. These lucky Toreros even got a taste of a Peruvian delicacy — Guinea Pig. As if forming lasting relationships with Peruvian friends and delicious meals wasn’t enough, these lucky Toreros and “Diego Torero” even got to visit the world wonder of Machu Picchu, in Cusco, Peru. Diego also got in a quick photo-shoot with the austere Incan ruins.

Breaking Down the Walls

It may sound silly, but prior to traveling to Peru I’d never imaged how people outside of the United States might be. Since I had never traveled internationally, I never wondered what life might be like outside of my country. I unintentionally assumed that everywhere in the world was like the U.S. As the plane began to descend into Lima I was struck with a sense of uneasiness, confusion and a bit of fear. At the time, however, I had not known why.

As I look back today I realize that this fear and uneasiness stemmed from my inability to fully demolish the walls that maintained the perception of my identity — my inability to see myself as a human being rather than a privileged U.S. citizen. These walls create a distance between others and myself, keeping us forcibly “different” from one another. In my eyes I feared being in Peru because I feared judgment and alienation. Another thought struck me: I never asked to be born as a U.S. citizen; I never asked to be given this lifestyle, though I felt an immense sense of guilt for having it. I felt guilty for being privileged, for having the funds to travel internationally, and for having so many things I never really deserved. However, like I said at the time of the trip I did not really understand why I felt discomfort, and now I find myself aware of the “why,” but still a little uncomfortable.

Peru asked me to become vulnerable; to attempt things I never would attempt in the U.S. Vulnerability is a challenging word, because when we become vulnerable we put down those walls that construct the façade of “who we are.” This façade distracts us and makes us believe that who we think we are, is in fact whom we are. Privilege is one of these facades. What we think is ours, must be ours, right? What we have and hold, distinguish us from those surrounding us, correct? Not at all, because somewhere beyond all of these complex structures of the perception of self-identity, perception of the U.S. citizen, perception of the citizens of the rest world and the perception of privilege, I found myself capable of communicating with the Peruvian people, even though I speak Spanish rather poorly.

I was capable of creating true friendships even though I may never see my Peruvian friends again, and capable of communicating on an emotional level deeper than words, creating true friendship built on the realization that we are not so different, but that we are really similar and our goals are intertwined. It’s a goal of existing beyond the technicalities of what we call modern society, beyond the terms of rich or poor, beyond the pressures of national allegiance, beyond the terms of the scope of intelligence or any other social construction. It’s so far beyond these terms, to where I’m not a U.S. citizen but a global citizen, not just an over privileged person, but instead just a person. And, even greater, not just a person, but also a friend.

Seeing the True Self

Now I ask you to try to see yourself beyond what you’ve been constructed as — seeing yourself beyond things you’ve acquired, and beyond comparisons to others. When we end the comparison, and end the race to become something we’re not, we can focus on what we are. When we stop assuming we’re so different from one another we can become a true society.

Privilege is a reaction to fear, the fear of being too alike, and fear of being too similar to the person next to you that you’re no longer a special individual. The catch is that your privileges are not you, and because they are not you, they don’t make you special. Place yourself in the grasp of vulnerability, do something you were always too fearful to do. When you do this you can find a bit of your true self, and find a bit of the real world, too. In case you were wondering, this is what being in Peru taught me.

— Vincent Cabral ’16

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