Cassie Kidwell Abroad CA

Students from Kidwell's study abroad program in Lima, Peru take surfing lessons at Sunset on a beach in Miraflores.

Within the first few hours of traveling to my study abroad program in Lima, Peru, it felt as if everything that could have went wrong, went wrong. From lost luggage, to a lost new friend, I was left with feelings of guilt, sadness and stress — certainly not the ideal way to start my first trip outside of the United States.

Though the travel process was nothing short of chaotic, it still made me realize how impactful it can be to connect with others while traveling.

I have only been in Miraflores — a district of Peru's most populated city, Lima — for a week or two. The sights of Peru I have seen will certainly be some of my most memorable moments – sand surfing in the desert in Huacachina, seeing penguins and sea lions in Paracas and Machu Picchu next weekend – but I know the experiences and connections with others I’ve made will be even more memorable.

My host family – a very caring couple whose children have already moved out — was there to help me shop for new clothes and take care of my stressful situation as my luggage was stuck in the Mexico City airport. I’ve also become very close to my roommate, a student from Penn State as well, who was there to hold my hand during the most recent magnitude 8.0 earthquake that hit the country. Not only is she there for these more frightening situations, but for all the moments full of laughter and fun that have also come along.

I have encountered so many students at our partnering university, Universidad Nacional de Ingenieria, who made sure to guide me to the best places to eat and assure that no shops are ripping me off because of my tourist looks.

But those moments continue even beyond those I see regularly. Because of my “tourist looks,” I’ve found that so many individuals approach other Penn State students and me with curiosity and kindness. Even minutes-long interactions with locals in the streets of Peru have led me to meet and understand more about individuals and the everyday lives of those in Peru.

Peruvians are so friendly for multiple reasons, possibly because of their family-centric cultural roots, easygoing personalities and more. Regardless, interacting with locals is much more natural and genuine than I’ve found interacting in the U.S. to be. All I know is that countries with people who make sure to give kisses on both cheeks to say “hello” and “goodbye,” reflect a special person-to-person connection the United States does not have.

My first encounter with someone from Peru was Eduardo, a man I met on my connecting flight from New York City to Mexico City. After I got to my seat, he quickly got to asking if it was my first time leaving the country, probably noticing how nervous I looked.

He eventually became the first person I got to practice having longer Spanish conversations, especially since he knew some English. There was also a woman from Mexico sitting to the other side of me, with very well-spoken English. So, throughout the five-hour flight, we spoke slowly, translated words and shared our stories.

The 80-year-old man told me about his family in New York City and how he worked in the city for many years, but that he was going back home to Lima to retire. I asked if he had family to return to, but he said all his family in Peru just “started disappearing” — he didn’t elaborate further as to why, but I could read from his look that he was clearly somber.

I found out about his Inca heritage, where he explained in further detail to me about the importance of Inca culture in Peru. We had conversations about Cinco de Mayo, which he called the “American Mexican holiday,” and how many Americans use it as an excuse to order cheap margaritas at Chili’s.

After talking, two of us were excited to eventually find we were coincidentally seated next to each other again for the following flight to Lima. I continued to stick with Eduardo, who had poor eyesight, to help him fill out his Mexican immigration form, but our boarding time was approaching fast. Through the stress of navigating the Mexico City airport, we eventually found we had less than 30 minutes to catch our next flight, including immigration and bag checks.

After helping Eduardo out with his forms, he told me to run without him to make the flight on time. I repeated that I didn’t have to, but in his reassurance, I knew it was the only way to make the flight.

I was so upset over this. I met this amazing man, who was the first to reassure me that my time would be amazing in Peru and there was nothing to worry about. I even teared up knowing the plane was lifting off without him, despite the fact that the flight crew waited around 10 minutes past the assigned leaving time.

When I spoke about my trip to Peru at home, many warned me that I would need to be especially careful living in South America. So far, though, Peru has only shown me its generous and caring people, such as Eduardo, as well as my new friends — and strangers — in Miraflores who act like I’ve known them forever.

With only a few weeks left already in Lima and so many experiences gained, I’m certain I’ll continue to connect with others like Eduardo — and I can’t wait to learn and grow even more while I’m here through knowing them.

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