Friday, September 6, 2013

Travel, Experience, and Self-reflection: Cusco, Peru

Locations of Site Visitors

By: Daniel Hernandez, Going Global with the College of Education in Cusco, Peru

Studying abroad this summer was not my first higher education international experience, and for that I am grateful to have had opportunities to travel. One thing I always think about when I travel or study abroad is that unless it’s an exchange with generally a more ‘developed’ nation, we (in the “West”) it seems are always the ones going places. Of those who are able to or privileged enough to travel it appears to me to also be predominantly from a privileged or ‘upper’ socio-economic class group. I remember growing up watching movies with my dad and later getting into documentaries; thinking that for ‘poor’ people film became a way for us to be able to travel or go abroad, whether to ‘real’ places or times, or beyond to the fantasy realms. 

My parents eventually were able to get a job with an airline when I was entering my teens, and standby travel benefits began to open up my world. I began to experience what I would see on the television and increase my understanding at a level that no reading or viewing could ever compare with. I also realized that standby travel flight benefits were a way for ‘poorer’ people to have a taste of what the societally and economically privileged could do. It isn’t always a case of money to me, but also of having the confidence that you can or should travel. I remember struggling to get out of my neighborhood on the West Side of Salt Lake where I was comfortable and being nervous with the protocol of travel and especially travel security, which at least for me often times treats you like you’re a criminal assumed to be guilty of something when your leaving or returning to the U.S.A., your own country. Although those types of experiences and environments are off putting, I strive to travel as often as possible. During my ‘higher’ education studies this has meant scholarship and grant applications as well as student loans in order to study abroad. I do feel that it has been worth it to me in learning through experiences that are retained greater than regurgitated information on a test, not to mention the positive results I’ve had in being able to build my resume with formal international experiences, research, and study. 

I was fortunate enough to go to Qosqo (Cusco/Cuzco) in the highlands of Peru with the College of Education this summer and visit a place I had only seen in film and pictures, and that I honestly never thought I’d ever see in my lifetime. It is said that Cusco is the bellybutton of the world or a center of energy and life. It is significantly higher than the altitude we experience in Salt Lake and it took a few days of adjustment and several mate de coca’s (coca tea) to acclimatize. I found it interesting though that “Although coca-leaf tea is a popular beverage and folk remedy for altitude sickness in Peru, possession of these tea bags, which are sold in most Peruvian supermarkets, is illegal in the United States.” ( The ignorance of the nutrition and importance of this leaf and its indigenous uses are often blanketed under the ‘war on drugs’ in my studies and observations and it is ironic that although not even these tea bags are allowed in the U.S., “In the United States, the Stepan Company is the only manufacturing plant authorized by the Federal Government to import and process the coca plant” for the production of cola products such as the famous Coca-Cola (May, Clifford D. "How Coca-Cola Obtains Its Coca", The New York Times, July 1, 1998.). This is but one example of how travel can contextualize learning, international relations, politics, and much more. I increased my understanding of the stark and gross differences between coca as it is used traditionally vs. the very differently produced, and recreational use of cocaine that has appeared relatively recent considering the history of western colonial and imperial expansions and the time depth of the coca plant and its uses. The more I write the more I think that maybe a video I made can show a bit more of my study abroad experience than my limited writing ability

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