Choosing to study abroad in Cusco, Peru, was an easy decision. Once you begin to consider the countless cultural treasures throughout the city and region, there is no reason not to visit! But since arriving about a month ago, there are a number of cultural adjustments I have had to make.
- Speaking Spanish
I know this seems obvious. I suppose I was naïve to think that I could get by with just ‘hola’ and ‘gracias.’ But this was something I hadn’t considered would be such an obstacle for me. I have been in Spanish classes every semester for the past nine years—has it really been that long? —so I like to think my Spanish is pretty good. But from the moment I got off the plane in Lima, I realized I couldn’t understand a thing anyone was saying. It has only gotten better since, but sometimes I still struggle. I have found that keeping the phrases “repite por favor” (please repeat that) and “más despacio” (slower) to be lifesavers when conversing with native speakers.
- Lunch is late, and dinner may never come
In Peru, it is customary that lunch is the largest meal of the day. In my experience, it typically consists of soup, rice and a main entrée. These are each served in separate courses. Sometimes there is dessert too. Even for me, someone who typically eats a lot, this was too much at first. It is also typical to have lunch around two or three in the afternoon, and dinner around seven, eight, or as late as 9:30 at night. This definitely took some adjusting. A lot of Peruvians don’t even eat dinner, so it’s always a gamble whether my host mom will have something for me at that time. Lucky for me, there are some amazing restaurants in Cusco!
- Driving is basically real life Mario Kart
I thought the streets were crazy in Italy, but holy cow, Peru takes the cake. It’s like the lines on the road are just general and the street signs are more like suggestions. Horns are honking all around you as motorcycles weave in and out of traffic, and bus drivers seem entirely unaware of their size. It’s always a gamble getting in a taxi, sometimes you get a slightly more ambitious driver. If that happens, just hold on tight.
- Cusqueῆos NEVER wear shorts
Even when it’s hot outside. Even when they run. You will never see a non-American wearing anything but full length pants. As an American trying not to stand out, I try to avoid wearing shorts as well, but on those super hot days I definitely don’t want to run three miles in my cotton leggings. Just know that if you choose to wear shorts, you will most likely get catcalled up the wazoo.
- Wild dogs
Imagine a world full of dogs. Cute, fluffy, friendly dogs. Now imagine that you can’t touch any of the dogs. Torture, right? Well, that’s Cusco. It’s amazing really. It’s like a magical land where dogs roam free. They buddy up and form cliques. They know how to navigate traffic, wait for their turn to cross the streets. It’s really their city, not ours. But as long as you respect their territory, you too can live peacefully among the Peruvian street dogs.
You will be buying bottled water. No more filling your water bottle straight from the tap. No more ice in your drinks. It can definitely get frustrating if you aren’t used to paying for water. Or if you’re like me and bottled water reminds you of the scam of corporate America, where tap water is perfectly accessible (in most places). If that’s you, my suggestion is to get a filtered water bottle. I highly recommend LifeStraw, because you can drink ANYTHING through that guy (I type, casually sipping water straight from Lake Titicaca).
The world awaits…discover it.