2020 Spring External Programs Ivyanna Colon-Greider Peru SIT Study Abroad

Navigating Difficult Situations While Abroad


It’s going on my fourth week here in Perú, and my body is finally acclimated to the altitude. The past week has been quite difficult for me. It was stuffed full of classes, assignments, and additional non-program responsibilities. It was also a week of emotional turmoil. I remember reading that after long stretches of time abroad people begin to crash, and I’m definitely feeling that now. So I feel like I should talk about navigating difficult situations while abroad.

Making New Friends Abroad and Self-Care

Coming into this program, I was afraid I wouldn’t make friends easily. Fortunately, I was able to become great friends with the other students in the group. All the orientation activities in the first week were a big help because they allowed me to feel comfortable as I opened up to 19 other students. I found my own little niche and we’re all like a big family now.

Photo left: lunch in Machu Picchu
Photo right: dinner in Ollantaytambo

We have become really good friends, and now we know crazy things about each other. It’s great to have friends here that are also experiencing some of the same feelings that I am. We can share our frustration about assignments and feelings of loneliness or homesickness. This week, along with all the work and stress, I have definitely felt lonely and homesick. I know it is totally normal to feel this way. Life isn’t all rainbows and happiness, and I’m thankful for the new friendships that are helping me get through this difficult time. Additionally, I realized that although it’s not healthy to focus on home too much, I did make something for lunch today that reminded me of home. Although it was just simple comfort food, I already feel better.

Photo left: meet-up with some friends that we met along the way!
Photo center: climbing Ollantaytambo;
Photo right: on our way to Cusco for the first time

Experiencing Sexual Harassment Abroad

A few weeks ago my group stayed in Machu Picchu for a few days. What I didn’t tell you was the horrendously uncomfortable experience we had. It took place in a tiny panadería (bread shop). We were the only three in the shop other than the guy working there. Naturally, after we ordered we jumped at the idea of speaking with a local resident and learning some jerga (slang). Unfortunately, as the conversation progressed, the guy made some pretty lewd comments to us, and we felt uncomfortable and trapped in the once seemingly charming panadería. Frozen in fear, we tried avoiding conversation with him. At that moment, we felt we couldn’t even leave because we had ordered but hadn’t paid yet.

The experience we had was not unique. Women all over the world experience harassment on a daily basis. According to a 2017 CNN report, 35% of women have experienced some form of physical or sexual harassment globally. Although the actual percentage of women worldwide is probably a lot higher due to unreported cases, the #MeToo movement has empowered more women to speak out about their experiences with sexual violence and harassment.

According to the number of reported cases last year, Perú has now risen to be the second highest country in Latin America with the most number of reported cases of sexual harassment. Thankfully, the situation we were in was not very severe, and we able to eventually escape the creepy dude.

I’ve experienced minor sexual harassment incidents in the past, but they were in passing. This was different because it wasn’t in passing, but instead we were stuck in a place and not able to remove ourselves out of the situation so quickly. Being in a situation like that where we could plainly see on each other’s face how uncomfortable we were but unable to leave, made us reflect on what went on and how to respond better the next time. We decided that we would interrupt the guy respectfully and insist that we had to be somewhere else. Thus, we would pay, and leave the situation as soon as possible.

Dietary Issues

Oddly enough, sexual harassment wasn’t the only difficult experience I had in the panadería. I also got sick from eating meat.

Dun-dun duuuuuuh.

For those of you that know me, I have been a vegetarian now for almost six years now. Perú hasn’t been very vegetarian friendly for me, unfortunately. In the panadería, I ordered an empanada de queso (a fried or baked turnover with a cheese filling). The guy offered that I try the empanada de verduras (with a veggie filling). I asked him if it contained any kind of meat or if the vegetables were cooked with meat. He said no, so I ordered it.

Big mistake.

As soon as I took a bite into it, I saw the meat chunks immediately, and although I ingested just a little bit, I got sick later in the day since my stomach has not processed meat in years. Take-away from this experience and others in the past: annoy the crap out of people if you have to in order to take care of your health!!

Rising COVID-19

Ugh. . . I am tired of talking about it, but with COVID-19 on the rise in Perú and globally, my time here is uncertain. It makes me extremely sad and I don’t want to leave, but it may come down to that. Just want to let everyone know that this may be my last post live from Perú; however, don’t worry! I don’t plan on stopping my blog!

Stay safe, and muchísimas gracias por todo el amor y apoyo que he recibido de todos de ustedes (thank you so much for all the love and support I have received from all of you)!!

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