My exchange here in Peru started pretty smoothly. The University of Lima had arranged a taxi driver for me from the airport to my new home in Miraflores. I live in a house with 12 other people but I’m the only exchange student while others are working, doing research, volunteering and one even spending her retirement days. The room costs me 1150 soles (300€) monthly. The house is maintained by a family that also runs a vegetarian lunch restaurant downstairs. My studies began with a four-week, free Spanish course to where the daughter of the family kindly escorted me on my first day. I learned a lot about where to go and what to do. Finding information here can be sometimes tricky when everything is not available online.
Universidad de Lima is one of the most expensive universities in Peru and it has a beautiful campus. There are only 30 exchange students studying in the University of Lima. Here university studies start at the age of seventeen and it takes 5 years to get the bachelor’s degree. The lectures can be anytime between 7 am and 10 pm. I’ve taken mostly 5th year courses, which are arranged usually only early in the morning or late in evening. I couldn’t stand the idea of waking up before 6 am so now my classes are from 6 pm till 10 pm.
Upon arrival my only goal was to learn Spanish but I was warned of the need to study hard in the University of Lima. Many of the courses do have a lot of small assignments and group work. My favorite course is photography. I have one course in English and the rest are in Spanish. Before coming here I studied Spanish for two years in high school and one at the university. However, since I’ve never really used the language before, the beginning was difficult to say the least. The courses are a bit demanding only because of the language but luckily the teachers are flexible and have promised to teach me after class and give me modified assignments if needed. My language skills improved a lot during the first weeks and now, after 2,5 months, I can survive and understand well clearly spoken language. Nevertheless, Spanish spoken on the streets is still a bit difficult for me.
The University of Lima also provides various free time culture and sport activities, e.g. poetry, painting, chess, trekking, martial arts and dancing to mention a few. I’ve chosen afro and contemporary dance to my schedule so I can have dance lessons up to four days a week.
The traffic culture is totally different here with all the speeding, honking and overtaking. Taxis are really cheap but a bus ticket is just a fraction of a taxi price. A 11 km taxi drive from my house to the university costs about 10-15 soles (3€) whereas a bus is 1,5 soles (0,5€) and with a student card 1,2 soles (0,4€). I don’t use taxi drives that much because of the matter of safety. Plus taking a bus is an everyday adventure. The traffic is often jammed, so it can take anything between 35 minutes to over an hour to get to the university. Choosing the right bus is also interesting. I need to look at the numbers (sometimes there are two lines with the same numbers going to different locations), the bus colors and locations listed on a side of a bus or listen to the conductors’ shout. Most of the buses have conductors collecting fares and shouting to hop on or off faster. The buses are most of the time full with people standing in every corner of the bus. There are also performers and sellers who come to the buses in hope of getting a few coins. Like I said, a real experience.
Foreigners get a lot of attention here – in a good and a bad way. Females get a lot attention from men, people in general are more helpful and come to talk more easily to foreigners but sometimes just because of the intention of selling things or ripping off your money. In Miraflores I have no problems with walking from a bar to my house in the middle of the night alone. Overall it’s pretty safe here in Peru though one still has to be careful and pay attention to the surroundings. Once I got false money in my hands and it took me three hours to get a report of an offense from the police. Never trust anyone, they say. But Lima is a very big city with many different districts and there are areas where even a Peruvian man wouldn’t go. Only a five minute walk from the touristic places the surroundings can be totally different: old buildings, no sight parks and definitely no tourist police. There are also citizens of Lima who have never been to the center of Lima.
Here the people don’t have the same possibilities and its the relationships and connections which matter. In this world if you don’t have money to take care of your health, you die. I thought that the collective culture wouldn’t work this way but in a culture like this inequalities do not only exist but are actively maintained and are expected to exist.
I’ve had a privilege to see what the life is like in the poorer neighborhoods though it is not recommended to do alone as a foreigner. I wanted to see all sides of Peru and I just loved seeing people dancing there despite how they do it just having fun while in the better districts people have got skills and I feel too inferior to dance salsa next to them. In overall, Peru has a very complex culture which means that rules don’t necessarily apply and there are a lot unwritten norms concerning how people act. Adapting to the local norms happens via watching what people do. Peruvians also tend to lie which is a bit confusing. I’ve been trying to find out the reason and it seems that people do so at least in order to look better, e.g. economically in one’s eyes.
All in all Peru is an interesting country full of differences. In addition to the culture, geographic circumstances vary a lot and Peru is divided into the coast, mountains and jungle. In Lima there is wintertime at the moment, the sun is barely shining anymore but in the north there are about 30 degrees and sunny. Distances are long and the longest time I’ve sat in a bus was 16 hours from Arequipa to Lima. The two-way trip cost me 165 sols (40€) while plane tickets would cost about 100 dollars.
To conclude, Peru is often quite unknown in the eyes of a tourist but has so much to offer. Peru has a very rich culture and history, and its gastronomic culture has been said to be one of the best in the world.Katariina Virtanen Universidad de Lima (Management and organization, 3/2014-7/2014)