Overseas Briefing

By Middlebury Campus

It’s a funny feeling, voluntarily getting on a plane and leaving the ground that holds everyone you love, every home you have created. Before leaving to go abroad, I’d been warned many a time about “what they don’t tell you about study abroad” — don’t expect to fit in, don’t expect to feel at home, at least not right away, do expect to feel like an outsider. As a kind of Irish, kind of Jewish, definitely white girl going to South America, I kept my expectations for assimilation low.

When I arrived in Peru two months ago, I knew no one, knew nearly nothing about the city of Arequipa in which I’d be living. As soon as I arrived I joined a gym, a rugby team and a rock climbing gym, in a desperate effort to find a place where I belonged (first-year fall activities fair, anyone?). And in Arequipa I was looking for the same thing that I had once searched for in the vomit-stained halls of Battell. In the unfamiliar cobblestone streets, amidst the barking of wild dogs, the cat calls of old men and constant honking horns I was searching for a feeling of home. In the words of Phillip Phillips, or possibly Mumford and Sons, I needed to make this place a home.

The question was how. How do you find home in a place where you know no one and nothing? Everything was unfamiliar. Until a week ago, it had been two months since I’d even spoken to another American. The first time I heard “Under the Sea” and Pachelbel’s Canon playing through the streets I thought it was the familiar sound of an ice cream truck, only to realize that garbage trucks play music here, not ice cream trucks. As a true Bostonian, I used to pride myself in my ability to jay-walk like a pro, but Arequipa has even fewer traffic laws than Boston, and I felt lost. Even the beauty of the 6,000-meter mountains surrounding me simultaneously left me awestruck and reminded me how far away I was from everything I’d known.

Home came gradually. It happened when a woman stopped me on the street and asked me for the time. It happened when I made friends with an elderly three-fingered man on the bus. It happens every time I go grocery shopping and when I unlock the front door of my house.

It happened when I realized that I could find parts of homes I have already known and add in new parts as well. I have found home in Arequipa by making pizza with friends, having a movie night, dancing to “Call Me Maybe” or singing karaoke on Tuesday nights. But I also realized that I couldn’t just cling to the old homes I have known — I needed to take these new things and make them familiar, make them pieces of the home I was building. I might not be able to go to Dunkin’ Drive Thru and get a pumpkin iced coffee, but I can get a hot emollente drink on the street on the way home from work. I can’t play for my beloved MCWRC this spring, but I can go to the Arequipa Men’s Rugby practice and have a new experience. I can climb to the top of one of the once-unfamiliar mountains towering around me and get to know them as well. I can learn new things, and I can make them familiar. And now when I hear the soundtrack of The Little Mermaid playing through the streets, I take out my garbage rather than chasing after it in the hopes of an ice cream.

I’ll never look like a Peruvian, and I’ll never be Peruvian. There will always be things that feel unfamiliar, and I’ll always miss my homes in the United States. But despite this I can make a home in Arequipa. There are so many new things to be discovered here, so many beautiful things, which are gradually becoming familiar.

Written by Sarah Minahan ’14 from Arequipa, PERU