I studied abroad in Peru with the help of the School of Languages and Cultures and the Business, Economics and Law faculty. I hold many magnificent memories that enriched my time abroad; this is the story of my most powerful experience in Peru.
Two weeks into my new life in Lima, Peru, the international cohort—who I am still connected with (I am actually typing this story in the Finland head office of Foodora in Helsinki next to one of my fellow exchange students at Lima)—and I were wrapping up our free Spanish lessons provided by the University.
It was a beautiful summer day and the surf was big. My housemates convinced me to take the day off Spanish classes and head to the beach instead. Keen to make a good impression on my international housemates and surf the big waves, I agreed. However, when we arrived at the beach with our wetsuits on and boards under arm, we realised that the waves were far too big and impossible to surf.
We walked down the beach to the local surf instructor, Josef, who told us that he and some friends were heading down to the big wave surf competition and other beaches one hour south of Lima (Pico Alto and San Bartolo) and invited us to join. My housemates were concerned about this suggestion. They were worried about the dangers around the locations and preferred to stay close to home and surf a different protected beach. However, being the curious type by nature, I was quick to say yes and jumped at the opportunity to experience real Peru with local Peruvians.
As I was without phone, money, or clothes, Josef, two of his local surf mates, and I detoured through to his house (in a rather poor area of Lima’s coast line) and he offered me shoes, a shirt, and shorts so I could get out of my wetsuit and enjoy the trip.
We threw the boards on the roof of his 1970s VW beetle and began the trip down to the surf contest in a car that couldn’t shift into reverse or almost any other gear for the matter.
We tried hard to converse in our broken Spanish-English, after 30 minutes of trying to find a communication equilibrium we resorted to listening to music for the rest of the drive.
We arrive at the surf contest and became giddy watching the 20 foot waves ripping through the reef. It was an unbelievable and memorable sight.
After watching a couple of competition heats and eating some food from the competition stalls (paid for by Josef as he knew I didn’t bring money to the beach), we went down to a quieter, more protected beach to catch our own waves.
There we had a blast. We surfed a local beach break for hours and shared tips in our Spanglish equilibrium.
We then went to a local back street restaurant and ordered a large $3 dine-in lunch of fried chicken on rice (pollo con arroz) and then head back to Lima.
Josef and I became close friends for the remainder of my months in Lima and still stay in contact today.
I believe this experience set up the approach I took for the rest of my exchange in Peru and studies back in Australia. That is to look beyond conventional classroom activities to understand and learn, and not to shy away from rare opportunities to explore unknown territory.
This day will continue to guide my approach to studying in Madrid this year, thankfully assisted by the Alumni Friends 50th Year Anniversary donation to the School of Languages and Cultures. I hope it will continue to guide all of my work life still to come.
Dominic McCrea completed his exchange in Peru and looks forward to studying in Spain this year.