Peru / South-American Culture
I step outside the plane and presently begin gasping for air. A nearby vendor, selling what appears to be aerosol cans labeled "oxygen," beckons me. My body, clearly unaccustomed to the altitude, readily complies. Leaning against a wall with my newly purchased can of life, I begin to tune in to my surroundings: loud and lively Spanish interchange, copious Catholic iconography, and incessant car horns. It becomes apparent, I am truly in a foreign world, and, for the time being, I am on my own.
Last year, after months of planning and anxious anticipation, I found myself in Cusco, Peru. With a nearly blank itinerary, I intended to spend several weeks simply immersing myself in a new culture. I had read ethnographies, travelogues, and travel guides, but I soon discovered that the unknown would keep me on my toes, regardless of my preparation.
Upon my arrival, after exiting the airport, numerous non-licensed taxi drivers (none who spoke English) bombarded me with offers to escort me to my hostel. Skeptical about the safety of such arrangements, I decided to band with other lone travelers, and eventually found someone who needed a ride to the same hostel as I did.
My hostel, however, failed to provide me the minimum comfort and security that I had expected; and my uneasiness was confirmed the following night when another American traveler was mugged just outside the entrance. Were I to enjoy the trip, I simply needed gain a sense of security.
The following day, with the assistance of several locals, I found my way to the Plaza De Armas-the city's center. This, I accurately surmised, was the better part of town. After scouting out a new hostel, I made reservations and returned to my previous hostel to let them know I would be leaving them prematurely (which, I might add, was a difficult exchange, considering the language barrier).
Finally, I felt safe. But I was still a stranger, a tourist. The purpose of my trip was to have a cultural experience, and I was on day three with nothing to show for it.
I began spending my nights in my hostel avidly reading about Peruvian culture and memorizing useful Spanish phrases. My days were then spent searching out opportunities to spark conversations. Soon, I kindled relationships with several South Americans and began to fill my days with group excursions and evening palavers. Gleaning from their friendly advice, I learned how to stay safe, be polite, and simply blend in. Within two weeks, Cusco felt like home, and I was having the edifying experience that I had hoped for.
Among the numerous lessons I learned during my travels, I discovered that there are benevolent people everywhere; moreover, they are the key to becoming accepted and integrated into a new social environment. I've gained much useful experience that will be indispensible in the Peace Corps, but I now know that seeking out the right relationships is most vital.
Hey, I think this essay will make them aware that you definitely are someone with insight about culture and integration. This experience you chose to write about is very impressive, and your story is kind of "gripping." It made me feel a little tension, and that is not an easy thing to do in story telling. Regarding the style, it would be great to keep that present verb tense all the way through... as you did in the first paragraph. You might think it is too much present tense if you make the whole essay like that, but actually it will be very distinct and energized that way...
:-) nice job! Be careful in the work you are about to do, thanks for joining EF.