About Sydnie Schell

My name is Sydnie Schell and I'm a born and raised Kentuckian. I'm currently a junior at the University of Kentucky (Go Cats!) studying Accounting with minors in International Business and Spanish. Outside all that boring stuff, I'm a mediocre poker player and self proclaimed Pringles enthusiast. I am a firm believer that making your bed every morning is a waste of time. I'm a prodigy of nothing but curious about everything. Wanderlust has plagued me since I first went abroad in high school and I've since traveled through Europe, South, and Central America. But of all the places I've been, I am absolutely convinced that I didn't pick Peru, Peru picked me.

The Worst Part about Studying Abroad

 

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Lomas de Lachay

“You will never truly be at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. This is the price you pay for the richness of knowing and loving people in more than one place.” Thank you, Pinterest, for this ridiculously sappy yet desperately true quote.

The answer to the title of this article is, of course, saying goodbye. Goodbyes are the worst. I’m currently writing this as I procrastinate packing and double checking my flight time home. Home. It’s funny because I started calling Lima home after my first week here.

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View from my homestay

And just as I’m starting to truly be comfortable and adapt to the culture, I have to leave. It’s honestly a little bit heartbreaking.

I don’t know how I would even begin to describe my experience in Lima… inspiring? Trying? Wonderful? Frustrating? Eye opening? Exciting? Adventurous?

It was beautiful and transformative and all of the above.

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Historic Downtown

Completely clueless and overwhelmed, I didn’t know if I’d be able to do it at first. The onslaught of unfamiliar surroundings, swarms of people, and jumbled language left me both bewildered and exhilarated at the same time. I thought 4 months would feel like an eternity. But I was completely wrong and the fact I’ll be sitting on a plane in less than 12 hours is surreal.

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Sunset in Miraflores

Some things will forever remain cinched in my mind: the picturesque Barranco district, the windblown coast, and the breathtaking architecture in the city center. Others memories will naturally become elusive with time. Maybe one day the blaring car horns or the smell of Venezuelan arepas in my homestay mom’s kitchen will be distant memories. But I certainly hope not.

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Parque de las Aguas

I don’t believe in destiny or fate. But I’m convinced that I didn’t pick Peru, Peru picked me. I didn’t chose Lima for any specific reason and truly came at random. But I can’t imagine my life without my experiences here. Sometimes things just fall into place and I’m so lucky to have lived in this vibrant city.

I refuse to say chau, so instead I’ll say hasta luego, Peru. Ya te extraño.

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Sitting at the ocean in Callao

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4 Challenges Abroad and How to Conquer Them

Cusco, Peru

Cusco, Peru

Nothing is flawless (except maybe Beyoncé), and while study abroad may be the experience of a lifetime, it is not without its problems. Whether you’re suddenly struck by back home FOMO or the cultural norms leave you feeling like an alien, many international students face a number of different challenges unique to their life abroad.

However, a road bump here and there does not have to detract from your overall trip abroad. Deterrents are bound to happen, but taking them in stride will help you make the most of your time abroad.

  1. Homesickness

Ah yes, homesickness, the parasite of all study abroad experiences. It is perfectly healthy and normal to feel homesick at times, but letting it cripple you will take away from your overall experience. There are a number of ways to quiet down the loud voices in your head reminding you just how much you miss your dog, your mom’s pasta, or your dad’s corny jokes.

For some, practicing yoga, journaling or other self-awareness activities do the trick. For others, joining clubs and activities with new friends at your host school works best. Whatever the method, the main idea is not to sit in your room alone watching Netflix or spending hours on end perusing Instagram. You are in a foreign country. There is so much to do and see and discover. As our site director always says, “Always bring a positive attitude and get out there and explore. No excuses!”

  1. Feeling like an outsider

Is there something on my face? Seriously why is everyone staring at me? Whether it’s your fashion, your looks, or your inability to communicate in the local tongue, everything about your presence may make you feel different. Find peace in knowing it’s unlikely that the locals are deliberately trying to make you feel like an outsider. You may feel separate, awkward, and alienated at first, but with time this passes. To overcome feeling like an outsider, try to make at least one local friend at school. With cross cultural boundaries, this may seem like a monumental task, but your efforts will leave you with a new friend who can help you feel more at home in your new country.

  1. Staying motivated in school

You have had a taste of this great, big, beautiful world and are, in a word, addicted. How can your teachers possibly expect you to sit through two hour lectures, reviewing Spanish grammar, when you could just as well be out exploring, checking out new cafes, and actually using your language skills?

The key here is to remember- it’s called “study” abroad for a reason. Remember that your classes complement your exploring. While there is value in the act of living abroad itself, to truly maximize the learning potential of the experience, you need to stay committed to your studies. Some of the classes may be more challenging than you are used to back home, especially if you are taking classes with locals in another language. Balance work and play, but be proactive and focus on coursework if you find yourself struggling.

  1. Wanting to stay forever

You have fallen in love with your new home abroad. Everything about it – the sights, the sounds, the smells, and the energy has become a new (and improved) normal. You love the freedom, the adventure, the life you’ve created for yourself here. You are dreading the thought of returning home to family pressures, working, and responsibilities defined by others. Luckily conquering this challenge involves return trips! You might even consider moving abroad permanently or semi-permanently someday. The possibilities are endless.

Miraflores, Peru

Miraflores, Peru

Mistura: A Taste of Peru

Chefs at Mistura

Chefs at Mistura

Yes, I’ve already written an article on Peruvian food (shameless plug: check out the article Don’t Knock it Till You’ve Tried it: 7 Unique Peruvian Foods), but seriously y’all, the food here is delicious. So I’m writing about it again.

I am by no means a “foodie” (unless my unhealthy obsession with Pringles and gummy worms somehow qualifies me) but I have to tell you, I am super excited for Mistura, a food festival that takes place every September in Lima (aka the culinary capital of South America). It celebrates tradition, creativity, diversity, and most importantly Peru’s to die for food. Ten days of culinary exhibitions presented by top chefs, live music, and entertainment draws in people worldwide to sample the best of what Peru has to offer.

Just getting on Mistura’s website there is a countdown of the days, minutes, and seconds until the festival begins. As if that isn’t enough to peak my anticipation, all of the international and local students at my university alike are buzzing about the festival, asking me if I have already purchased my ticket.

I have never seen this many people so eager to go to a food festival in my life. But it hits me, food is a powerful and integral force in our lives. It brings us together at a mealtime, it shapes our daily experiences, it effects our health, and it introduces us to new cultures. The slogan for this year’s festival is even “somos todos” (we are one). It is a true international commonality. Not to mention that Mistura is one of the biggest and most prestigious food festivals in South America. So of course I am not going to miss it.

The Entrance to the Festival

The Entrance to the Festival

The hype is not inflated.

The culinary wealth of Peru is boundless; from the Amazonian dish Juanes to roasted cuy (guinea pig) from the highlands, all the way to fresh ceviche from the coast, the entire Peruvian food spectrum is represented. Mistura, meaning mixture, blends cultures, cuisines, and geography. Various actors in the Peruvian culinary world- farmers, producers of pisco, cooks, bakers, confectioneries, huariques (little family restaurants), restaurants, cooking schools, food trucks, and commercial companies- all unite to serve nearly half a million attendees.

Sampling Quinoa Ice Cream- it’s delicious!

Sampling Quinoa Ice Cream- it’s delicious!

My personal favorite is a tie between the chocolate area and artisanal breads. Who doesn’t love sweets and carbs? After trying the dozens of varieties of Peruvian cocoa, we made our way over to the two clay ovens made from refractory bricks preparing breads such as pan chuta (a traditional Andean bread). I’m also happy to report that every croissant I’ve tried here in Peru has blown Frances’ out of the water. I don’t know how the French earned the stereotype for best croissants when clearly it should be reserved for Peru’s crescent-shaped deliciousness.

Learning about Regional Agricultural Products in the Main Market

Learning about Regional Agricultural Products in the Main Market

I made it through the day sampling way more juices, regional dishes, and desserts than is socially acceptable, but I don’t regret a single calorie.

A Mistura Food Truck

A Mistura Food Truck

Lima’s Top 5 Districts

Peru’s sprawling mega capital is not so much a cohesive city as it is a mosaic of smaller neighborhoods. Comprising of over 40 districts and nearly 9 million inhabitants, Lima is a patchwork of everything from ultramodern seaside neighborhoods to gritty shantytowns that cling to barren hillsides.

It is one of the few cities in the world that has a golf course in the middle of the financial district, where executives can go surfing before high-powered breakfast meetings, and where cat fanatics can stumble upon hundreds of kittens in a central park. There are always new places to explore in a city as large as Lima, but the following 5 neighborhoods stand out most.

  1. Miraflores

As one of the touristiest districts, Miraflores sits along the Pacific Ocean and is arguably Lima’s most beautiful neighborhoods. No district rivals Miraflores when it comes to parks and green spaces. Notable parks include Parque Kennedy as well as Parque del Amor (Love Park), the Antoni Gaudi-eque park along the coast. Miraflores is also home to Larcomar, a high end shopping mall, paragliding, bike tours, and surfing.

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

Sunset over the Pacific Ocean

An art fair near Parque Kennedy

An art fair near Parque Kennedy

  1. Barranco

Just south of Miraflores, this seaside district became a popular beach resort for Limeño aristocracy in the early 20th century.  Today, as home to many of Peru’s leading musicians, artists, designers, and photographers, it is considered to be the city’s most romantic and bohemian district. At night it is known for its lively bar and restaurant scene, but it is equally captivating during the day. Strolling along the Bajada de los Baños (a walkway that leads to the sea) visitors stumble upon the Puente de los Suspiros, or bridge of sighs. Legend has it that when the daughter of a wealthy man fell in love with a lowly street sweeper her father forbid their union. She lived out her days as a spinster, waiting at her window for a glimpse of her beloved and her sighs could be heard by those who crossed the bridge. It is said that your wish will be granted if you cross the 100 foot bridge while holding your breath.

The Bridge of Sighs

The Bridge of Sighs

  1. Centro/ Barrio Chino

In 1988, the historic center of Lima was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is home to the government palace, Plaza de Armas (the main square), a wealth of Spanish colonial churches, and San Cristobal hill, which gives panoramic views of the city. Also located at the city’s center is Lima’s Chinatown or Barrio Chino, known as a hub for Chinese cuisine and traditional cultural festivals.

Exploring Downtown Lima

Exploring Downtown Lima

  1. Pueblo Libre

Museums, famous restaurants, and art galleries dot Pueblo Libre and contribute to the rich history of the district. The LARCO museum, which houses the largest collection of Moche artefacts in the country, is located not far from the district’s center. The largest and oldest museum in the country, the National Museum of the Archaeology, Anthropology, and History of Peru, is also nearby. This museum is known for having one of the best pre-Columbian exhibits in the world. It offers a huge selection of pottery and incredible Paracas textiles. In the history section of the museum, the brutality of the Spaniards in the country and of the challenges the nation has faced since its independence are documented.

  1. Jesús María

Jesús María, my district in the city, is of course my personal favorite. It may not have the glamour and upscale feel of Miraflores, or the bohemian vibe of Barranco, but it truly is my home. The district ranks among the highest for the best quality of life in Lima, and is thus highly residential. It is also home to my school, la Universidad del Pacífico, one of the most prestigious universities in the country. This district is more low-key in comparison to the others, but it is cozy, peaceful, and home to various parks and markets.

The view from my bedroom window

The view from my bedroom window

4 Reasons Why Everyone Should Visit Ica, Peru

Standing in the Middle of the Atacama Desert

Standing in the Middle of the Atacama Desert

  1. The Atacama Desert is incredible

If you hate rain, the Atacama Desert is for you. Running from Southern Peru into Chile, the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert in the world. Evidence even suggests that the Atacama may not have had any significant rainfall from 1570 to 1971. This desert is so other worldly that it has even been compared to Mars. In fact it’s been used as a location for filming Mars scenes in television shows and movies.

Todo es desierto- Everything is desert

Todo es desierto- Everything is desert

  1. Sand boarding is probably the most fun you’ll ever have

Peru is known for having huge sand dunes. With some reaching up to 2 kilometers, it is the perfect location for riding sand buggies and sand boarding. Just imagine you’re riding an insane roller coaster in the world’s largest sandbox and that is the closest comparison you’ll have to jostling around in a sand buggy. After riding up to some of the steepest sand dunes in South America, flying with intense speed via sandboarding is the most adrenaline-pumping way to get back down.

Sand Buggy Roller Coaster Rides

Sand Buggy Roller Coaster Rides

Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert

Sandboarding in the Atacama Desert

  1. Las Islas Ballestas

Located in Paracas, Peru, Las Islas Ballestas are a group of small islands composed of stunning rock formations. The islands are part of a National Reserve and serve as an important sanctuary for marine fauna like the tendril, blue-footed booby, and guanay guano bird. Every seven years the government collects all of the valuable bird droppings to use in fertilizer. The islands are also home to the mysterious candelabro, a large-scale geoglyph thought to represent a Mesoamerican world tree or a trident. It is suggested to have been a sign to sailors, as it is large enough to be seen 12 miles out at sea.

Exploring Las Islas Ballestas

Exploring Las Islas Ballestas

  1. The Variety of Plant and Wildlife

Among the hundreds of species you can find on Las Islas Ballestas are Sea Lions and Humboldt Penguins. Look how cute they are! Enough said.

A Sea Lion in Paracas

A Sea Lion in Paracas

Humboldt Penguins in Las Islas Ballestas

Humboldt Penguins in Las Islas Ballestas

Raincoats and Repellent: A Trip into the Amazon Rain Forest

The Amazon River

The Amazon River

A boat ride on the

A boat ride on the “Highway of the Amazon”

It was one of the more surreal moments of my life when it started raining in the Amazon Rainforest. Perhaps it was momentary jungle insanity brought on by the humidity, or the sheer shock of feeling like I was on a whole new planet, but I started laughing. It wasn’t until this downpour that it truly hit me, I am in the middle of the Peruvian Rainforest. This is crazy.

We trustingly followed our guide into the jungle (in the middle of the night no less) to hike in the middle of one of the largest ecosystems on earth. Surrounded by thousands of plants, animals and wildlife, I was armed with nothing more than my flashlight, iPhone, and bug spray doused rain jacket.

At one point during the hike we all decided to pause and turn off our flashlights. The darkness settled around us, still and expectant. It was so dark that when I held my hand just inches away from my face, I still couldn’t see it. My tongue rolled over my teeth to release some declaration- of curiosity, of astonishment- I can’t remember, but no words escaped. There was no need to say anything.

I was suddenly struck by the overwhelming feeling of insignificance and power of nature. Some of the most fascinating species on the planet- bullet ants that could kill a person with a few bites, poisonous tree frogs, and my personal favorite, bioluminescent fungi- were all less than meters away from me. Nothing quite dwarfs us more often than the vastness of nature.

The feeling struck me again the next night. After spending the day fishing for piranhas, climbing palm trees, drinking water straight of a tree branch, and hunting down caiman, we returned towards the lodge on our boat. I was resting my head against the rail as the water of the river splashed against my face when suddenly the boat’s engine stopped working.

Once again, we found ourselves in the middle of the Amazon engulfed in darkness. While waiting for help, I stared up at the Milky Way. I have never seen the stars like this. Back home in Kentucky, the most I’ve ever seen is one or two, and now I can see thousands, millions of them. I tried to wrap my head around the intricate complexities of the cosmos, but came away just marveling at the sheer size of the universe and thinking about how incredibly fortunate I am to have traveled here.

Stargazing in the Amazon

Stargazing in the Amazon

The otherworldliness of it all still hasn’t caught up to me even weeks later. Stunning. Breathtaking. Enchanting. I don’t think a language rich enough exists to describe the Amazon. I’ve ever felt so removed from the world as we know it, and it was exhilarating.

Llamas, Alpacas, Vicuñas- Oh My!

Occasionally you get this feeling when you travel of being totally and completely clueless. You no longer have home country advantage. The common knowledge, the common language – everything changes. Suddenly every 6 year old is much smarter than you.

This becomes particularly evident when it comes to local animals. Before traveling to South America, it may be best to know the difference between what are known as the Andean camelids- the alpaca, llama, vicuñas, and guanacos. So before you get an eye roll from the locals for squealing “Alpaca!” the first time you see a cuddly baby llama, here is a quick crash course of what each of these animals looks like and what they are used for.

  1. Alpacas

The alpaca was first domesticated about 6,000 years ago by the Quechua Indians and bred to be fiber producers. Their hair is used for making a number of woven and knitted products and almost all of the handmade clothing in South American markets are made with their fiber. They are much shorter and fluffier than llamas and their ears are not as large as a llamas’. Alpaca are also occasionally used for food and you can order alpaca in many traditional Peruvian restaurants.

A baby alpaca

A baby alpaca

Making friends with Alpacas

Making friends with Alpacas

Feeding Alpacas at a Llama and Alpaca Sanctuary

Feeding Alpacas at a Llama and Alpaca Sanctuary

  1. Llamas

Llamas were domesticated around the same time as alpacas. Unlike alpacas, llamas were bred to serve as pack animals and can carry over one fourth of their body weight. Anyone who has walked the Inca trail or hiked in the Andes Mountains can see why pack animals would be essential in rugged terrain. The Inca culture thrived thanks to these creatures who were able to transport supplies and products from every corner of the empire. To easily spot a llama, look at the ears. Llama have curved, almost banana shaped ears. They are also about twice the size of alpaca and have course hair, which is usually shorter.

A funny llama (Photo taken by Becky Casto, another ISA student)

A funny llama (Photo taken by Becky Casto, another ISA student)

A llama with the distinctive banana shaped ears

A llama with the distinctive banana shaped ears

  1. Vicuñas

Unlike llama and alpaca, ‪vicuña and guanaco were never domesticated. These wild animals are small, almost deer like creatures that roam the highlands of Peru and Bolivia. They are more closely related to the alpaca and produce a fine fur that is one of the most valuable fibers in the world. Due to their endangered species status, they cannot be killed for their fur but the Peruvian government allows for a certain number of the animals to be caught, shaved, and let go unharmed. The fur gathered during this process can cost thousands of dollars per yard.

A vicuña

A vicuña

4. Guanacos

These wild animals look very similar to llamas due to the fact that they are closely related and share a common ancestor. Guanacos are very common in the Andes of Chile and Argentina. Economically they do not have as much importance as the fiber that alpacas provide or the strength and transportation that llamas provide. They continue to live in a completely wild state.