In the low-income neighborhood of Ventanillas on the outskirts of Lima, Peru, a group of Xavier students is busy interacting with—and teaching—a classroom of chatty children. After singing a Spanish version of “London Bridge,” they gather round a table to brainstorm ideas for a storybook. The children create pictures for the book and practice acting their parts, prancing around in bare feet.
Though the setting is a classroom, this is no student-teaching experience. “The Living Heritage of the Andes: Language, Literature, Culture, and Service in Peru” is Xavier’s newest study abroad program that took place over spring break in March. It features a unique formula of long-distance intercultural learning with college students in Lima and cultural immersion on site through community service at local schools and regional travel.
The students used modern technology to study together all semester—about 25 college students in Lima connected online via Skype, Zoom and Canvas with 31 Xavier students in Cincinnati long before the plane took off.
“That interaction helped prepare them for what lay ahead,” says Spanish Professor Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, who coordinated the program with education Professor Delane Bender-Slack.
The unique design of the program provides for more than the typical study abroad experience that usually focuses on a region’s history and culture. By interacting with the college students, working directly with the school children, and staying with host families, Xavier students had a greater chance to experience and learn about the Andean culture.
“Many times students can study abroad without having much contact with locals,” Ceo-DiFrancesco says. “It can be disappointing when trying to develop your cultural and linguistic abilities because you really don’t get exposed to the culture. We thought, what are some ways we could integrate more unique and intimate interaction with native speakers? Through service learning.”
The program is designed for education and Spanish language students who want a hands-on learning experience outside the U.S. Students on this trip spent 10 days meeting with their college counterparts in Lima, working with school children, and traveling to Machu Picchu and other significant cultural and geographical sites.
The program is possible because of a partnership with Antonio Ruiz de Montoya Universidad Jesuita, a Jesuit university in Lima that helps organize the cultural site visits, the service work and the host families for the Xavier students. Some of their students also traveled with the Xavier group.
“This program provides opportunity for study abroad and service learning to more students, some who can’t spend an entire semester away in another culture,” Ceo-DiFrancesco says. “The Jesuit relationship is what makes this program so special.”
The nine Xavier students on this trip were exposed to elements of need they hadn’t thought about before, she says, such as not having clean water or enough food to eat. But they responded well. Sophomore Daniel McMullen recalled when two little girls asked if he could share his lunch because they had none. He did, of course.
“It really hit home for me because I feel like that’s a basic need,” McMullen says. “To see the joy on their faces and their thankfulness was incredible. Once we started doing the service, it was probably my favorite part of the trip.”
The students rode a bus through Lima’s shantytowns, communities that grew out of the influx of people from the Andes and rainforests looking for work. “They couldn’t find housing, so they started snatching up these areas on the outskirts of Lima, building these makeshift homes, and they grew into actual neighborhoods,” Ceo-DiFrancesco says.
McMullen says the houses are built out of sheet metal and plywood. “It was very basic. They were incredibly proud of their houses. They were so ecstatic about what we consider to be so little.”
They also visited an Andes Mountain village of indigenous Peruvians. Peru’s variety of climates—coastlands, deserts, rainforests and mountains—contributes to its diversity of indigenous people who are 45 percent of the population. The villagers wore traditional clothing and shared some of their ancient traditions.
“It was totally for our group. It was not a tourist experience,” Ceo-DiFrancesco says. “These were people who wanted to share their cultural practices and who they are as a people with us.”
That included demonstrating a religious sacrifice and sharing a meal of potatoes and homemade cheese, which McMullen says was “fantastic.”
VIEW A VIDEO OF THE STUDENTS’ TRIP.
LEARN MORE ABOUT THE STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM IN PERU.