The Interviews: How do you Feel About the United States?

I am proud to be an American. I love the United States and could not be more thankful to be an American citizen. For the first time in my life, I was not in the United States for the 4th of July. Peru, of course, does not celebrate our holiday, so all the other Americans at my home stay and I felt very strange. No fireworks, no barbecues, no red, white, or blue.

                   Suddenly, I started to think about the world’s attitude toward the United States. What do they think about our traditions, our people, our country? How do their thoughts differ from ours? As my first time out of the country, living in Peru for the summer has been the first opportunity I’ve had to look for these answers in an authentic way. I interviewed three friends on their views toward the US. I asked a lot of questions, but the two most interesting were “What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the United States?” and “What do you think about the politics of the United States?” Here were the responses:

What is the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the United States?

“A big country. I don’t know what language a person from the US might speak. I think of the states I know: San Francisco, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Washington D.C., Miami, North and South Carolina, and New Jersey. I also think about New York and 9/11.”

-Woman from Cusco, age 40

“California, money, army and war, good education, and my volunteers.”

-Man from Cusco, age 33

“Disney, fast food, the mountain with the heads [Mount Rushmore], Hollywood, the Statue of Liberty, Liberty Bell, Hamilton [the musical], and Donald Trump”

-Woman from Australia, age 21

I noted that the two citizens of Cusco talked about the states themselves. Further conversation indicated that the states mentioned are where family members and friends live. Both said that if given the chance to visit the US, they would first go visit friends and family before thinking about sightseeing or other activities.

This reflects how highly family ideals are placed within Peruvian society. Instead of sending them to a hospital, most children live with and take care of their older parents until death. Mealtimes are lengthy and rarely spent alone. Family and friends gather to enjoy food and each other’s company, another indication of the strong family values held here.

What do you think about the politics of the United States?

“ It is different than Peru; Peru is very corrupt. The United States is corrupt, but not as corrupt as Peru. A lot of people do not agree with the current President. Something that is different to me is that the people who elect the president [in the US] can elect by computer. In Peru, voting is not an option. We need to be present and vote by paper.”                      

-Woman from Cusco, age 40

“I admire them because they keep their word. They are honest. Here in Latin America there is much dishonesty. They have the best system of democracy in the world because they respect the Constitution and the laws.”

                       -Man from Cusco, age 33

“The political system is different. It is much more complicated than in Australia. Money makes law. Voting should be mandatory but should last longer than a single day to account for work and class schedules.”

-Woman from Australia, age 21

I did a little bit of research on the “corruption” mentioned in the first response. Peruvian politics have been experiencing a lot of change recently. The former president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski (PPK for short) did not have favor with his people. Elicitations caused corruption and promises he made to his people were not kept. In March, PPK resigned and a new president came into office. However, because of the major corruption caused by PPK, Peruvian citizens have lost faith and trust in politics. Peruvians want a leader they can trust and someone who will keep promises made to the people. This explains why the second response focused on the honesty and trust the man had seen in American politics. These qualities are something that he desires for his own country.

In contrast to the Peruvian values of trust and honesty, it is interesting to note the progressive focus of the Australian response. In a more developed country like Australia, it makes sense that efficiency would be important. Once a good voting system has been established, it needs to be perfected. More efficiency means more progress, and progress is good. While I don’t believe any voting system is 100% flawless, but I think it would be interesting to see how the US voting system could change with these suggestions.

                        Having these discussions was very interesting and insightful for me. As my friends talked, I understood how their opinions formed based on the cultural values of their own country. Not only did these conversations reveal things I never considered about the United States, but also things I never considered about other countries. This was another big reminder of how diverse the countries of the world are. These conversations showed me that when I engage with cultural differences, I not only learn more about the world around me, I learn more about myself and my own perspective. I can’t wait to see what more I can learn from my last week here in Cusco!

Taste of Cusco: Ceviche

                  My thoughts concerning Peruvian food prior to my time in Cusco were very mislead. Because one of the official languages of Peru is Spanish, I figured the cuisine would be similar to Mexican food. Burritos, tacos, and quesadillas were the first items that came to mind. If you had to guess what Peruvian cuisine is like, would you think the same?

                   My perceptions were completely incorrect. In fact, I have only encountered one Mexican restaurant since my arrival four weeks ago! Peruvian gastronomy has a plethora of influences (none of which include Mexican style cooking). Cuisines from Africa, Morocco, China, Europe, and Japan come together to create the unique food served here in Peru. Every meal is packed with bold taste and a variety of spices and ingredients. Some dishes feature rice or noodles while others utilize chicken or raw fish. Though these ingredients are vastly different, their finished products have one thing in common: incredible flavor.

                   A special cuisine near and dear to the heart of Peru is a seafood dish called ceviche (pronounced seh-vi-chay). It is almost a sin to visit Peru and not try it. When I asked my host family and teacher about the food I should try during my stay in Cusco, both responded very quickly, “ceviche!” The dish is very easy to find in restaurants; however, seafood restaurants make it best.

                   During the weekly cooking class last Friday, Ceviche was featured. Surprisingly, the professional chef leading the class was my host dad, Yuri! I watched him prepare the entire dish, made my own version, and then taste-tested my creation. Not only was this class interesting, but also it allowed me to ask questions and engage in discussion about the ingredients, preparation, and presentation of the meal.

                   The most important thing when cooking ceviche is choosing a fresh fish. There are many variations of the dish, but most use a type of white fish called corvina.

                   Because Cusco is not on the coast, the best place to buy the corvina is in the fresh section of the market. After choosing the perfect fish, it is then cut into bite size chunks. Contrary to popular belief, one cannot just cut in any which way, he must cut along the nerves of the fish. Cutting in this way will allow the meat to soak up the most flavor when the juices and spices are added. Furthermore, the cutting process is important for the removal of any lingering bones.

                   Next come the remaining ingredients: tiger milk, onion, red chili pepper, salt, lemon, and cilantro. Tiger milk is a combination of celery, lime, milk, and fish broth. Though it sounds less than appetizing, tiger milk gives the fish a great flavor and is a key ingredient to traditional Peruvian ceviche.

                   Peruvian lemons (on the left) are not like any in the United States. In Peru, lemons are small and green; much like a U.S. lime, but even smaller. The size is slightly bigger than a cherry tomato.

                   All these ingredients are mixed in a bowl and stirred around with the corvina for about 5 minutes. During this time, a reaction takes place between the lemon juice and salt to cook the fish and produce a shiny hue, “Like a diamond”, Yuri told the class. This hue is one key way to differentiate good preparation from bad preparation and is the primary indicator that the fish is ready to serve.  

                   Traditionally, ceviche is served with sweet potato and choclo (a special kind of corn native to Peru). The sweet potato contrasts the spice from the chili pepper to give a mild overall flavor while the choclo adds extra texture and sweetness. The choclo can also be eaten by itself; it tastes just as yummy!

                   The ceviche cooking class was an excellent way to learn about traditional Peruvian ingredients and cuisine. Cooking with friends made for a fun experience and I cannot wait to participate again. Next week’s featured dish: rocoto relleno!


New Sights and New Heights: Exploring Peru

To kick off the week, my friend Anita and I experienced a chocolate cooking class! During a 2-hour instruction, we learned how to make chocolate from these mere little beans.

We learned how the process of making chocolate changed over time from the Aztecs tribes to the European explorers. Thankfully since, human blood has been deleted from the chocolate recipe. This picture demonstrates the process of making chocolate.

To break the bean down into a paste form, we had to grind our cocoa beans three different times by hand. My favorite part was sampling different kinds of chocolate and being able to make our own chocolate creations. I made chocolate with almonds, sea salt, and even quinoa!

Next, it was off to the lagoon and salt mines. This has been my favorite traveling trip so far! We were able to drive ATV’s through Peruvian countryside to visit these two locations. Our first stop was the lagoon. Unfortunately, we weren’t given any historical facts or background of the site, but the view certainly made up for it. 

After leaving the lagoon, we were able to visit the salt mines of Maras. These Salt mines are made up of more than 2000 little pools of water. The water comes from a small stream that flows from within a nearby mountain. Because the mountain is made totally of rock, there is no way to tell exactly where the water comes from or how much longer it will flow. However, the salt mines have existed since before the Aztecs, so the water has been flowing for almost 500 years!

                   After water fills each pool, the channel is blocked so water can begin to evaporate. When all the water evaporates, nearly 12 centimeters of salt is left behind. There are 3 different layers to this salt: pink salt, medicinal salt, and flour salt. After nearly 2 weeks of drying the salt is harvested and then put in to use. Each year, the mines produce over 10,000 pounds of salt!

                   The next journey I took was horseback riding to the moon temple. To be completely honest, I am not sure why it is called a temple. It was a giant stone structure that tourists could climb, but nothing like the “temple” I had in mind.

In addition to the moon temple, we stopped at a few other structures, including one that resembled Machu Picchu!

This picture was my favorite from horseback riding, but it took incredible guts because I have a fear of heights. I wish I knew how high the peak of this structure was, but “don’t look down”, was the only thought running through my mind!

Most tour guides here do not speak any English, so in addition to cultural immersion, these adventures allowed me to practice my Spanish skills. When I first arrived in Cusco, speaking the language felt quite uncomfortable. I knew I had the ability to converse but lacked the confidence to speak freely. Taking advantage of every single opportunity I have had in class, at meals, or even on tours has been the most helpful way to improve both my confidence and speaking skills. Now, after 3 weeks in Cusco, my confidence is much higher! Every day presents new challenges that I tackle with everything I have. Quitting is not an option. All these experiences are shaping me into an independent Spanish speaker who takes risks. Even though I have made many mistakes, I am learning and growing in the best way possible. I cannot wait to see what 4 more weeks in Peru have in store for me!




Diving into Cusco: Week 1!

Well, that’s a wrap of week one in Cusco. What a week it was! From traveling and tasting new food to engaging in authentic Spanish conversation and adventuring around the city, I have already learned so much.
The travel experience I had on my way to Cusco was great! I had three flights from Chicago to Panama, Panama to Lima, and Lima to Cusco. The flight from Chicago to Panama was like most other flights I have taken in the past, except for the delicious in-flight meal. (Pictured Below) I had a beef, veggie, mashed potato dish with a dinner roll, salad, and shortbread cookies. I am always surprised by how hungry traveling makes me, and this meal hit the spot just right!

My Spanish-speaking skills proved to be quite helpful during the second and third flights. In-flight instructions were now listed in Spanish before English and all the flight attendants spoke Spanish as well. When making any announcements over the speaker system, they were reported in Spanish before English, and the on-screen commercials were in Spanish, with English subtitles, not the reverse. Though these seem like minute details, they were small preparation for the world I would soon encounter here in Cusco.

After my arrival, everything else blurs together. My first week was all about adjusting. It has been an incredible whirlwind of meeting people, seeing sights, and tasting amazing food. I can finally say that after a week, I have my bearings set, and can navigate the city well. I have a daily routine, and quite enjoy my classes! Here are some pictures from my week (along with a little more explanation):         This was taken in the middle of San Fransisco Plaza.The fountain changes colors and I just couldn’t resist the photo opportunity! Right across the street is a little restaurant called La Quadra where my friends and I love to enjoy the view and unwind from a long day.

The city is at no loss for these curious animals. Tourists can snap a photo with baby llamas or alpacas on nearly any street corner. Shops everywhere sell sweaters, socks, hats, and mittens all made of warm alpaca fur. Given that it is winter here, these certainly come in handy!

The entire month of June is the month of Cusco. There are festivals and celebrations every single day! Some are religiously affiliated while others are simply to celebrate the city itself. Regardless of the occasion, both music and dancing are guaranteed. All shapes, sizes, and ages of people can be seen celebrating in bright costumes of all different colors. This reflects the cultural priority of dance and celebration. My Spanish teacher here informed me that in Cusco, there is always something to celebrate and EVERYONE dances, men included!


This crepery was the food highlight of my week. Steep inclines and many stairs await anyone in search of the restaurant, but it is well worth the struggle! In addition to having any sort of crepe imaginable, the atmosphere is so warm and welcoming. I think that all the bright colors, variety of plant life, and creative pottery made the food taste even better.

The city of Cusco has some amazing sights! I decided to experiment around with different angles, lightings, and colors to see what perspectives I could capture. Each one is a small reminder of the many ways to approach a new lifestyle here in Cusco. I am so excited and looking forward to new experiences in the weeks to come!