Farewell, Peru

I suppose it’s fitting that both my first and last blog posts about Peru have been written on planes. I’m almost through my 24-hour travel extravaganza from my Peruvian home in Cusco to my “real” home in New York, having just taken off from Fort Lauderdale. It’s hard to believe that my time in Peru and in South America is already over, but I’m excited to be heading to New Jersey today to volunteer for a week at Happiness is Camping for Children with Cancer, a camp I worked at last summer.

Overall, my time volunteering at Camino Nuevo was a good mix of challenge, learning and accomplishment. Before starting at the school, I didn’t have extensive experience working with children with special needs, but I’ve gained so much more respect for the teachers and loved ones who give so much care to these children. Whatever happens in the future, I know I’ll use the patience and diligence I gained through this experience to help me with future projects or careers.

During my time at the school, I not only learned about special education techniques for children with autism, but also children with developmental disorders that I wasn’t very familiar with. For over a week, I assisted the teachers in the classroom with the oldest students, most of whom had Down syndrome or Cerebral Palsy. I learned so much about how to engage the children, how instructional techniques vary between children of different abilities, and how to balance keeping the children safe with letting them explore. In addition, I learned so much about safe feeding techniques for children with special needs from one of the other volunteers, Vanessa, who is a speech therapist in Texas. I attended a presentation she gave to the parents and teachers, and through her demonstrations of how hard it is to chew or swallow in certain positions, I learned how important the child’s position and the techniques one uses are in safely feeding a child with special needs.

For the majority of my time at Camino Nuevo, I worked in the intermediate class with boys with autism. While getting to know the five students, I witnessed first-hand how varied the symptoms of autism can be, as there are boys who are quite social but are severely delayed cognitively, while there are also boys who are educationally on grade level but are very delayed socially. Despite the challenges, I’m glad I got to spend so much time in this classroom because I really got to know each of the boys’ habits and strengths at a deeper level.

During my last few days at the school, I was able to work with six of the boys with autism in the preschool and intermediate classrooms to evaluate their play skills. At UNC, I worked with a research project at the School of Medicine on developing play skills in children with autism. While each child with autism is different, many of them are delayed in developing a strong sense of imagination and creativity, which is why it is important to work on their play skills. In my first few days at Camino Nuevo, I noticed that the children were often given puzzles to play with, but were not given the opportunity to play with toys that would help them develop a greater sense of imagination. To help the teachers understand what level each child was at, I evaluated each of them using a method that is similar to what we use for the research project. I was able to give the teachers specific results about what play actions, which vary in level of complexity from exploratory and relational to functional and symbolic, each child completed during the evaluations. With this information, the teachers now know what actions to focus on when playing with the children in order to help them better develop a sense of imagination. In my three weeks at the school, perhaps my favorite moment was walking into the classroom after lunch and seeing that the children weren’t playing with puzzles like they normally did, but were excited to pretend to be doctors with toy stethoscopes and blood pressure cuffs.

It was hard to say goodbye to all the teachers at the school, who told us how appreciative they were of all of our help and resources, but it was even harder to say goodbye to my Peruvian host family. In just three weeks, I felt like I really became part of their family because of how open and welcoming they are. I’ll definitely miss being called Sarita all the time, but I hope I’ll be able to return to Peru someday to visit them.

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Well, I just dropped my water bottle and got my first strange look when I said “gracias” to the nice man instead of “thank you.” Here’s to slowly integrating back into the English language and life in the US (tax isn’t included in prices here?)

-Sarita

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Peruvian Adventures

It’s hard to believe that my last week in Peru has already arrived.  My experience working at Camino Nuevo and living with my host family has really surpassed any expectations I had before arriving.  While I’m excited to return to the US after 5 months, it’ll be so hard to say goodbye to my Peruvian life in just a few days.  I’ll save my update on how my work at Camino Nuevo is going until I finish up my final project this week, so for now I’ll share some of my adventures from Cusco!

At the top of everyone’s list when they visit Cusco, or Peru in general, is a trip to Machu Picchu, and during my first weekend in Cusco I was able to cross it off my own list.  By some odd coincidences in planning, my sister, Emma, and I ended up volunteering in the Sacred Valley of Peru at the same time this summer, so I was able to make the trip to the Incan city with her and her friend, Becky.  It was a whirlwind of a weekend, complete with our tour guide leaving Emma and Becky for a few hours in one of the small towns we visited and us navigating the bureaucracy of trying to get into Machu Picchu without our passports (hint: bring your passport to Machu Picchu).  Despite the hiccups, though, I truly enjoyed exploring the Sacred Valley, as we made stops at the ruins in Pisac and Ollantaytambo before making our way to Aguas Calientes, the tiny town outside of Machu Picchu.  We managed to beat most of the crowds by making it to the ruins at 5:30 am, which also meant we got to watch the beautiful sunrise as we explored the various parts of the city.  The ruins were even more amazing than I imagined, and I learned that the Incas really did know where the best places were to establish their cities because the surrounding jungle is breathtaking.

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During my afternoons here in Cusco, I’ve been able to really take advantage of what the city has to offer.  I’m so glad that I was able to come to this city for more than just the two days around a trip to Machu Picchu that most travelers get.  As touristy as it may seem to some people, Cusco really is a charming city surrounded by beautiful mountains.  My afternoons have been spent visiting the many museums (including the Chocolate Museum, of course) and exploring the Incan ruins right outside the city center.  A 25-minute hike up from the Plaza de Armas did a number on my lungs in this altitude but also brought me to Sacsayhuaman, a beautiful set of ruins that overlook the entire city of Cusco.  In addition, I made a trip back to the town of Pisac, where my sister was staying, to experience the Festival of the Virgen del Carmen.  The town’s week-long festivities include dozens of different dances and costumes to go with each one.  I can proudly say that I started one of the parties when one of the masked men invited me to the dance floor to learn the traditional dance.

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For my last weekend in South America, I made a trip with Vanessa, another volunteer with Manos Unidas, to Lake Titicaca, Peru’s largest lake right on the southern border with Bolivia.  The trip included stops at three of the islands on the Peruvian side and a night spent with a local family, who dressed us all up in traditional outfits and brought us to a big hall for a dance party.  Perhaps the highlight of the trip was my final hike of these 5 months in South America – a trip up to the Pachatata Temple on Amantani Island at 13,300 feet above sea level.  The altitude made the 45-minute climb pretty difficult, but the sunset we got as a reward at the top made the huffing and puffing so worth it.

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I have a few more days to explore the city, spend time with my host family and finish up my work at Camino Nuevo.  I’m excited to share what I’ve been doing with the amazing students at the school – I’ll update again soon!

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Off to Geneva!

I’m off to Geneva in less than four hours. I’ve been a quite infrequent blogger these first two months of summer but plan to change that as I start to ramp up my summer.

Thus far, I’ve spent my days planning. Doing some planning, having some meetings and then doing some more planning. Most of my work has been with Student Government. I’ve gotten to meet all sorts of people from all across campus. If I had one observation from my time thus far is that it is not only astounding how many different things are going on all over campus but it’s equally amazing how little some of the different parts of campus have no idea what’s going on in a different area. We’re intensely siloed.

Tune back in nine months from now to see if we made any contribution to changing that siloed approach. We can call it faceless bureaucracy vs. Kyle, round one.

It’s been a whirlwind over the past few months as self-imposed deadlines have come and gone and I’ll try to reflect on that time seriously as I change pace and head to Geneva. For now, though, I’m just excited to get on the plane and fly over.

My time in Geneva is three-fold. All the work related activities are in the first half. Then I meet my parents for a family vacation, hiking Mount Blanc. Should be an interesting experience for the family… my mom has had my dad “training” for it all summer. And then finally, I train through Paris to Amsterdam for a few possible meetings to end the trip and a flight home. If I can swing it, the meetings in Amsterdam would be fascinating- the Dutch government is very much a leader in Nexus approaches and integrated water-food-energy policy.

My first week in Geneva should be action packed. Geneva is UN-central and there are a multitude of UN agencies, NGOs, governmental missions, etc. based in the city. I’m set to meet with a number of them concerning the Nexus conference that I help host each spring at UNC. I’ve been honing my pitch and feel pretty ready to catch some big fish.

I have my list of contacts in Geneva, some of them have confirmed meetings with me, some responded but then dropped off the radar, and some have been on vacation or have ignored my messages. I have my map ready and am planning on doing some door knocking. I’m excited to get out and learn the city.

After I fly out of Amsterdam, it will be the fifteenth of August! School will be upon us and I’ll get to go through a crazy two weeks of class, student government, Geneva follow up, moving in etc. All while preparing for my final trip of the summer to Stockholm the first week of September.

More to come once I get to Geneva!

 

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A New Home Away from Home

My time abroad can’t be considered a competition between the various countries of South America, but in just a few days I’ve realized that my month in Peru is going to rival my four months in Chile in terms of challenge and adventure.  I’ve only been in Cusco for a few days, but I already find the city so exciting and welcoming at the same time.

My home stay is just a few miles from the city’s center, perfect for easily getting to all the major attractions but not always being surrounded by tourists on the streets.  My host parents and their son have been so welcoming, as have the other two volunteers that I live with.  Mealtime conversations have included discussions of Peruvian history, comparisons of healthcare systems around the world, and Spanish vocabulary lessons.  Coming to a new place has really helped me see how much my Spanish skills have improved in the past few months, as I’ve been able to have some really interesting conversations with my host family and help translate for the other volunteers.

I’ve now spent three days working with Manos Unidas at Camino Nuevo ["New Way"], their school for children with special needs.  I’ve been floating between the various classrooms, which have children ranging from age 3 to age 12, to see where I’ll be most useful in the next few weeks.  The experience has already been so challenging, as it requires a lot of patience and attention to teach the students and ensure that they are always safe.  My three days have already taught me so much about Cerebral Palsy and Down Syndrome, two disorders that I have very little experience with.  I’m hoping to incorporate my experience working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders into new materials and lessons for the teachers to use even after I leave Peru.

During my time outside the classroom, I’m excited to take advantage of everything that this area of Peru has to offer.  The region is full of Incan ruins, beautiful hikes and exciting markets.  First up – Machu Picchu this weekend with my sister!

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Welcome to Lima!

Greetings from Lima, Peru!  Well, technically just above Lima on my flight to Cuzco.  It’s been great to be back in Peru after being here for a few weeks of volunteering three years ago.  I just spent the weekend exploring the capital city, and now I’m looking forward to a great three weeks in the second-largest city.  Here’s a bit about my time in Lima (pictures to come when I have better internet):

After a difficult farewell from Chile (I’ve learned how hard it can be to say goodbye to the city you study abroad in), I arrived in Lima Thursday evening for the next stop on my adventure.  My first thoughts during my taxi ride through the city centered on something like “Dorothy, we’re not in Santiago anymore” and “Wow, I can actually understand everything the driver is saying!  I knew Peruvians would speak slower than Chileans…”  Arriving in Magdalena del Mar, I was greeted by Anita, a family friend of a friend who I had met when I was in Lima before.  I spent the weekend at her home and she was gracious enough to give me a tour of a different part of the city each day.

On Friday I explored Magdalena and Pueblo Libre on foot , visiting the Larco Museum and the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru.  The museum is home to an incredible collection of ceramics, so I explored room after room of pottery stacked from floor to ceiling.  After seeing on the map that the university was so close, I figured I would walk the extra way to see what it was like after I spent this semester studying at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile.  Of course, I’m partial to the Chilean version, but the Peruvian university seemed very nice, as well.  As I was walking back, it seemed that all the people in each store were glued to the television to watch Colombia play Brazil in the World Cup.  Since coming to Peru, it’s been really interesting to see how much people are invested in “El Mundial.”  I expected there to be a lot of excitement in Chile with their national team competing in the tournament, but I underestimated how much a lot of people in all of Latin America tune in to the World Cup!

That night, Anita and her family took me on a tour of the historic district of the town.  I had seen the Plaza de Armas and the national cathedral during my last visit to Lima, but it was really nice to see the area at night.  We couldn’t walk around too much because the guards were expecting a protest, but I really enjoyed seeing the space that joins together the Peruvian government and the Catholic Church (especially since the Plaza de Armas in Santiago was under construction during my entire stay!)

Saturday involved a nice walk around Miraflores and Barranco, two of the nicest communities in the city.  We walked along the park by the sea and I got a geography lesson of the city from Anita and her husband.  We drove down to the southernmost part of the city to get a great view of all the different communities, which was really fascinating for me, the geography nerd.

On Sunday, I paid a visit to the Hueca Pucllana, a pre-Incan temple right in the middle of Miraflores.  After being asked by three separate people if I was sure I didn’t want the tour in English (could have been the blonde hair and blue eyes that tipped them off), I joined the Spanish tour of the grounds to learn about the history of Lima’s oldest inhabitants.  For me, the coolest part was the juxtaposition between the gigantic temple and the modern buildings surrounding it.

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The afternoon included a visit to Callao in the northernmost part of Lima.  We visited the port and saw one of the fortresses from the era of Spain’s rule over Peru.  It was quite cloudy when we visited “The Point,” the end of a small peninsula in Callao, but it was still a really nice visit.

My final morning in Lima included a walking tour of the central market in Magdalena by Anita’s grandson.  I could hear the pride in his voice as he showed me around the little shops, explaining what I could find in each store and where to find the best seafood.  We passed a store for just about every kind of product you could imagine, from fruits that I had never heard of (in Spanish or in English) to Peruvian flags in every size that you could imagine.

Here’s to a great three weeks in Cuzco!

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Sarah’s Summer Begins

Greetings, again, from Santiago!  I have finally finished up my semester here in Chile and can say I am on “summer vacation,” though it’s getting colder every day here in the winter of South America.  My classes ended well, with most having final projects and presentations instead of the cumulative final exams that I’m used to at UNC.  When I haven’t been studying in the past few weeks, I’ve gotten to experience the World Cup in Latin America and it’s been amazing to see so many Chileans coming together to support “La Roja,” or the Chilean national team.

Throughout my time here, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to travel to the northern and southern parts of Chile to see all that this amazing country has to offer.  Every part of Chile has so many beautiful places and I can’t even imagine trying to pick which region would be my favorite.

Sunset over the salt flats of the Atacama Desert in Northern Chile

Sunset view of Santiago (in Central Chile) from San Cristobal, a large hill in the middle of the city

Sunset on the beach of the big island of Chiloé, an archipelago in Southern Chile

I just returned from the Atacama Desert, the driest desert in the world.  During my week there, I got to witness the sunrise over volcanic geysers and swim in the Laguna Cejar, the only place in the world other than the Dead Sea with a salt concentration so high that you can float.  I have one more week of taking in all that Santiago has to offer before I depart Chile.

I’m sad to see my time here come to an end, but I’m excited for the next part of my South American adventure.  The final preparations have begun for my arrival in Cusco, Peru and for the independent study I’ll complete in the Fall based on my observations at Manos Unidas.  This time next week, I’ll be in Lima, so I’ll be able to really start sending updates!

Hasta pronto,

Sarah

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Kyle’s summer travels: San Francisco to DC to Chapel Hill

As the summer has gotten underway, so have my summer plans. Earlier this month I went on the first big trip of the summer: RDU to San Francisco, San Francisco to DC and then a drive back down to Chapel Hill. It was a whirlwind of a trip, just five days in all, but it was action packed.

The trip out to San Francisco was based around an alumni event sponsored by the Campus Y, the Business School and the School of Public Health. It also pulled together a number of current UNC students who were out in the Bay area for the summer. Flying halfway across the country and seeing a collection of UNC students was a little odd but very cool.

San Francisco wasn’t just for this event however. Flying out with Andrew Powell, our SBP for the year meant the trip was going to be about one of our key goals in student government for this year- envisioning the classroom experience. We made stops at Coursera, an edtech venture that hosts and facilitates a wide range of online courses called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses). We stopped at Quizlet- where I got a super comfy free tshirt. We had breakfast with Rocketship, which applies active learning, intensely individualized K-3 education using online content and teacher instruction in classroom contexts.

It was a short 36 hours (flew in at 10am, flew out at midnight the next day) but I learned a lot I hope to bring back to UNC.

After San Francisco, Andrew and I flew to DC, still wearing our student government hat. Somehow the window seat where I sat on the red eye was just far enough away from the side of the plane that if I tried to lean over and rest my head, my head actually slipped down and got stuck between the seat and the plane. I might have been sleepless and delirious but it seemed to me that the plane was actively sabotaging my sleep attempts. Needless to say I was a bit tired landing in DC.

We were in DC for three days for a National Campus Leadership Summit. We were definitely a little skeptical, as our respective experience with “youth” leadership gatherings was subpar at best. However, the invite came on White House stationary and I’ve watched enough West Wing to know that you come to things when the White House invites you.

Over the course of three days, I learned that college tuition is going up and budgetary appropriations are going down. Which is good because, you know, it’s hard to tell that from reading the news these days. But I did get to meet with and “network” with a number of other student government leaders, some of whom we are still in contact with and have plans to collaborate with on various initiatives over the course of the year. And, on the last morning, we got a briefing from top policy officials at the Executive Office Building, which was fairly sweet.

Now it’s back to the grind. A new post coming post-legislative session to reflect on everything I’ve gotten to do in Raleigh this year.

-Kyle

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Emma’s Wrap-Up Post

Like many around Chapel Hill, I am struggling to believe that this year, and my time as an undergrad at Carolina, have drawn to a close. My senior year really began this past summer with my three month trip to the United Kingdom to learn about juvenile incarceration and rehabilitative arts immersion. The summer, made possible completely through the support of the Eve Carson Scholarship, was utterly amazing. Looking back on my last blog post from the end of the summer, I found that (for once?!) I was right about something! My scholarship summer really did set me up to feel stronger and more intentional in completing my senior year at Carolina.

For example: last summer, I learned a lot about being alone. I traveled alone for work job and job shadowings and on my days off I often ventured into London alone to go to museums or just wander the city. I met a lot of friends, that is for sure, but last summer was the first time I found myself truly valuing the ability to create a more individual space for myself. I carried that energy into my senior year and found myself more intentional about the time I spent alone and the time I spent with others –artistically, academically, and socially. Creating that space was absolutely key in working on my Senior Honors Thesis in poetry writing, I had to be able to find quiet time alone to generate a large amount of material. Dedicating alone time also changed how I engaged with academic work – I found myself more engrossed in my course work and in my independent research. It allowed me to find even more of a life in the things I read and thought about for class and beyond. Finally, I felt like my new philosophy around focusing my time actually allowed me to strengthen my professional relationships and friendships in my last year. I am so lucky to have met such incredible people and I know I will continue to be sustained by the communities I have built and grown into in my time at Carolina. This is just one example of the many ways I have been impacted and supported by the Eve Carson Scholarship through my senior year at Carolina and beyond.

This summer, I will be in the Durham-Chapel Hill area, mainly working on an autoethnographic poetry project that has been generously funded by the UNC Department of Creative Writing. I am beyond excited to be given the opportunity to focus my energy on writing and growing my portfolio. Besides writing, I will be working a couple of jobs and spending as much time outside as possible!

In late September I will be headed to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where I will continue doing youth work, hopefully focusing on at-risk younger adolescent populations. I am excited, and a bit scared, but ready for the next step.

With graduation just three days away, there is the uncontrollable impulse to look back on my time at Carolina. Mainly, I am struck by the number of people who have supported me in my pursuit of a higher education. In my last blog post I would like to thank all of the students, faculty, and staff who make the Eve Carson Scholarship possible – they are among the many important people in my life who have allowed me to access the privilege of a college education and for that, I am deeply grateful.

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Kyle’s Summer Plans

Hello everyone!

This is my first stab at blogging. Well in reality my second attempt as I had a short-lived attempt in high school to start a political blog. By short-lived I mean I created a free website, created a name that was witty and meaningful and then never posted a blog of any kind. So suffice it to say this is my first real blog.

I thought it was fitting to start with an introspective look at the summer ahead. As I finish up finals, however, I find my ability for introspection is a little stunted. This past year has been a whirlwind, and I’ve grown tremendously since I started my junior year. The person I was in the fall is markedly different from who I am now. I’m incredibly excited to continue the journey this summer and am really fortunate in that the Scholarship is allowing me to do things I could not otherwise do. All that’s left is to clear a last final.

This summer I’ll be doing two big things. The first is student government-y. It’s going to be a busy summer with a lot of preparation and learning for the year ahead. I’m excited to start lobbying in Raleigh, building some relationships and getting to know lawmakers. UNC’s at an incredibly crucial juncture, as many in Raleigh are beginning to doubt the merit of need-based aid and are discussing the elimination of our commitment to meet one hundred percent of demonstrated need. That would be an awful step back for UNC and for the system as a whole. I’m excited to do my part to help prevent that from happening.

Later in the summer, I’ll be getting to travel, courtesy of the Scholarship. I have two big trips planned, the first to Geneva in late July. I’ll be in Geneva conducting interviews for a narrative history of UN Water, an organizing entity that works with various international and UN organizations to coordinate water and sanitation efforts worldwide. The writing may also take me to New York, as many of the key actors are based out of either Geneva or New York.

Then at the very end of summer, late August, I’ll be going to Stockholm for World Water Week. I’ll be going with Jamie Bartram and Felix Dodds who are both British. So naturally my main goal for this summer is to perfect my British accent. Which for those who know me, that’s quite the task ahead of me.

Provided I can nail down the accent, I’ll be organizing three big events in Stockholm, all following up on the 2014 Nexus Conference at UNC. It’s all looking at how Water, Energy, Food and Climate overlap and integrate and how we need to act in the years ahead to manage the tradeoffs and opportunities that are going to arise.

More to come as the year wraps up,

Kyle

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Sarah’s Summer Plans

Greetings from Santiago, Chile!

I’m currently about halfway through my semester studying abroad in Chile’s capital city and I’ve absolutely loved my experience so far. During the past several weeks, I’ve been able to take advantage of so many new opportunities to improve my Spanish speaking abilities and learn about all that Chile has to offer. I’ve really enjoyed learning about Chilean culture, which on the outside seems so similar to our culture in the United States but is full of subtle differences. It’s been interesting trying to explain to people here that North Carolina is actually in the South and that it is actually possible for me to major in Global Studies and apply to medical school after graduating.

For the semester, I’m living with a host family in a great part of the city, and I think I’m finally getting used to living with a cat. In addition to studying Spanish, I’m taking classes on Latin American history and Chilean geography through both a study abroad program for students from the US and the Catholic University of Chile. I’m also part of a clinical observation program that allows me to shadow doctors and nurses at both public and private health centers in Santiago, which has been a very informative experience. I’ve spent the past several weeks trying to establish myself in the city and explore everything that it has to offer, from the artisan markets and dance clubs downtown to the beautiful Andes Mountains that are just a short bus ride away. I’m excited to start traveling more around Chile in the next few weeks, though, to experience the diversity of “that long, skinny country” first-hand.

I’m so thankful that, with the Eve Carson Scholarship, I’ll be able to extend my time here in South America. I already know that my departure from Chile in early July will be bittersweet, as I’ll be saying goodbye to a country I’ve come to love but I’ll be setting off for a new adventure in Peru. For the month of July, I’ll be volunteering with Manos Unidas [Hands Together], an organization in Cusco, Peru that provides special education services for children with developmental disabilities. I’m really excited to live with another host family in Cusco and get to work specifically with children with Autism Spectrum Disorders during my time with Manos Unidas. The organization is really supportive in molding the experience of each volunteer so that we can get the most out of our time with the program. I’m excited to see what new experiences I’ll have in Cusco and to get the opportunity to share my experiences on this blog!

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