In the months leading up to move-in day, my mind felt like a never-ending to-do list. Like all first-year college students, my room was a mess of what to bring and what to leave behind for most of the summer. And because I was spending my first semester in Peru, I had almost no idea what I needed to pack. Unfortunately, there are hundreds of YouTube videos and Pinterest boards detailing what to bring to your dorm but almost none for rural Urubamba, Peru.
While I thought that I was bringing the absolute minimum, in hindsight, I think that I overpacked. I brought one 60-liter duffel bag and a backpack—so stuffed with my favorite hoodies and worn-out shoes. On freshman move-in day, I was stunned (and a little jealous) seeing dozens of crates and boxes that other students had piled into their cars. I had already been living on campus for a week and a half, and there were plenty of things that I hadn't even touched! And now, two months later, I’ve learned a few important lessons that I want to share.
1. Saying Yes More Than No
The first lesson that I’ve learned head on is that change only comes when you step out of your comfort zone. As someone who grew up in Medford, Tufts’s hometown, I knew that staying on campus for all four years would be comfortable but also monotonous. In college, you have the choice to intentionally put yourself in uncomfortable places. I am living a life I never would’ve imagined a few months ago, but now, I can’t picture my first semester any other way.
That is not to say that every student should apply to the Civic Semester and move halfway across the globe. You can expand your comfort zone in small ways on campus, too: waving hi to a stranger, picking up a hobby you have no experience with, or attending club meetings just for fun. Saying yes more than saying no is the first step to getting out of your comfort zone.
2. Appreciating Simplicity
In Peru, by having minimalistic luggage and limited options for snacks, I’ve found joy in even the smallest of things. Fresh popcorn and bags of sugary cancha that only cost S./1 (about $0.26 USD) are heavily praised by our cohort. In the morning, mashed avocado and pancakes are luxuries compared to our usual scrambled eggs and toast. And our version of “splurging” is making decadent fruit salad with every shade of fruit imaginable for dessert.
I spend my time reading, drawing while listening to music, and journaling—three simple activities that I never thought I’d enjoy. When I walk to the plaza, I choose to listen to the familiar rhythms of the street vendors and moto taxis instead of plugging in my earbuds. I’ve consumed more black tea and honey in the past month than in my whole life—something I used to consider boring but now drink three times a day. I even caved and bought conditioner this week, and I’ve never been so thankful for untangled hair. By having fewer material goods, I’ve learned to appreciate everything I have a lot more.
However, we are rich in so many ways here—ways that aren’t materialistic. We wake up surrounded by gorgeous mountains and hike on Incan trails on the weekends. The mango and bananas from the market are so fresh that I run to the kitchen for fruit salad in the morning. And the people of Urubamba are so welcoming and friendly that I never want to leave.
3. Having Less, Living More
While it is nice having options for which sweatshirt or sandals to wear, it is nothing but a luxury. In Peru, I’ve learned that I could live just as well with two pairs of pants and two shirts instead of the seven or eight of each I brought. When I look back, I’ll value these four years by the friends I made and the lessons I learned, not what I wore. After all, college is not a competition to have the most Instagrammable life. Your success is measured in how much you grow as a person. And the third lesson that I’ve learned is that having less allows you to live more—more present, more free, and with more gratitude.
In the Sacred Valley, Andean Cosmovision is the philosophy of everything. The sky and the Andes are ever present reminders of a higher being. And at night, when I look at the Milky Way, I don’t feel small and insignificant. Instead, I feel so much joy knowing that I am one with the Earth—and the material goods truly do not matter in the grand scheme of the universe. I am uncertain if I needed to move to Peru for three months to learn this lesson, but I am so happy that I have.
Photo credit: Teagan Mustone