By Dana Gold, Contributing Writer
After spending four and a half months in Lima, Peru, my study abroad experience is coming to a close. And although I cannot yet consider myself a full limeña, I am definitely not a tourist anymore — even if the locals make me feel that way.
I am five foot one (solidly average height here) and blonde. My wardrobe is not particularly Peruvian, and although I speak Spanish fluently I still sound like a gringa. In other words, I stand out. Walking down the busy streets in my neighborhood, restaurant greeters invite me to eat there, talking to me in English. I always decline in Spanish. On the bus to and from school, I feel like a museum exhibit, often the only foreigner and/or blonde person aboard.
My travels within the country have also made me feel more “touristy” than I’d like. During school breaks and long weekends, I have taken advantage of this incredibly diverse country. I spent a week in Cusco and Machu Picchu, exploring the mountainous Incan capital and the Incan citadel that you have to see to believe. I spent one weekend sandboarding in Huacachina, another learning Afro-Peruvian dance and music in El Carmen, and another hiking in Huaraz.
At the same time, while in Lima I am starting to feel more and more like a local. I have successfully given directions on multiple occasions when I noticed that even the Peruvians being asked didn’t know the way. I have a regular café which could be dropped into the Brooklyns or Oaklands of the US. I spend a few nights a week there doing homework, and when I walk in, they ask if I want lo normal. I volunteer weekly at a non-profit that teaches domestic workers, both adults and children, about their rights as employees. During the program orientation, we learned Peruvian-specific swear words and slang, both very useful for someone my age. And, being young in Lima, I have been introduced to the hip bars and cool dance clubs. Finally, I have become very comfortable with the complicated privately-run public transportation system here, as well as with negotiating taxi fares — “tourist tax” is real.
Study abroad is a magical experience that transforms you into part-tourist/part-local in just a few months. Studying at the local university (in my case taking classes in another language and as the only foreign student in some classes), mastering ‘public’ transportation, improving language skills, and living with and getting to know locals have all challenged and excited me in ways that I didn’t know were possible. My experience here in Peru has made me feel truly partly limeña.
From the print edition published on Dec. 7, 2016