Thanks in large part to Jett’s experience and connections in the country, the week-long trip was far from a typical visit.
“It felt more like being an ‘insider’ than just a traveler,” said Danielle Harvey, a first-year SIA student who is interested in conflict resolution and homeland security with a focus on Latin America. “I decided when I came to Penn State that I would take advantage of every opportunity, and on this trip we got a lot of opportunities that you would never get as a tourist.”
For SIA student James Korman, who is concentrating his studies on international political economy with a focus on Latin America, the highlight of the trip was the reception at the ambassador’s residence where students had the opportunity to network with distinguished local guests, including the current ambassador to Peru. Already impressed with the level of access granted to them, Korman received an additional surprise when Jett introduced him to Hernando de Soto, a highly regarded economist and one of Korman’s favorite authors. The two proceeded to have a 45-minute conversation — in Spanish — about the role of the drug trade in Peru’s economic development. Korman described the encounter as an extraordinary opportunity that impacted him on both a personal and professional level.
“It was an unforgettable experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life,” he said.
While Korman used the trip to deepen his expertise on Latin America with an eye toward a future career in the region, other students saw the trip to Peru as an opportunity to broaden their horizons. When she first learned about the trip, Miranda Pierce said she didn’t plan on participating because her academic focus is on the Middle East.
“I was initially going to say, ‘No,’ but then I started to realize that, although my interests have been very focused on the Middle East, I think it’s smart to be versatile and have more international travel experience,” she said.
Once on the ground in Peru, Pierce valued the time spent absorbing local perspectives and insight into local issues, such as the USAID-funded project dealing with water conservation and sustainability in Cusco. Pierce, who is considering pursuing a career with the U.S. Department of State, said that first-hand exposure to an international development project, no matter the location, was a valuable experience and that building knowledge outside her region of expertise will be an asset to her future career.
Similarly, Ana J. Castellanos used the trip as an opportunity to expand her knowledge and experience.
A first-year SIA student concentrating in development policy and international security studies, Castellanos said her focus up until now has been primarily on Francophone Africa, but she wanted more experience in Latin America. One of the most memorable aspects for Castellanos was meeting with a women’s organization in a small community outside Cusco whose work focuses on reducing gender-based violence and improving the local economy. It was enlightening, she said, to see the role local communities can play in driving development projects — rather than a top-down approach in which international organizations impose their own development goals. As she considers her own career objectives, Castellanos also found it useful to meet with those working in the development field; she even had the good fortune of meeting a USAID employee who is from near her hometown.
“Meeting people on this trip has opened my eyes to that aspect — what it means to be working ‘on the ground’ in the area of development,” she said. “As I head down this path, it’s reassuring to meet someone who is from the region I’m from [the Bronx] doing what I want to do.”
An Immersive Experience