The Magdalen College Exchange Program with the Universidad de San Pablo’s Sodalicio de Vida Cristiana located in Arequipa, Peru, encourages students from both institutions to experience a different culture while sharing the same Catholic faith and love for learning.
The beginnings of the Exchange Program took root when the President and Chairman of the Board of the Universidad de San Pablo visited Magdalen College in 2001. In January 2002, three Peruvian students experienced living in New Hampshire while being immersed in the Magdalen Program of Studies for six weeks.
Among the first Magdalen students to travel to Peru were Melissa Dow ’02, Kirsten Witter ’03, David Simpson ‘03, and AnnMarie Dean ‘03. During their stays, they studied Spanish and Latin American History, traveled to historical sites, visited daycare centers, schools, and homes for the elderly, taught catechesis, and participated in the life and apostolate of Sodalicio. Recently, Allannah Karas, a junior at Magdalen, had the opportunity to speak with AnnMarie and Melissa about their experiences in Peru.
Allanah: What attracted you to the Horizons Program?
AnnMarie: The different country, the different culture, the desire to meet new people and experience a different way of life.
Melissa: The opportunity to experience a Spanish-speaking Catholic culture.
Allanah: What kind of work did you do in Peru?
AnnMarie: I worked with children in a daycare in Ciudad Blanca and worked with the elderly in Santa Rosa, Arequipa.
Melissa: I visited small villages near Arequipa, played soccer with the children, and organized activities, such as the Rosary, processions, and charades for children.
Allanah: You spent a majority of your time in the city of Arequipa. How did it compare to city life in the US?
AnnMarie: The people were friendly and ready to greet each other. There is less industry and technology and a lot of hands-on work.
Melissa: Most people in Arequipa prefer the city, where there is some opportunity. The best thing a girl could hope for was to work at a bank. Everyone in the family works — even five-year-olds baby-sit their younger siblings. Poverty and abuse in some families is common. There are no local priests. A traveling priest comes by the small villages once every couple of months.
Allanah: You stayed with a host family. How did Peruvian family life compare with your own experience of family life?
AnnMarie: The elderly live with their families; the son takes over the household if the father dies, and no one owns cars except the wealthy. Children stay with their parents until they finish college or marry.
Melissa: They greet with hugs and kisses and you literally become part of the family, because everything they have is yours too. Wealthy families have a maid in charge of domestic affairs, including the care of children.
Allanah: Was there a language barrier? Were you able to learn Spanish during your stay?
AnnMarie: Spanish was very difficult at first but the people were willing to help and eventually I knew enough to communicate.
Melissa: I never learned the language well in high school. Being immersed in the culture and speaking with people helped me learn more than in any class I had taken.
Allanah: What aspect of Sodalicio and the Universidad de San Pablo made the biggest impression on you?
AnnMarie: The people I met; especially Mr. Alonzo Quintanilla, Rector at San Pablo. He gave me support and advice and helped me through difficult times, especially when feeling homesick.
Melissa: The Universidad de San Pablo is dedicated to educating the citizens. Its community life is very similar to the common life at Magdalen.
Allanah: How did living and working in Peru effect your faith?
AnnMarie: In a lonely situation, I had to trust and go directly to Christ and His Mother. My faith grew.
Melissa: I realized more strongly, we are one faith…we have the same liturgies, sing many of the same songs…I was halfway across the world, but it was the same. In church…the entire congregation sings!
Allanah: Did the program broaden your horizons — your outlook on life and the world?
AnnMarie: I learned that it is people that make a big difference in your life, if you are open to new things.
Melissa: The experience made me feel so incredibly grateful…we have security, opportunity, and freedom. I feel so lucky to have so much at my fingertips in the US.
(Allannah Karas and Mesely Luis, students at Magdalen College, co-authored this article.)