It’s time to put the “study” in “study abroad”. The first few weeks felt a lot like a very strange vacation, but now after a few weeks in class, I’m beginning to settle in to the routine of learning. Despite some key differences, university in Peru seems strikingly similar to higher education in the United States.
Some of the differences are glaringly obvious. The most prominent is that almost all classes are three hours long, once a week. They’re also taught entirely in Spanish. That took some getting used to. Also, very few professors use textbooks. Instead, they teach with excerpts of books and scholarly articles. Copies of all of the course materials are given to one of the “fotocopiadoras”, where for a small fee, you can receive a photocopy of all of the coursework. It runs about $3 per class, in contrast to hundreds of dollars to rent or buy textbooks and access codes back home. My bank account appreciates it, although I was very confused.
Many of the differences are more subtle. For example, it’s really hard to find a plain notebook here; virtually all of them have stickers and decorations, or they’re graph paper. Also, the notion of “tardiness” doesn’t really exist. Professors usually arrive to class around ten minutes late, and students gradually filter in for another twenty. Any classes in the Facultad de Generales Letras (equivalent to core requirements) generally have a median age of 17, since college starts younger here. There are so many things that catch me by surprise every day.
Despite the differences, I have been struck at how similar the actual classes are at PUCP and Tulane. All of my courses almost perfectly correspond to classes at Tulane. We use many of the same materials, and most of my economics references are written in English. Many of the course documents and PowerPoint lectures are posted online, in a virtual campus that reminds me a lot of Blackboard. If it weren’t for the language, these classes would fit right in at Tulane.
Even a few weeks into the semester, I’m still getting used to the many adjustments, big and small. While I’m not too fond of writing on graph paper, I really appreciate not having pay for textbooks. Overall, university in Peru is a lot more similar to the United States than I would have expected, down to the long lines at the campus coffee shops.
But who can blame them?