The Other Central Park: By Bethany Leidl

Bethany Leidl is a student at Tufts University and studied with IFSA-Butler at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú in 2014.

The late spring sun is shining down into the amphitheater of Parque Kennedy, which is dubbed “The Central Park” of Lima, Peru. But instead of the Central Park zoo, Parque Kennedy has an ornate gothic catholic church at its head. Instead of hot-dog stands, local vendors sell ‘chica morada,’ the popular Peruvian juice made from purple corn. Instead of buskers playing Coldplay songs, a Peruvian teenager plays regaetton music on his acoustic guitar. Families, friends, and lovers walk and talk throughout the park grounds. The park was also termed “El Parque de los Gatos” because it was full of at least 100 cats. But these cats are not abandoned; rather, they are public cats of the park.

I’ve been living in Lima for almost a month now and the whole city still glitters with novelty. Each and every action is stimulating. The Peruvian spice infiltrates each crevice of my new life, whether I am perusing the supermarket, jumping on the bus, or laughing during a popular telenovela. My foreigner rose colored glasses, along with my intense romanticization of Latin America are still in full force.

As I sit in the amphitheater of the park, I start talking with a Peruvian who is close to my age. He can easily tell that I am an American (even though I think I fit in quite well in Peru!). He begins talking to me in English and is impressed that I can fully converse in Spanish. I quickly learn that he has some family in America and that he lived in New York for a summer. He’s curious as to why I would leave America and come to Peru because he speaks very highly of the USA. Due to my rose colored glasses, I’m shocked as he proceeds to details the positives of American life and the negatives of Peruvian life. I quickly fight back and defend Peru by listing off the many negatives of living in America and the positives of Peruvian culture.

Both of us are young adults, claiming to be open-minded individuals who explore new cultures. But at the same time, we are being extremely critical of the culture that is closest to home. In my opinion, Americans place too much emphasis on work life. For him, Peruvians place too much emphasis on traditional social roles. I don’t think that there is a healthy work-life balance in America because the accepted definition of success is highly correlated with one’s job title. He thinks that Peruvians are judgmental if one does not act or dress according to traditional gender roles. He uses the example of Americans being able to dye their hair green and still be relatively accepted by society. I uncontrollably let out a laugh because this seems like a very odd example to point out. He then describes how there is a greater acceptance of homosexuality in America than in Peru. It hits me that I never managed to consider these particular aspects of my culture. I had been so comfortable with them that I did not question their existence. So while I view Peruvian’s sense of time as healthy, he views American social customs as liberating. Over the course of my 6 months in Peru, I began to understand exactly what he meant. More importantly, I began to look at both Peru and America from a multifaceted perspective. Not merely judging America as an American, or viewing Peru as a Peruvian; but rather, having a wide range view of both cultures.

Both that Peruvian teenager and I are at a critical age when we are breaking out of the shells of our families and cultures. But at the same time, we may be too quick to grasp onto the unfamiliar. I know that it is very likely to have a “Velcro” experience if a tourist visits a country for 1 week. But the beauty of studying abroad is to discover a comprehensive perspective on a country, a culture, and a people. Upon departing for Lima, I thought that I was the tolerant and liberal youth who was exploring different parts of the world. But in fact, I came into my experience wanting to categorize Peru and its people into convenient labels. The country of Peru, the city of Lima, and Parque Kennedy are vastly complex entities that weave together social issues, cultural mores, economic realities, political opinions, and distinct dialects. After my experience studying abroad, I am confident that I perceive the world in a much more holistic manner.

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