The New Normal

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Street art in Miraflores, Lima.

This summer marks the third College of Education faculty-led study abroad trip to Peru. Dr. Melissa Gibson and 11 of our students are studying and learning in Lima while also traveling the country. Their blogs are originally posted on Marquette Meets Peru, and we’re excited to share them with you!

By Melissa Gibson

Temblor: A new word in my repertoire to describe my experiences in Peru. Temblor: tremor, or what you feel during an earthquake. In the wee hours of Saturday-into-Sunday, Peru’s Amazon jungle was struck by an 8.0 earthquake, and here in Lima we woke up to a minute of door-rattling, bed-shaking temblores. To me, it was terrifying. My Peruvian friends have told me too many times about how Lima is overdue for a major earthquake and how damaging it will be to the poorer parts of the city, so when the temblores started, my heart raced to keep pace with the shaking—even though, by earthquake standards, the shaking was pretty mellow. When it stopped and Google’s disaster alerts told me everything I needed to know to be reassured, I still couldn’t sleep. Every rattle of a door, every creak in the mattress jolted my heart back to racing.

The next night, as I turned off the lights for bed, I felt a wave of anxiety wash over me, and I had to talk myself down: There was nothing to be nervous about. Go to sleep. Deep breaths to calm my racing heart. It’s not earthquake season. The epicenter was hundreds of miles away. Probability is in our favor. Eventually, I gave in to an uneventful night of rest.

So imagine my surprise when, Monday night, I am sitting in my bed finishing up my preparation for the next day’s seminar and: temblor. No more than ten seconds, but the shaking was now unmistakable. A 4.6 on the outskirts of Lima, barely perceptible to Limeños because, as my friend Marisol says, they happen all the time with the change of season. (In fact, I am reminded of my first time in Lima when the toilet started shaking, and I only realized it was an earthquake the next day when people were talking about it at school.) Yes, more precarious neighborhoods evacuated their houses Saturday night just to be safe, but on my street? The neighbors partied through the whole thing, cumbia band and all. And on Monday night, I gave myself a little pat on the back that my heart stayed at a normal pace and I was able to fall asleep, earthquake anxiety at bay.

This is what it is to spend time in a foreign country not as a tourist. So many things are anxiety-producing when you first encounter them: The traffic. The piles of ceviche. The fresh fruits and salads. The toilet paper situation. The jumble of Lima’s streets. The conversations in Spanish. The walks through crowded market streets with a group of 30. The visit to a pharmacy. The mysteriously uncooperative ATM. The temblores. But then a day passes, a week passes, and without realizing it, you’ve slipped from anxious unknowing to a new rhythm of daily life. New words, new ideas, new experiences.

This first collection of blog posts from our 2019 Marquette University study abroad experience, “Education in the Americas,” lets readers in on what this process of learning a new normal feels like. You’ll hear about the students’ host families, their first impressions of Lima, their muddled conversations in Spanish. You’ll also hear them trying to make sense of it all—because, after all, this is a study abroad experience. And that’s where I come in. Our month is designed so that students acquire the philosophical and pedagogical tools to make sense of what they’re experiencing and then to transfer those understandings back to their home contexts. I don’t just want them to know the word temblor, and I don’t just want them to roll with the experience Limeño style; I also what them to be able to articulate why that experience matters.

In this first week, our conversations in seminar have focused on naming the power dynamics and structures of inequality that we encountered, and trying to locate ourselves in those systems through Ignatian-inspired reflection. While I have assigned the readings and designed the experiences, the students have to bring all the pieces together for themselves, for their own sense-making. This can be challenging for me as the teacher. There’s so much I want them to know! But I remind myself that the purpose of our month abroad is not to make them experts in philosophy or sociology of education but to help them learn how to think critically about unequal social contexts of schools. Our purpose is, yes, to experience a new normal, but in doing so, I hope we will begin to see our own normal through new eyes.

The Jesuits here talk a lot about acompañamiento, the process of accompanying or being with someone as they experience and wrestle with life. Accompaniment is an act of solidarity, of partnership, of being in life together. When done well, from a spirit of humanizing and constructivist pedagogies, accompaniment is also what we do when we teach. In this month, I am accompanying my students on their journey into a new normal, and I am accompanying them as they then navigate back to our home contexts of schooling.

These blogs are an invitation to you, dear readers, to accompany us on our journey, as well. We invite you to read in solidarity with our experiences, however imperfect or partial our sense-making may be after only one week into the trip. Let us know through comments what you’re thinking as you read, what questions you have for us or want us to answer, or what perspectives you might bring to our experiences. Accompany us as we consider justice, education and Peru.

 

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