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  Features 09/04/03
USU students learn ethnography in Peru includes bug bites, surfing, salsa

By Shanna Nielsen


For 33 days this summer, 11 USU students lived out of a hotel in Huanchaco, a small fishing village in Peru, while studying anthropology, the Spanish language and Peruvian culture.

Led by Dr. Bonnie Glass-Coffin, the students earned six credits of anthropology by integrating 40 hours of classroom training with supervised field research.

"The field is the only place to learn ethnographic techniques. No classroom can give you the sunset and a beach like Huanchaco," said Jennifer Hulse, a junior in anthropology.

Despite having her bag stolen shortly after her arrival and getting a painful infection on her feet from bug bites, Hulse says that she would go back to Peru in a second.

"I was on a bus traveling for the weekend and carelessly placed my backpack out of reach. I didn't see who took it, but it had my camera, passport, credit cards and every other form of ID I had with me in the country," she said.

However, Hulse believes she learned more from her trip than she ever could in a classroom and she recommends studying abroad to other students.

"Traveling can teach you things about yourself and your own capabilities you may never have had the opportunity to discover otherwise," she said.

The field school was held in Huanchaco, which is on the west coast of Peru.

The region's economy has been shifting from the fishing industry to tourism so the beach regularly hosts an assortment of young surfers from as far away as San Diego and Australia.

"It was challenging and seriously addicting, but I can finally get up on a board and play around a little bit," said Hulse.

The weather in Huanchaco seems to be part of its vast appeal.

"It was winter while we were there, which, in Huanchaco, involves Capri pants and a T-shirt. It's a dry costal city so it really is eternal spring," said Emma Mecham, an English grad student and field school participant.

Mecham found her experience built her confidence. She realized that you can do hard and uncomfortable things, but still enjoy it. At one point, Mecham found herself on the fifth day of an Amazon boat trip that was supposed to take 36 hours.

"It ended up taking 7 1⁄2 days. I got rather tired of sitting in my hammock. I'd finished all the books I could find, two meals a day of quaker -- kind of like chai-flavored instant breakfast -- and listening to promises about when we would arrive," said Mecham.

Overall though, Mecham thinks that the only thing that could have made the trip better would've been unlimited time and money. Even though her time was short, she got to meet a lot of delightful people, including a professor at one of the nearby universities who used to be an actor and a film critic.

"He looks exactly like a Peruvian version of Robin Williams, and he is just as entertaining. I think what made him so entertaining was his infectious zest for life and for education," said Mecham.

Hulse also had her favorites. She worked with a mothers' club in Las Lomas and got to know some of the women fairly well. One woman, Maria, lived a poor life as she struggled to support three children on her own.

"She was a short and kind of bulky woman, but had such a good heart and was as tough as nails. Her ability to handle emotionally challenging situations without flinching made her one of my favorites and I admire her character," said Hulse.

Another thing she enjoyed most about Peru was that everyone knew how to dance.

"If the kid can walk, chances are they can salsa too-- it's wonderful," she said.

Although studying abroad takes a lot out of you emotionally and intellectually, Mecham highly recommends it to other students.

"I think that the times I have spent abroad have influenced my worldview and increased my knowledge base and reservoir of experience more than anything else I have done," she said.