Article originally published by The Phillipian
By VISIONS Peru Aluma Erica Harris

How do you describe an experience that turns your life upside-down and makes you a better person? How do you describe an experience that only lasted three weeks but introduced you to some of the best friends you’ve ever had? How do you describe an experience that teaches you to appreciate all the beauty and wonder halfway around the world?

This summer I went to Peru, and it changed me more than I could ever imagine.

On the surface, my program was like any other that Phillips Academy students attend in the summer. I was with a group of about 25 high school students, living and speaking Spanish in a small town in the Andes called Urubamba. We worked on service projects with a program called VISIONS, which included building bathrooms and furniture for a preschool and irrigation canals for local farmers. We learned about Peruvian culture by visiting Machu Picchu and spending afternoons with locals, who taught us how they make a living.

During those three weeks I pushed my physical limits further than I ever have before. The work was grueling. I carried huge rocks up mountains, along with 100-pound bags of cement, and pick-axed hard ground until the blisters on my hands started to bleed. The high altitude made it so that even the fittest among us had trouble keeping up with Peruvian children during our pickup games of soccer. I hiked up the Incan trail to Machu Picchu, two hours straight up a mountain and through a jungle, easily the most exhausting two hours of my life. These experiences taught me to appreciate the strength I didn’t know I had.

This was a lesson in itself, but the most valuable lessons I learned came from the people around me. I was with a group of relative strangers, only two people on the trip were from PA. Because everyone else was new to us and we all shared the same new experiences, we became incredibly close. Talking and listening to the people on the trip taught me a great deal. They made me question who I was and who I wanted to be, both explicitly and by their examples.

Through them, I learned that the importance of telling someone you love that you love them, cannot be underestimated. I learned that it is possible to be happy and not be successful in the Andover sense of the word. And most importantly, I learned that everyone is beautiful, and sometimes you have to wait a while before that beauty surfaces.

Now that I’m back at Andover, I can already see how Peru will influence me in my Senior year. I have completely turned around. I am now an optimist, and I don’t stress about grades or college because I know it will work out. I am genuinely excited for the first time to be starting classes, because my thirst for knowledge has grown exponentially. I try as hard as I can to take the most out of every experience.

I want to be able to transfer my contentment and the lessons I learned to the people I love, but I can’t. I want everyone to be able to sit by Rabbit Pond and not feel like they’re wasting time.

It would be impossible for me to describe just how much Peru means to me, or just how much I grew in those three short weeks. I have never before been able to pinpoint a best time in my life, but now I easily can.

This should be obvious by this point, but I highly recommend that everyone go out and discover the beauty of the world for themselves. I know I can’t teach people how to be happy, but I know that the way I found true happiness was by going to Peru and throwing myself into something that was way outside of my home and comfort zone. I really, genuinely want you (yes, you) to find true happiness too, in whatever way you can.

The Phillipian
News Date

VISIONS in The New York Times