After a 17-hour bus ride back to Lima, Perú from Piura, a city on the northern coast, two friends and I excitedly ran to hail a taxi that would take us to my host mother’s home where we grabbed out little travel backpacks and continued on our way to the airport. We had a plane to catch which would take us to Cuzco, which was the capital of the Incan Empire, and the next step on our journey to Machu Picchu. Despite the rush, we made it to the airport with time to spare and were anxiously sitting in our seats soon to take over, or so we thought. Unfortunately, our flight was cancelled. Visiting Machu Picchu was one of the moments for which I was most excited about during my entire study abroad summer. Our planned trip to one of the Wonder of the World was already short, and now with the flight cancellation, I questioned if we would even be able to get to Cuzco. The three of us split the tasks of speaking with the airline agents, calling our program director, and looking up other airlines’ flights to Cuzco. It was in this chaos I realized that I was capable of communicating in Spanish. I felt at home. In fact, I felt as though I was in the United States trying to rearrange a flight from New York City to San Francisco. It was a special moment for me and made the trip infinitely more incredible.
We ended up taking a flight to Cuzco the next morning. From the moment we landed, our day was in hyper speed. We ran from the airport to a taxi that was waiting for us, raced up and down mountains and switchbacks, and made it to our train to Aguas Calientes, the final city before Machu Picchu. The train ride was spectacular. We rode through desert-like mountains that suddenly changed to jungle. I could imagine the Incans making this trek to the sacred city. Traveling with two people who only a month and a half ago I did not even know but, were now friends for life made the journey all the more magnificent.
Finally, after the train ride, we took a bus up a steep mountain at which Machu Picchu was looming at the top.   And then suddenly, there it was. Machu Picchu. It took my breath away. I was worried that it would not be as beautiful in real life, but it was more glorious than I ever imagined. There is an aura about Machu Picchu that is indescribable.
Standing on the mountain in the middle of Perú, awe-struck at the famous view of the Huayna Picchu peak, I was elated. To make everything more remarkable, I had made this journey after speaking Spanish to rearrange my cancelled flight and after traveling with friends I made through my study abroad trip. Exploring the enchanting ruins with such close friends, speaking Spanish, and experiencing the magic of Machu Picchu is a memory I think of every day.
My Machu Picchu experience exemplifies my personal and academic growth during my study abroad trip. My genuine interest in Spanish turned into an ability to comprehend and speak Spanish with ease at a high level. I am able to connect what I learned inside and outside of the classroom to my studies at Columbia University and can see where I want to go and do in the future. Studying abroad in Latin America cannot be eloquently expressed in words because it is too amazing, rewarding, and fulfilling for solely words to describe. However, the snapshot of my Machu Picchu expedition is one of the best ways to try and understand and feel the power of studying abroad in Latin America, as it is emblematic of my summer abroad as a whole.
Emma Tuzinkiewicz is a student at Columbia University and studied abroad with IFSA on the Community Building and Sustainable Development in Peru program in 2013.