Discovering Peru

Interview with pre-med student Michael Dykstra on his experiences studying abroad in Peru.

What is your major/minor and year?

Pre-med physics, 5th year senior

What made you decide to study abroad and why did you choose Peru?

After meeting an international student and ex-child soldier from Myanmar during high school, I was struck by the smallness of my worldview and realized that I needed to see the world.  I also desired to include global health in my future career as a physician, and I wanted to get a taste of that field before entering medical school.

Why do you think global learning is important?

The society we live in is becoming increasingly globalized.  In order to comprehend the diverse people we interact with on a daily basis, we must understand the wide range of cultural contexts from which they come.  Nothing will teach cultural competence like immersion in a foreign country.

How has your experience affected your career path?

Before leaving the United States, my aspirations for a career in global health were solely based on theory and had no experiential bases.  In Peru, I worked with a resource-deficient community in a government health center while academically researching the unjust discrepancies between health in rural and urban areas.  These experiences developed my passion for working with marginalized populations across the globe and equipped me with the skills to make an impact.

What was your most memorable moment from Peru?

It was the last day of the Inca Trail.  I woke up at 3:00 AM to arrive at Machu Picchu in time for the sunrise.  After trekking for 3 days, making this last push before the sun came up was difficult.  When we finally arrived at the Sun Gate, the first point where Machu Picchu is visible, I saw the majestic ruins through the wisps of fog.  The joy of finally arriving- and finally being able to eat breakfast- was unforgettable.

How has studying abroad affected you personally?

My view of social injustice was deeply impacted by my experiences abroad.  In some ways, I had to witness the injustice in other countries in order to fully understand the United States.  I have also become more empathetic toward people coming from situations different from my own and have an elevated respect for internationals entering the US.

What advice would you give to students wanting to study abroad?

Enter your study abroad with an open mind.  It will not always be comfortable or predictable, but if you open yourself up to the opportunities that are presented to you, it will be one of the best experiences of your college career.

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