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Andean priest and spiritual leader, Don Fabian Champi Apaza. Photo by Tom Pablo, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Allillanchu, students!

¿¡ Allillanchu, estudiantes !?

(¿Cómo están, estudiantes? / “How are you, students!” in Quechua)

I am writing to you all from my mother’s kitchen in Phoenix, Arizona. This is the house I was born into, and where I lived until I moved away to New York when I was 18. Leaving the desert to head to a huge city was exciting and happy and sad and terrifying all at the same time — maybe a little like you all are feeling, about to embark on this incredible journey! These days I am not home often, and I am currently relishing the couch time and petting my super fat cat and being able to eat out of my mother’s fridge. But I am also super excited to start this semester with you all in just a few short weeks 🙂

I visited the Andes for the first time under similar circumstances as you all: on a study abroad semester when I was a junior in college. The experience would change my life in ways I never could have imagined. I was drawn to the Andes because of the mountains, but I fell in love because of the incredible culture, history, politics, and people — from whom I learned so much, and continue to do so today. I returned to Peru on my own several times after, initially because I decided to study Quechua, the ancient language of the Incan Empire and the most commonly spoken Indigenous languages in all of the Americas. I spent half of my senior year of college living and learning in Cochabamba and La Paz, Bolivia. This past May, I graduated from a Master’s program at NYU, a joint program between the journalism school and the Center on Latin American and Caribbean studies. During the program, I focused on Indigenous political movements and truth and memory justice movements, both in the Andes and in the lowlands of the Amazon. It was that first trip in Cusco that started everything for me, and is the reason I am who I am today—and I cannot wait to help foster similarly transformative experiences with all of you. And we will also be starting in Cusco!!!

Something that you all will quickly learn about me is that I love talking (and writing) about Peruvian and Bolivian political history. We have the great opportunity of visiting both of these countries during times of great historical change. From anti-corruption movements and a complete overhaul of the national congress in Peru, to a shifting government after nearly 15 years of the same party and president in Bolivia — there is going to be no shortage of ways to dig deeper and learn more during our course. I cannot wait for the rich and complicated conversations I am sure we will all share as we spend our time trekking through the Andes or walking through the streets of some of the most historically rich cities in the entire world. Be careful, or you may very well fall in love with the place and never want to leave, just like I did. The Ucayali River (in the Peruvian Amazon), in particular, holds a very special place in my heart: from the food to the landscape to the people, it is the most dramatically stunning place I have ever had the privilege of calling a second home. I am beyond ecstatic to return with all of you. I also cannot wait to hear what excites each and every one of you about the incredibly special places that we will encounter in Peru and Bolivia, and I already know I will learn so much from all of you as well.

Please do not hesitate to reach out to me if you have any questions, or any ideas you want to share about our course before we meet in early February. In the meantime, I wish you peace in whatever streets, mountains, or rivers you may find yourself in today.

Tupananchiskama!    (“hasta luego! / “until next time!” in Quechua),