Addy Lippitt is a junior on the UGA Track & Cross Country Team. She is majoring in Marketing and had the opportunity to participate in an internship with the nonprofit organization STRIVE during the summer of 2016.
The Leadership Grant, presented by the University of Georgia Athletic Association, provides student athletes with the opportunity of building a future career by generously contributing financial assistance with internship expenses. Last summer, the nonprofit organization, STRIVE, offered me the once in a lifetime chance to travel to the ancient city of Pisaq, Peru as an intern. Initially, I did not think I would be able to accept the internship due to financial reasons, but the leadership grant enabled me to embark on this incredible journey. From the moment I stepped foot in that quaint little Peruvian town nestled at the base of the Andes mountains, I acquired an exponential amount of experiences, lessons, and relationships subjects that I will carry with me through the rest of my life. But most of all, I underwent an exponential amount of growth as a student, friend, mentor, and, an overall person.
Prior to arriving in Pisaq, my heart exploded with eagerness and expectancy. Little did I know, the next eight weeks would prove to be the most challenging, yet, positively pivotal moments of my college experience. STRIVE is an organization that aims to promote growth and learning for student-athletes through service work and cultural immersion. In my position, as a volunteer in a local school, I taught English at the STRIVE After School-Tutoring Center, managed STRIVE Peru social media accounts, and created hundreds of lessons plans for students. On top of the work load, I ran up to 80 miles a week at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet. Most days were hard. Most of the time I was tired. Most interns suffered from high fevers and stomach viruses galore. I missed my family. My boyfriend. My friends. My dog. And the comfort of home. And I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that there were times where I desperately couldn’t wait to get back on that plane back to Atlanta.
Doubt often flooded my brain as to why I took the position in the first place. You see, often, we only see the highlight reel of people’s foreign experiences and perceive they lived in this utopian world of adventure and bliss. But in more cases than we think, there’s a bitter bite of realization that the adaptation to a foreign world requires grueling work mentally and physically. Eventually, I stopped enjoying my work which consequently let my emotions fuel a negative attitude towards my environment.
But then, about half way through, I realized that this is just another one of life’s tests. I decided to reconfigure my outlook in order to better serve the others around me. I needed to eradicate my self-pity and sacrifice my desire for comfort. This was the only way to build stronger relationships with my team and the community members that I worked alongside of. Due to being an athlete for most of my life, I recognize the impact that one persons’ actions have on the culture of an entire team. And though I never expected to be the one in that position, my prior experiences enabled me to acknowledge the flaw and alter my thoughts/actions. I promised myself to “be present” in every single moment. Through this, my eyes were opened allowing me to understand the true value of the precious time I spent in Pisaq, Peru and how blessed I was to form such genuine relationships with some of the greatest people that I have ever met.
Perhaps, my favorite adventure of the whole experience was when we traveled up the mountain to a Quechua Village located high in the Andes Mountains. The Quechua people, natives of the Incan Empire often practice
traditional farming and fall into the lowest of the social classes within the hierarchical structure. Peru has developed longstanding negative attitudes and practice towards native people. For example, the U.S. Library of Congress explains that, “a native American might acquire the Spanish language, a university education, a large amount of capital, and a cosmopolitan demeanor, but still continue to be considered an Indio (Indian) in many circles and thus be an unacceptable associate or marital companion. However, my short visit with these people proved they lacked nothing. They did not have the education, the complex societal structure, advanced technology, and/or progressive farming techniques. Yet, the people were unbelievably warm, welcoming, and joyful. In their country, they are considered to be the laggards. The people of the mountains “left behind”. But every moment spent farming their land (or at least attempting to) for potatoes’ using their ancient pickaxes were filled with sweat and smiles. Elderly men were carrying hundred pound sacks of potatoes on their backs while their wives dressed in colorful hand woven dresses carrying babies on their backs while simultaneously digging for potatoes. On the other hand, I had to take a breather every few minutes to ease the strain of the labor.
After farming, they welcomed us into their home and the family cooked for my entire team. Every simple moment spent with these kind souls opened my eyes to what I was previously blind too. Based on statistics, one would pity these people. You feel bad because of their classification as the lowest ranking demographic in their country. You want to help and you think that you hold the solutions to their “poverty”. However, after spending a second in their lives, you realize that you are the one who should be seeking solutions from them. Their lives are saturated with family, faith, and simplicity. My fast-paced western views had a preconceived perception that the world would be a better place if it were (I say this painfully but truthfully) more like us- Americans. If we could teach people to be more technologically savvy, to practice modern medicine, to walk and talk a certain way, then maybe they will be freed from what we might look at as poverty. Don’t get me wrong, all these things are wonderful. However, we must swallow our pride and acknowledge that some people do not need our help. The simplicity of family, faith, and hard-work fulfills their lives enough. Besides being a guest in their home, I do not have anything else to offer that would provide any more substantial happiness into their lives.
Facing the harsh reality that my work in Peru wouldn’t change the world, brought me to a strange medium of peace. My life in America is different. Drastically. But it isn’t better than the Peruvians because of the materials and resources that hat I have. Over the course of my internship, I became more mindful of my position in Pisaq. I was there to help to the best of my ability. I was there to donate any amount of time necessary to assist the people there. I hope that the students will remember my broken Spanish. I hope they remember the millions of times we laughed and sang, “Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.” I hope the other interns know how thankful I am for the laughs, tears, and lessons that I learned from them. I pray that they forget the pain of the night of beans (we all threw-up for hours). I know that my time in Peru did not change the town of Pisaq. But Pisaq changed me. It gave me a new outlook and perspective. It gave me friendships that I will treasure for the for the rest of my life. It taught me lessons that I will always carry with me.
Honestly, by the end of my journey I was eager to come home. When I finally landed in Atlanta, I was greeted by my friends and family and bawled my eyes out. I quickly adjusted to life back in the states and began school and cross country almost immediately after my arrival. I never really took time to look back at my time spent in Peru. I moved on and pushed forward. People asked me if I missed Peru, if I wanted to go back and I almost always answered “no.” As I stated above it was HARD. However, recently I began picking my brain and thinking about how to summarize such a vast experience into a single blog post. I sat down and began to cycle through all my memories and was flooded with emotions.
If I could summarize my experience in one word it would be: thankful. I went to Peru naively and optimistically thinking that I could change the world. Naively, in the sense of believing that my moment in this sleepy mountain town would impact the community for years. Yet, in reality, that sleepy mountain town impacted me for the rest of my life. I learned to be thankful for the little things that I take for granted every day. As an athlete at the University of Georgia, I am given so much. If I need new shoes, I have them by the next day. If I need anything for an interview the Athletic Association goes out of their way to prepare me for my future.
I am unbelievably thankful that the Leadership Grant allowed me to pursue such a wonderful learning experience. I am thankful for the many resources that the athletic association has to ensure our success. If you are ever presented with the opportunity of adventure, go. Submerge yourself and find value in every moment. If I could leave you with one word of advice, it would be to make the most of your short time at the University of Georgia. Take advantage of every moment by taking risk and putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. Take chances, be present, and grow.