Tell people you are living and working in South America, and you will be met with a multitude of differing responses. Some positive, others not so much. The funny thing is, those reactions perfectly reflect the reality that is living and working in Arequipa, Peru. After six weeks of living here, I’d say I’m only just beginning to settle in, if you can ever feel totally settled living amongst the craziness that is South America. The thing about living and working here opposed to travelling through, is that it is entirely different. When you travel to a place, you exist within the ‘backpackers bubble’ and friends of mine call it. The ‘backpackers bubble’ gives you a sense of awe and wonder about every place you visit. You somehow see only the positives and the beauty, and anything less than that is simply considered part of the adventure, or a crazy story to tell once you get home. In the ‘backpackers bubble’, you book hostels through apps where everything is in English. You spend most nights at bars and share stories of your travels. You are rarely on your own, making everywhere you go feel a lot safer than it actually is, essentially leaving you in a bubble of adventure, and it’s a wonderful thing.
However, when you live and you work abroad, especially somewhere as foreign as South America, that bubble is popped. You are faced with the reality that is that place, and you begin to see said place for what it really is. And in my experience, that is when the magic happens. That is when you have no choice but to learn the local language, and to befriend your landlord to let you pay your rent in accordance with payday, and not kick you out when a power surge kills the kettle, and to totally immerse yourself in the local culture. It’s when you develop a newfound ability to be optimistic about any given situation. Freezing cold shower in the morning? Oh well it’ll wake me up. Absolutely no idea where you are and no data to use google maps? Well let’s explore and get the step count up, or use learnt Spanish! No toaster and no oven? Learn to make toast with the fire of the hob. Cannot drink the tap water? I have developed biceps from carrying 20 litre bottles home from the supermarket. You develop new, innovative ways of doing the most basic of daily tasks, and you learn to love every little thing about Arequipa – every little niggle that at first annoyed you, you learn to shrug off and see it as a component that makes South America so different and so great. At the end of the day, if you have some good friends to laugh about all of it with, that’s all you need.
Living and working here has allowed me to really experience Arequipa for everything it is. I have found the best little cafes down the beautiful streets that look like they could be in Europe offering the best cappuccinos, and the street with at least 30 guitar shops on it where music can be heard all day everyday. I have found places to go when I feel like I need a taste of home, the gym and neighbouring Starbucks have been a saving grace when you feel as though you cannot remember the western world. I have learnt which taxis to avoid and which ones to use, the streets which are safe in the day but most definitely are not at night, and the ATM’s that won’t charge me half my savings to withdraw soles. I have found the loveliest of Spanish teachers, and I have taught the most conscientious of students. I have developed a sense of self-reliance and determination I never knew possible, met friends for life, and created many a memory by spending a prolonged period of time here.
Living and working in Arequipa has been one of the biggest challenges I have ever faced. There are days when you feel like the luckiest person alive to be here… and there are days where everything that can go wrong does go wrong; and being 6,000 miles away from home comforts and friends and family only makes it a lot harder to deal with. That’s the key difference: the high’s are incredibly high, and the low’s always feel much worse than they are. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. After-all, nothing good comes out of staying in your comfort zone. It’s been a challenge yes, but it’s been an incredible adventure that I will forever count my lucky stars for.