Growing in My Positive Personal Engagement through Travel in Peru

May 8, 2014

By: Christy Vanek

Traveling takes us away from what we know. It requires us to reorient ourselves and in the process offers the opportunity to know ourselves, our habits, and our values anew. I recently traveled to Lima and Machu Picchu with a course titled “Doing Business in Peru” at the Stephen M Ross School of Business. During this trip, I came to better understand some of my values related to positive organizational scholarship and grew in my ability to enact these values.

The graded components of my business school course involved a self-directed field research project which relied heavily on conversational interviews with Peruvians while abroad.  My peers and I were encouraged by the professor to learn through active engagement with the local communities we were visiting. Furthermore, we were encouraged to forge this engagement independently, with access to the professor’s Peruvian contacts, but little other guidance.  The process of identifying, reaching out to, and conversing with Peruvian contacts stretched my comfort boundaries.  I am an okay networker, but by no means a massive extrovert.  During the course of this project I built relationships with several Peruvians.  I found the process very personally rewarding, because the connections I made were high-quality connections.  I established connections with several amazing people with experience in the healthcare industry (the focus of my project). It was great to learn from them about the structure and challenges facing Peru’s healthcare systems. But our conversations went beyond this. We talked about politics, government, the changes to Peru’s economy and infrastructure in recent decades, hope, personal work aspirations. One contact took me and another of my team members to dinner.  Another team member and I were invited to coffee with a second contact. I was inspired by how generous the people I met were with their time in speaking with me.  I really enjoyed speaking with them and getting to know them during my time in Peru.

Another part of our trip was a visit to Machu Picchu, which was personally restorative and helped me grow in my capacity to be mindful. At Machu Picchu I felt connected to the earth.  I felt grounded. Sitting with an eye level view of surrounding mountains at an equal altitude to the meandering clouds, I was inspired by the reality of my position, a physical space in which 500 years prior a civilization had prospered.  The Incas had molded this difficult environment and built where I sat a sweeping city of stone dwellings, walkways, and temples.  This experience brought me to a state of full presence and engagement in the moment. Already I have called upon this memory to re-center myself in times I find my focus drifting.

Shopping in the Lima markets for souvenirs taught me a lesson in positive negotiation.  I came to see the shopping experience as a chance to get another glimpse into the culture and history of Peru.  While shopping, I engaged a shopkeeper in a conversation about the history and traditional use of some drums I was interested in purchasing. She explained to me that the drums are called Tinya and played traditionally in the Amazonian highland community of Cajamarca in the folkloric music of the Mayta Indians.  In this community, Quechua, not Spanish, is the spoken language. We spoke for about five minutes about the drums, which I ended up buying at a price lower than their label.  Perhaps I could have gotten an even slightly lower price through outright bargaining, but the conversation and cultural information about the drums’ history and use meant more to me.

Traveling took me out of the physical space of the university and in so doing allowed me to reflect upon and better connect to the intellectual space I occupy and value. I’m new to blogging, and a bit uncomfortable giving umbrella advice but I guess I would say this:

*When entering a negotiation situation, think about what’s important to you beyond price.  What can you do or what questions can you ask to make the interaction comfortable and positive to you?

*Find ways to create moments that you find personally restorative.  They’re good to have as memories you can draw upon to become more mindful and mitigate stress.