After a short hike, Honors College student Anthony Azzun enjoys the wonderful view of Machu Picchu.

After an enlightening conversation with the girlfriend of their tour guide, honors pre-med student Anthony Azzun‘s eyes opened to the rich history of religious art in La Catedral del Cuzco. Anthony was one of 16 honors students to take part in Honors Passport: Peru, a new study-at-home-and-abroad experience offered by the Honors College.

Have you ever wondered what the apostles were eating at the Last Supper? Perhaps some bread, a little fish, a few grapes, or if you are cusqueño, maybe a chinchilla. I never imagined such a sight until I was in the Cuzco Cathedral staring up at a portrait of a feast portraying just this. But then again, there were a lot of things I never imagined I would see before I embarked on my twelve-day exploration of Peru.

Though I have an uncountable number of wonderful memories from this program, my favorite ones have been about building relationships with the incredible people I was fortunate enough to meet. As soon as we arrived in Lima, I met our tour guide, Andy, and his girlfriend, Diana. I was extremely nervous about being in such an unfamiliar place, but Diana talked me through my uneasiness. As I am aspiring to be a professional in the health field, Diana and I bonded immediately once I learned that she was a doctor. I had so many questions to ask her, but she had even more knowledge to give me.

H2P students enjoy a local parade in Arequipa

One of the most interesting things about talking with Diana was seeing how passionate she was in her endeavors. When I asked her what it was like to learn English, she told me about the specific difficulties she faced and what she did to overcome them. Her experiences resonated with me since I am currently learning two other languages. I was so delighted when I learned that we share the same goal in our efforts- to increase our ability to help people’s health care by overcoming language and cultural barriers.

During one of our conversation at the Museo de Arte de Lima, she pointed out to me the intricate detail on the saya of a tapada woman in the costumbrismo section of the museum. I asked her how she learned so much about art—she constantly added valuable information during our tours and in the art galleries. She told me that art was how she learned about religion when she was growing up. As she continued to educate us on our surroundings, my view on Andean aesthetic completely transformed; visual representation was no longer to me a mere portrayal of a country’s culture or social dynamic. Rather, I see that this medium of art can be imbued with a rich history that gives it the power to educate its audience, create a dialogue between the past and present, and shape the worldview of those willing to engage with it.

After we left Lima, Diana’s words stayed with me. My new understanding enabled me to connect with some of the pieces I saw at a much more personal level that I could not have obtained before. This was most notable at the last site we visited—La Catedral del Cuzco. When I walked in the building, the spacious ceiling immediately instilled upon me a sense of humility. As I walked amongst the massive paintings, the immense of amount of hard work and attention to detail that was given to the cathedral astounded me. The frequent use of gold plating gave the building a deeply sacred character unmatched by any other structure I had ever seen. A silver room to the side further confirmed its sublime origins. The purity of the space left me awestruck like never before.

An elegantly decorated monstrance found at the Santa Catalina convent in Arequipa

The most fulfilling part of this cathedral, though, was when I sat down and stared at the altar. It intrigued me because it was surrounded by mirrors that produced a vivid feeling of tranquility. As I stared into the reflective surfaces, I felt inspired to contemplate my own history and unique origins. I thought about how my experience in Peru was a time of great personal growth for me and how it would change me as I move onward. I thought about how, throughout this program, I saw natural wonders, encountered manmade phenomena, and found myself surrounded by inexplicable beauty. I am unendingly grateful to every person who has helped make this dream a reality for me. The Honors Passport experience stirred my excitement to not just see the world, but to learn from it, and I cannot wait to see what it will teach me next.