George Mason University
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George Mason University

A learning experience in Peru with a bit of local flavor

September 25, 2019   /   by Mary Lee Clark

Mason students teaching handwashing to preschoolers in Peru. Photo provided.

Here is some of what George Mason University students experienced this summer during a class trip to Peru: sleeping in adobe cabins, learning about traditional herbal remedies and taking part in a community-wide welcome dance.​

Oh, and sampling the Peruvian delicacy “cuy,” or guinea pig.​

"Mostly [it] tastes like chicken," said associate professor Anna Pollack, who led the trip.

Pollack, an epidemiologist in the College of Health and Human Services whose research focuses on the relationship between environmental chemical exposures and fertility, pregnancy and gynecologic health, led the multidisciplinary class of 10 students, both graduate and undergraduate, to learn about maternal and child health. They traveled for 16 days and were offered credit through Mason’s Department of Global and Community Health and Women and Gender Studies Program.  

The class met with researchers, community groups and leaders in Lima, Peru’s capital, and Cusco, but also headed out to the rural areas. In these areas, the students learned from an OB-GYN who helps combat human trafficking and helped feed children lunch at a center that cares for children with cerebral palsy. 

"One aspect that was so encouraging,” Pollack said, “was seeing the extreme dedication to local communities. Hopefully that resonated with students. You can commit to making a difference where you are.”

Many other classes like this, in addition to longer study-abroad opportunities, are offered through Mason’s Global Education Office. Many of these trips happen during winter, spring and summer breaks to better acommodate students’ busy schedules. Upcoming winter break classes include an environmental science class in Belize, a Spanish language class in Ecuador, and a politics class in Greece.

Classes are led by Mason faculty such as Pollack and Michael von Fricken, assistant professor of epidemiology in the Department Global and Community Health, who has led student trips to Kenya and Mongolia to study infectious diseases. Mason students are also encouraged to participate in other study-abroad opportunities including taking a semester at Mason Korea. 

Mariana Estrada, who just graduated with a bachelor’s degree in human development and family science, said the trip to Peru helped her better understand different [health] systems and services that are offered in third-world countries. 

“It’s tough to pinpoint to one particular event as my favorite. This trip was phenomenal and helped me grow as a person and professional,” Estrada said. “Yet, out of all the parts, my favorite would have to be when my classmates and I visited a school in a small town and hosted a hygiene class for preschoolers.” 

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