Cara Brookins

Hometown: New Paris, Indiana 
College: College of Science
Major: Physics, Statistics-Math Emphasis

This summer I am headed to Lima, Peru, where I will be enrolled in three three-credit hour courses and will intern at a local company in their data analysis department. I am currently a Junior at Purdue University with a triple major in physics, mathematics, and statistics. I also have minors in psychology and Latin American and Latino studies. This study abroad opportunity in Peru will advance my academic and professional career in many ways, with rigorous academics, authentic cultural exposure, and real world experience.

Academically, this program allows me to take classes that I previously had not been able to fit into my class curriculum. Since adding the mathematics and statistics majors, I’ve been taking eighteen credit hours each semester, and plan to take as many for my last two semesters to take all of the required courses to fulfill my majors’ requirements. Therefore, a minor in Spanish was unachievable. After being enrolled in Spanish classes for 5 years, including my years in high school, I wanted to continue learning about Latin American culture. This drove me to look for study abroad opportunities to enrich my education. Through the study abroad program I’ve chosen, I will be taking a Global internship course, a Latin American studies course, and a Spanish language course. The latter classes are two of the required courses for the Latin American and Latino studies minor. In order to obtain the minor, I will need to take two more classes at Purdue, which will increase my academic load, but it will be worth it to learn more about Latin American culture. Through this study abroad program, I will be able to pursue a minor that I thought was unattainable and will give me a reason to take more Latin American courses in future semesters.

Additionally, the courses that I will be taking while abroad will be enhanced by the Peruvian culture I will experience. During the first weekend, our group will travel to Cusco and Machu Picchu. These historic sites hold the history of the Incan Empire. By visiting these cities, I will see the incredible structures the Incans were able to build. Though I’ve learned about these structures in previous classes and seen many pictures, seeing them in person will increase my acumen into the Peruvian civilization. Plus, by interacting with actual Peruvians, I will further my cultural and lingual education. My group will be staying in a hotel in Lima, Peru for four weeks, while we work at our internships and take classes in the evening. After these first four weeks, the majority of the group will fly back to the United States. I, however, will then move in with a host family for an additional six weeks. By communicating with my host family and coworkers, my Spanish fluency will exponentially increase as well as my understanding of cultural norms. In my courses, I will be learning some of the basics of Peruvian culture, but by living among the people, I will learn in a more authentic and long lasting fashion.

This study abroad program will also advance my professional goals. I intend to pursue a career in data analysis, and thus, obtaining an internship in that field is crucial. A few weeks ago, I was able to go to the Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics. There I was able to network with other very impressive women, several among them who had studied physics for their undergraduate degree and now work in data analysis positions. One woman that I had the pleasure of conversing with analyzes data for an NGO that works with LGBTQ+ individuals with health complications. After speaking with her, I realized that this was the career path I wanted to pursue: doing data analytics.  I hope to obtain a position that works in the health sector, where I will collect and analyze data to increase the health of patients and the efficiency of health care.

Being a physics major is difficult, not only because of the course work and being one of the few women in the department, but trying to incorporate studying abroad into my plans. Very few physics majors are able to work study abroad programs into their schedules for several reasons. The physics courses are predominantly prerequisites for following physics courses, so it is imperative that classes are taken in consecutive order. However, since there are not many physics students in general, courses are normally only offered in one semester. This means that if a student took off a semester for study abroad, they would end up several semesters behind. Moreover, there are not many physics related study abroad opportunities in the summer. And more importantly, physics majors, like many STEM majors, are highly encouraged to spend their summers working at internships. Not many study abroad programs include an internship opportunity, so many STEM students tend to stay in the country and work at a company in the United States.

Peru has a very rich, varied culture and has the most diverse ecosystem in the world. Through my internship and courses, I will learn about these difference facets of Peruvian culture, but by actually being in Peru, I will learn so much more. By visiting Machu Picchu and Cusco I will experience a more in depth and authentic view of the Incan civilization than by reading about it in a textbook. Also, being in a Spanish speaking country and living among the people will strengthen my fluency in a way no class could ever accomplish.

For the above reasons, this study abroad program is perfect for me. It is in Peru, a beautiful and culturally rich country that will help further my Latin American studies through immersion, it includes an internship, so I will have job experience when I graduate, and it is in the summer, so I will stay on track for graduation.

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