Something I have always understood is the power of making connections. Being a musician, community is everything. Connections are key to sustainability and the pursuit of happiness. I decided to take this approach in my study abroad program in Cusco, Peru, in the summer of 2018. I quickly realized within my first interactions that I needed to establish a boundary that allowed everyone to understand my language barrier. One of the phrases I said most often in Peru was "Lo siento, pero mi español es básico," meaning, "I'm sorry, but my Spanish is basic." After that was "Hermosa!" because I had seen the most beautiful land, and the most kind and generous people. I needed to show my willingness to engage people regardless of the level of my Spanish skills. Before stepping foot in South America, I already had the sense that I would struggle. A lot. But the one thing I wanted to know for myself is, "How do I work this?" How was I supposed to go to a country who over 90% of the population speak Spanish, and be successful? The best way for me was through music.
I had the great fortune of working two jobs in Cusco, one was assisting children with intellectual and physical disabilities, and second at a school teaching guitar, piano, and music theory lessons to all ages. For both situations, music helped me to communicate where words could not be expressed. My body language and my disposition were my tools to express everything I needed to say. In the end, I made great friendships, established deep connections with those I came into contact with abroad. There were frustrating, defeating days, but I would be able to remedy that by listening to music, and talking through it with my new friends and host family. Music helped me build the bridges to create profound, unexpected relationships with those who are supposed to be far different from myself.
About the Author
Austin Thorn is a junior in the music therapy program at UMKC and currently serves as the IRC's global education intern.