A fishing trip in the jungles of Peru proved a more immersive experience than Brian Guay, ’14, bargained for when studying abroad.

“I fell off a tree while fishing for piranhas in the Amazon,” Guay says, laughing. “My camera’s in my pocket, my cell phone’s in my other pocket, and I didn’t care because I was so scared.”

Guay wasn’t afraid of the unknown, just the sharp teeth of the meat-loving fish who shared the water with him. They had already devoured the raw leftovers used for bait. But he emerged without a bite, and those harrowing moments only whetted his appetite for the semester he spent studying at the Pontificia Universidad Catolica del Peru through a program possible because of UR's affiliation with CIEE, a nonprofit fostering expanded international educational opportunities.

A professor had cautioned Guay that Lima as a city was poor, dangerous, and overcast for most of the year. But Guay wasn’t looking for a vacation. What attracted him to Peru was the chance to get immersed in the language and culture of a developing country and to get out of his comfort zone.

“When you leave home to go to college, you really gain a clearer insight into who you are and what makes you who you are,” Guay says. “When you study abroad and live in another culture, that experience is amplified.”

This trek was Guay’s first time outside the United States. He took four classes while studying in Lima. In two of them, he was the only international student. One of his biggest challenges, he says, was strengthening his Spanish skills.

“The first couple of months there I was learning to survive,” Guay says. “For me it was important to learn how to communicate quickly, because I’m a pretty outgoing person.”

Guay had an extended host family with whom he could practice. Though he lived with a woman and her maid, relatives visited often.

“Every Sunday was like Thanksgiving. The whole family comes over because everyone lives in Lima. You drink wine and eat hors d’ouevres, and then you eat a big, mean meal and a huge dessert,” Guay says.

“It was a blast, just little kids running around everywhere and music playing. I think it’ll influence me later in life on the importance of family, just having people around that often.”

Guay celebrated with the family and also mourned with them. When his host grandmother died, he stayed with the family during the grieving process, spending the entire day at the funeral home leading up to the burial.

Moments like that will stick with him for many years and gave Guay a sense of kinship with hosts whose culture and country he had never encountered. They also underscored for him the importance of traveling and studying abroad.

“The challenging thing was being out of my element. I encourage people from UR to go to different, unique places,” Guay says. “Somewhere that will really challenge you and bring you out of your element. American culture’s very pervasive in the world, and to escape from that for a little bit can be a very valuable experience.”