Exploring Abroad


EDINBURG — As Angelica Rodriguez, a UTRGV graduate student and mother of two, hiked up the Salkantay Trek on her way to Machu Picchu, she began to question whether she would be able to make it through to the end.

Ultimately, though, she not only finished the trek, but also had a newfound sense of confidence in herself.

“After the four-day, three-night hiking trip, I felt that I had truly accomplished the unthinkable,” Rodriguez said.

“The experience itself made me realize that by setting my mind to something, I can truly accomplish anything I set my mind to. I was challenged every day, both physically and mentally. That gave me a self-confidence I never knew I had.”

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley is sending more than 20 art students to Peru this summer to learn about the country’s rich colonial history through the multiple lenses of Mother Nature, art and architecture.

One group, which was gone May 15 to May 29, was led by two College of Fine Arts professors – Dr. Robert Bradley, associate professor in the School of Art, and Dr. Katherine McAllen, assistant professor in the School of Art.

This was the sixth visit to Peru as a study abroad professor for Bradley.

The trip gives students an essential sense of context they would not be able to understand in a traditional classroom, with an important component of the learning experience involving serious hiking, Bradley said.

One strenuous trek, up the Salkantay Trail, awarded the group with arrival at the iconic Inca “lost city” of Machu Picchu.

“The trekking puts UTRGV students in the footsteps of Andean people, past and present. It also provides a difficult exercise component, which strengthens the overall health, outlook and resolve of our students,” Bradley said. “This course could not be conducted without the living classroom that is Peru.”

Art student Jesus Treviño said he is still in awe of the experience, despite a luggage mishap.

“Being able to see art and history first hand, and to discuss it with like-minded individuals was worth losing my laptop, gaming device and various other things through the airlines,” Treviño said.

“It is a milestone in my life and an unbelievable learning experience that I will never forget.”

Each student has a distinctive part of the trip that they found particularly riveting, but they could all agree that seeing the art up close, with their own eyes, made the trip extraordinary.

Art student Carol Lopez said the study abroad trip completely changed the way she thinks of art.

“Reading about these locations in Cuzco, and learning about the art, is so different from actually seeing them in person,” she said.

“There is a sense of magic to it. The Plaza de Armas was so different from the images I had seen … the plaza was so green and full of life, so unlike the images I had seen.

“Seeing everything in person gave what I have been studying a new purpose, more meaning,” Lopez said, “like putting a face to a name.”

A second group – with students from the Honors College under the guidance of Bradley and Honors College Dean Mark Anderson – has been in Peru since June 5 and returns June 27.