Orientation Package

The Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development

Welcome to the Andean Alliance!

It has been a pleasure reading your applications and we are excited to work with you this January. We have been hosting student groups since 2009 and we are particularly excited this year because of the value this project will add to our agriculture programs and our community knowledge. Essentially, we always want to take a critical look at how our projects are, or are not, adding value to the communities where they are implemented, and how we can improve these projects to be even more impactful. This is a complex concept and we will work as a team to unpack this complexity and understand its components. Besides your individual accomplishments and skills, the reason you have been selected to this program is the legacy of amazing students who have been a part of the AASD. Smart, hardworking students are the foundation of our organization. This practicum is not just an educational opportunity for students; this January will allow all of us to dive deep into the core of our organization, to harness the collective intelligence of our team, and shape the future of our agriculture and community-driven programs. We expect you to work hard and represent. Represent your school, your generation, and the AASD. It’s a busy three weeks and we will also have lots of laughs along the way. Make sure you read the following carefully, it will come in handy. And feel free to reach out with any questions. Can’t wait to see you in Peru.

-All of us at the AASD

About the AASD


Rural communities in the Sacred Valley of Peru often rely on agriculture as  a livelihood. This can be a challenge for the populations who live high in the Andes Mountains, where climate and altitude prevent the cultivation of diverse, nutrient-rich crops, and isolated locations and historical social marginalization impede market access and governmental support. The AASD uses an approach to address this that is highly participatory and focuses heavily on relationship-building and collaboration. Our deeply rooted development philosophy is reflected in the way in which we engage with the communities and the student groups that we work with.


By taking a collaborative approach to addressing community-identified needs, we are able to develop local solutions. We work to support and facilitate locally-driven efforts, rather than bringing solutions from the outside. This fosters ownership of the projects by the community, which in turn promotes sustainability. The AASD has a strong commitment to utilizing and learning from local innovation, which strengthens our projects and our organization.


The second pillar of our philosophy centers on harnessing collective intelligence to support our projects and our organization. We embrace the opportunity to work with diverse student groups and believe that we benefit and grow from the contributions of the students we work with. As a learning organization, we value the knowledge we gain from these groups, as well as the input and knowledge of the local communities.


A key aspect of our approach is accountability to the communities we work with. The AASD believes that our primary stakeholders are the people we support, and we avoid situations which compromise our responsibility to them. To this end, we do not accept funding from sources whose philosophy is not congruent with our own, so we never have to balance the interests of the communities with the demands of our funders. We value people over projects and impact over quantity.


The AASD was founded in 2009 and became a certified 501c3 in 2011. It is a registered nonprofit in both the United States and in Peru. The organization was founded by Aaron Ebner, Adam Stieglitz, and Ruben Huaman Quispe, a local farmer from the town of Choquecancha. The AASD was created when Aaron and Adam were both students at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, studying for their master’s degrees in Public Administration.

From its inception the organization has focused on community-identified problems. The first project was a greenhouse, built in the community of Pampacorral. Aaron initiated this project after being approached by the school director, who was seeking to provide more nutritious lunches to students. Since then, the AASD has facilitated the building of 12 school greenhouses, and more than 150 family greenhouses. It has also launched several other programs in addition to the flagship greenhouse program, and has developed an ambitious experiential learning program to provide students the opportunity to add value to their education though hands-on field experience.

Programs and Projects


The School Greenhouse Project is the flagship project of the AASD. Since 2009, this project has taken important steps to combat malnutrition in the Andes. According to a study conducted by the Peru Health Outreach Project, “Peru has the second highest prevalence of malnutrition in South America, with the highest rates of malnutrition and undernutrition in children from rural communities or indigenous populations.” Statistics from the Peruvian Ministry of Health show that in 2010, three out of every four children in the district of Lares was malnourished. The AASD has worked with community members, and together they have built 12 School greenhouses in nine communities. In addition to providing a nutritious contribution to the children’s school lunches, these greenhouses present an opportunity for local technicians to teach vegetable cultivation to students and teachers.


From the success of the School Greenhouse Project came our Family Greenhouse Project, in 2012. As students returned to their homes excited about the agriculture lessons they learned in school that day, their parents became interested and wanted the opportunity to cultivate vegetables at home as well. The AASD has worked in around ten communities to collaborate on more than 150 family greenhouses.

The school and family greenhouse projects have enabled families to introduce fresh vegetables into their regular diets and improve their economic opportunities. These projects have also done much more than this. Many families have built upon the model to incorporate unique and innovative additions, such as irrigation systems. Perhaps one of the most significant measures of the success of this project is the fact that communities have taken ownership of the process and begun to build their own greenhouses, and work directly with the local government to accomplish their goals.


The AASD established a demonstration farm in late January of 2012 to increase its impact on food sovereignty in the Sacred Valley of Peru and surrounding Andean farming communities. The AASD used the space to experiment with sustainable cultivation techniques, resulting in a fusion of traditional and modern ecological growing practices.

Over the last few years, activities at the original demonstration farm have shifted to the EcoHuella farm, owned and run by the Nina family. Julio, Yesica and Janet Nina-Cusiyupanqui are three siblings who are pursuing an innovative model of agriculture extension on their family farm in the Campesino community of Sacclio. Here they use traditional methods of knowledge transfer to facilitate campesino-campesino exchanges of best practices in sustainable agriculture. By emulating the way indigenous farmers have been learning and sharing knowledge for thousands of years, they have experienced greater success than with the western-style teaching programs that are typically employed by the government.

Through the collaboration between AASD and EcoHuella we adapt and fuse practices from various schools of ecological agriculture including agroecology, bio-intensive farming, permaculture, greenhouse growing, local soil fertility methods, and more. The resulting methods are adapted to be geographically and culturally relevant. All methods utilize local, low-cost resources, making innovative ecological cultivation techniques accessible to local farmers. The farm is a collaborative space where AASD holds various types of workshops adapted to the intended audience. Participants range from individuals from the communities in which AASD works with family greenhouses to local farmers interested in ecological practices.


In addition to agricultural initiatives, a second pillar of the AASD platform is experiential learning. The AASD has cultivated relationships with universities and grad schools throughout the United States, which offer students the opportunity to participate in a range of experiential learning programs. These programs allow students to add value to their education by taking lessons from the classroom and implementing them in a real-world setting. Students work closely with communities and the organization, learning firsthand about the challenges and realities of development work and field research.

The AASD offers a wide range of programs that appeal to students from many different fields. Many of these programs are researched based. Currently, our research is focused on supporting agriculture communities; specifically, identifying effective methods for agriculture extension, climate change adaptation strategies, and best practices. Students engage in community research, Geographic Information System (GIS) data mapping, and other forms of data collection and analysis. Through these programs, students gain specific skills and expertise, as well as honing significant intangible capabilities.

A second direction students may take their immersive experience with the AASD is to focus on organizational operations. For example, many students have contributed to organizational analysis, program monitoring and evaluation, and strategic plans. This gives students with an organizational management focus the opportunity to practice these critical skills, and have a positive impact on organizational processes.

The AASD is dedicated to providing holistic, impactful experiential learning programs. Not only do these programs offer many opportunities for students to get the most out of their education, they also allow the AASD to continue learning and innovating. The input of students helps the organization to remain critical and accountable, as well as pushing it to grow and develop in the projects it undertakes and the methodologies used.

Policies and Procedures


The AASD is selective about the students and volunteers that are invited to work in Peru, and seeks out highly motivated and capable team members. When a program participant works with the organization they are seen as a contributing member, and their input and ideas are valued.

Program participants can expect a high degree of autonomy in how their time is spent and in the work that they do. If a students or volunteer feels that they are not receiving enough guidance, or if they desire more freedom, they are encouraged to bring this to the attention of the team lead or other staff member. The AASD appreciates all feedback that can help improve the experience of program participants, and tries to keep an open dialogue on this topic.

Students and volunteers who come to Peru are expected to be engaged, and are encouraged to think critically. One facet of the program is to analyze the development process, and it is hoped that this critical thinking will extend to other aspects of the program as well. Students should feel comfortable in the knowledge that the AASD welcomes students to ask question, give suggestions, and participate in decision making processes.


Your safety while in Peru is of the highest importance to the AASD and we work hard to insure your health and well being. However, we recognize that the area where we live and work presents adherent risks. Steps have been taken to manage these risks, but nothing can guarantee complete protection from harm. The AASD recommends that volunteers and students take the time to familiarize themselves with research of the area and the possible health hazards before committing to a program, and that all possible steps are taken for personal protection. For information on personal health and safety while traveling, the CDC is a good resource: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/page/survival-guide

For information about emergent problems and government warnings worldwide, see the government travel alert page: http://www.travel.state.gov/content/passports/en/alertswarnings.html

We also recommend that each participant sign up with the STEP Travel Program


The AASD has systems in place and measures to ensure that our programs are safe. Some of these measures include creating policies to protect the health and safety of program participants, staff, and the communities where we work. It is critical that these policies are adhered to in order to insure their effectiveness. It is the responsibility of every participant to follow the guidelines laid out in the policies, protocols, and procedures of this handbook, as well as the AASD Medical Safety Manual, which outlines our policies in greater detail.

Another pillar of our safety procedures is the relationships we have fostered in the communities where we live and work. The AASD has established ties with many healthcare professionals and medical consultants, who are available to support our program staff and program participants should a need arise.

The AASD prioritizes the safety of our programs participants. We will not take avoidable risks with transportation or in any other way put program participants in harm’s way. For this reason, some programs may be altered or changed to respond to emergent safety issues such as landslides, political unrest, or unsafe traveling conditions.

In the event of an illness, procedures have been established to facilitate receiving the necessary level of treatment. Our procedures should complement, not replace, any recommendations made by your travel insurance company. Therefore it is of utmost importance that you understand your own policy and how to utilize it while abroad.

There are many pharmacies around Calca and nearby areas where medicine can be purchased to treat minor illnesses and discomforts. A member of the AASD staff is happy to accompany you to purchase these supplies, or purchase them for you if this is more comfortable for you. Host families are also prepared to be a resource in the event of minor health concerns, but please rely on the AASD for any illness requiring significant attention or time. Please note that the cost of medications is not included in the program fee, and it is the responsibility of the student or volunteer to pay for these or reimburse staff or host family members who purchase medicine for you.

Should an illness require professional medical attention, please bring this to the awareness of the AASD staff. In the event of an illness, we are happy to accompany participants to a nearby approved clinic or hospital as the situation requires. However, we are unable to help if we do not know about a health concern. It is very important that medical problems be brought to our attention in a timely manner so we can get you the help you require.



In the event of a severe medical emergency requiring that a participant return home, the AASD will help with travel arrangements if needed. Please note that all associated costs will be the responsibility of the participant.

Many schools provide international health insurance for their students traveling abroad. We require all program participants to have international medical insurance. If you do not have international medical insurance and need to purchase it, there are many providers listed on the internet. We have found that World Nomads, Atlas Travel, Travel Insured International and International Medical Group are a few companies that provide reasonably priced insurance. In addition to these links, we have included a few other resources to help you find the insurance that is right for you. Please note, all insurance costs are the responsibility of the participant.



In the unlikely event of a natural disaster or other country-level emergency, all program participants are instructed to meet at the AASD home office to be accounted for. Program leads will be responsible for transportation from communities if students or volunteers are in the field at the outbreak of the event. Contact with families will be made as soon as possible to provide them with updates as required by the situation. If you are not traveling with a school or other group that provides emergency evacuation insurance, private evacuation insurance is widely available should you choose to purchase it. Once again, note that the costs associated with purchasing insurance is solely the responsibility of the participant. Feel free to contact us with questions.

The address of the AASD office is:
417 Ucayali, Calca, Cusco, Peru


Should the family of a program participant need to reach the participant in the event of an emergency at home, they should contact the Student Coordinator. The Student Coordinator will be able to contact the student if they are in the field, and facilitate any necessary action. Please only reach out to the Student Coordinator in an emergency, as they will be unlikely to disrupt the program for minor concerns. Email and other forms of communication should be used to communicate directly with students and volunteers for matters that are not time sensitive and highly important. We encourage families to wait for students or volunteers to contact them for updates, as reaching students can be challenging due to limited cell service and internet in the areas where we work.

Anna Galbraith, Student Coordinator
Local Phone: +51 949 450 915
(When calling from a U.S. landline, you may need to dial 011 prior to the number)

Student/Volunteer Conduct


The drinking age in Peru is 18. As with all local laws, we expect this to be honored by all program participants. The AASD will not tolerate excessive drinking on AASD property, including transportation or lodging contracted by the AASD. No drinking will take place during program work hours or activities. While we cannot regulate your behavior while you are away from AASD property, remember that you are representing the organization at all times. We value our good reputation and trust program participants to conduct themselves responsibly. The AASD places the highest importance on safety, and we will take necessary disciplinary measures, up to and including expulsion, should someone endanger themselves or others due to excessive drinking.

Alcohol consumption that compromises a participant’s ability to contribute to activities or hinders the program from meeting its objectives will be addressed and will result in first a written warning and agreement between the participant and AASD. A second infraction will result in the participant being sent home at his or her expense.


The AASD has a zero tolerance policy towards the use of illegal substances. This applies to drugs that are deemed illegal under either United States or Peruvian law. Use or possession of illegal drugs, including prescription medication that has not been prescribed, may result in disciplinary action, including expulsion. Please note, it is the responsibility of the student or volunteer to familiarize them self with local laws regarding illegal substances. The AASD will hold all program participants responsible under these laws, and will not accept lack of knowledge as a reason for infringement.


The AASD abides by all local laws, and expects program participants to do so as well. Lack of compliance may result in punitive action on the part of local law enforcement. Please familiarize yourself with local regulations to prevent negative interactions with law enforcement. Some resources are provided below, but we encourage personal research as well.


The AASD is committed to ensuring an environment free from any form of sexual harassment, and we will investigate and resolve all reports of sexual harassment. Every staff member, community partner, student, and volunteer is responsible for upholding this policy. AASD policy prohibits any staff member or community partner from engaging in a sexual relationship with a student or volunteer during their time here. All staff, community partners, students and volunteers are encouraged to report cases of sexual harassment, which will be handled with discretion and sensitivity. Please report any concerns to the student coordinator, or another staff member if this is more comfortable.

Additionally, the AASD prohibits any form of discrimination or harassment based on race, color, age, sexual preference, gender, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, political leaning, veteran status, or other personal characteristics. Any remarks or behavior that create an environment of tension or discomfort will not be tolerated.


Most of our programs have clearly scheduled “work days” and “free days”. Students and volunteers are at liberty to use free days or free time in any manner they choose. We encourage travel and exploration, Peru has many experiences to offer! Please be aware that during this time, students and volunteers are responsible for their safety and well being. Please be mindful of conduct, as you still represent the organization. Program staff are happy to offer advice and support if you wish to travel, however, program staff is not responsible for making travel or excursion arrangements for you during your free time.

Should a student or volunteer make arrangements to be gone during their free time, we ask that you please notify a staff member of this intention. In the case of an emergency we need to know where all program participants are. If you are staying with a host family and plan to be gone overnight, please notify your family so they do not worry.


Many program participants have the unique opportunity to interact very closely with local communities and community members. It is very important that students and volunteers treat this opportunity and the people they meet with respect and dignity. Moreover, should a student or volunteer feel uncomfortable or disrespected by a member of the community, please bring this to the attention of an AASD staff member. Our programs are based on a culture of mutual respect and sharing, and we value the relationships we hold with the communities.


Many of our programs involve data collection in the communities. The AASD encourages program participants to remain engaged with the information they collect, and, in most cases, sanctions the use of this data for analytic and/or reporting purposes following the close of the program. Please keep the AASD informed if you intend to use data collected through one of our programs, and work with an AASD staff member to ensure the appropriate use of this data and proper attribution.


Students and volunteers are asked to please check with an AASD staff member before borrowing any equipment or taking equipment off premises. You are responsible for any equipment in your possession until it is returned to the AASD. Please avoid exposing equipment to excessive temperatures or sunlight, liquids, food, magnetic fields, or in other ways damaging the equipment.


Failure to comply with any of these policies and protocols may result in disciplinary procedures. The health and safety of program participants and respect of local communities are very important to us. Should these be jeopardized, expulsion from the program is reserved as a right of the AASD. Depending on the severity of the offense, disciplinary actions may include:

  • Verbal warning
  • Written Warning
  • Exclusion from specific activities
  • Probation
  • Expulsion


Many programs require a non-refundable deposit. The amount and due date of this deposit is dependent on the program, and you will be informed of this through your program specific materials and communication. Should you decide to drop out of a program prior to arrival in Peru, your program fee, minus the nonrefundable deposit will be returned to you. Once you have begun a program the program fee is nonrefundable. Should you fail to complete the program, the program fee is forfeited. Refunds given in the event of departure due to an emergency will be treated on a case by case basis.

Changes of program and changes of program specifics (e.g. length of program) will be treated on a case by case bases. Please contact the AASD if you wish to make specific requests in relation to your program.
Sometimes, during a program, changes will have to be made to the program itinerary due to unforeseen circumstances. Please be prepared to be flexible with specific program plans, as working in developing countries brings a degree of uncertainty and adaptation. The AASD will remain transparent and upfront about any changes that must be made, and will maintain open lines of communication about upcoming itineraries.


There are many websites that offer travel advice and can help you to prepare for your time in Peru. We encourage you to do your own due diligence before you arrive. Here are a few suggested websites to get you started:


General Rules and Advice


  • Office Hours are generally from 9:00am- 5:00pm Monday-Friday. Please do not hang out in the office outside of these hours without prior approval from staff. There are many internet cafes around town  if you need to use the internet late.
  • Please arrange with a staff member before cooking meals in the AASD kitchen. All food, utensils, etc. are property of staff and shouldn’t be used without permission.
  • Both students and staff are responsible for the cleanliness of the office and each individual is responsible for cleaning up dishes, work spaces, etc.
  • Do not throw toilet paper in the toilet. Use the wastebasket near the toilet.
  • Do not smoke in the office or rooms. Smoking outside of the office is OK.


  • Clean up after yourself. Your host family will clean rooms and change sheets about every week or so, but the volunteers are expected to keep rooms and other areas, if you use them, generally tidy. No dirty dishes in rooms, as they attract pests.
  • No smoking in the house.
  • Many homestay families lock their doors at night (usually at 10:00pm), please be aware of any curfew or time requirements by your homestay and honor these rules diligently.
  • If you aren’t coming home for the night, let your host family know so they don’t worry.
  • Sexual relationships between students and host families are not allowed.
  • Most of our families do not have internet, and those that do normally have limited data. We ask that students not use the family’s internet unless in an emergency.
  • We prefer that volunteers have laundry done at one of the lavandarias around town. They usually charge around S./4 per kilo, and take 1-3 days to have it ready for pick-up. If a host family offers to let volunteers use their washing machine, or to wash laundry for them, the cost is S./6 per load. Please buy your own detergent. You can find it in any store in Calca.
  • If you are sick, it is okay to ask your host family (or AASD) to get the help you need. Please make sure that you are paying all associated costs of medical attention and medicine. These are not included in program fees.
  • For more tips on how to live with a host family, check this list


  • Please use caution when in larger cities (Cusco, Lima, etc.). While generally safe during the day, nights, especially weekend nights, can become dangerous. It is not uncommon to come across fights on the street. There are some that prey on people that are incapacitated by alcohol at night. If volunteers go out, please let someone know where you are. Always stay with people that you know. Never walk at night alone by yourself.
  • Have toilet paper and hand sanitizer with you wherever you go.
  • Be prepared for any weather. It can change from sun to rain very quickly. This includes rain gear, hat, and sunblock. It is advisable to wear many layers.
  • Drink only filtered or boiled water. Generally, it is ok to brush your teeth with tap water.
  • Do not work if you are sick. It is important to rest and take care of yourself. It is better to stay in Calca if you are sick, as medical care can be more difficult to access in the communities. Please refer to the health policy, and be sure to tell a staff member if you are sick and need assistance.
  • While it is OK to take pictures in the communities, please do so minimally. Be respectful of people and the community. If you say you will print a picture for someone, you must follow through. For more information about ethical photography, please check out this page

Other Considerations


Calca is situated at the heart of the Sacred Valley on a major road. Because of this, transportation throughout the valley is fairly easy using public transportation: combis (small buses), buses, and taxis. Combi drivers generally travel on specified routes and charge a set amount. Taxi drivers frequently try to take advantage of foreigners, and fare can generally be negotiated. Find out beforehand what the typical fare is for the trip you are making. Be sure you agree on a price with the taxi driver before traveling anywhere.

Public transportation typically is safe, though seatbelts are uncommon. The drivers are very familiar with their routes and at times can drive faster than is comfortable. Do not feel uncomfortable asking the driver to slow down if you do not feel safe.

Typical fare in a combi for common routes:

  • Cusco-Calca: 5 or 6 soles
  • Calca-Pisac: 2 soles
  • Calca-Urubamba: 1.5-2 soles
  • Urubamba-Ollantaytambo: 2-3 soles
  • Moto-taxis around Calca 1.5 soles

Note: Buses typically do not run very late, if you plan to be out late expect to stay where you are, or rent a taxi (which can be expensive late at night). Depending on where you are, the last bus is usually between 7:30 and 9:00.


Cuzco sits at 3400 m (11200 ft). Symptoms of altitude sickness are common during the first few days of your visit due to a lower amount of oxygen available in the air. Mild headache, tiredness and loss of appetite are normal responses that require rest and patience until acclimatized. The over-the-counter drug Diamox can be taken as a preventative a few days before your flight to Cuzco. Please be aware of your symptoms and take appropriate actions (rest, drink plenty of water or electrolyte drinks, sip on medicinal coca leaf tea, avoid alcohol, cigarettes and heavy eating) to help your body acclimate- everyone reacts differently.


Peruvian drinking culture may be different from what you are used to; for example, moderation in drinking is less common. For the most part, inebriated persons are harmless and will generally ignore you. However, it is recommended that you don’t travel alone after dark. Do not hesitate to be firm or alert a police officer if a drunk person is bothering you. Also, if you find yourself in a situation where you are being pressured to drink, do not feel compelled to comply.


Most of the street dogs in Peru are friendly. Should you feel threatened by a dog, miming that you are picking up a rock will generally scare them away. In extreme situations, it may be necessary to actually throw a rock at a dog, but this is very rare.


Peru is generally a safe place for women to travel. That being said, be prepared for a degree of unwanted male attention, especially if you visit any of the larger cities. Groping in crowded places, such as buses, is not unheard of. Cat calls may happen, especially if you are walking alone. The best way to handle this is to ignore it. We recommend that you travel with a buddy if you are out at night.

In the communities, the culture is much more conservative. Male attention here is very infrequent. Rather, you may find that both men and women are very shy and reluctant to meet your eye. Most often, you will find community members to be warm, welcoming, and polite in your presence.

Please note: maxi-pads are widely available at any store or pharmacy, however tampons are much more difficult (sometimes impossible) to find.

For more information about traveling as a women in Peru, check out these resources:


Working in the Communities


For most, working in the communities is a rewarding experience. The AASD has cultivated warm relationships which afford students and community members the opportunity to exchange ideas and learn from each other. When traveling to communities there are some important things to keep in mind.


Many of the communities are more rural than Calca and, typically, they have limited restroom facilities. In the most rural, you can expect to have access to a squat toilet in an outhouse type building. Please do not put toilet paper in this type of toilet. There is usually a wastebasket in the outhouse for paper. Additionally, there is usually a bucket in or around the outhouse to get water if you need to flush. We recommend that you bring toilet paper with you, as it is not always available.

If you are sleeping in the communities please be aware that you will most likely be sleeping in a group, dorm style room. Depending on the size of the group, this may be a mixed-gender room. Please let your team leader know ahead of time if you are uncomfortable sharing a sleeping room with the opposite gender. Beds and bedding will be provided, but it is not a bad idea to bring a sleeping bag if you have one, as it can get cold at night at high altitudes.


Weather in the communities can change suddenly and frequently. Generally, in the farther away communities, it is slightly colder than in Calca, but can get very warm as well. Dress and/or bring clothing for a spectrum of temperatures and weather- layering is key. Rain gear and sunscreen are recommended. Your team leader will give plenty of advanced notice of how far you will be traveling and what to anticipate in terms of weather and clothing needs.

Another factor to keep in mind when traveling to the communities is that, in most cases, there will be a significant amount of hiking and physical exertion. Dress appropriately with comfortable shoes for waking and layers. Bring water.

The communities tend to be more conservative in terms of dress. Avoid tank tops and shorts, both for cultural reasons and for sun exposure/mosquitos reasons


If you are staying in the communities meals are usually fairly simple- rice, potatoes, chicken, eggs, plantains, and tomatoes are common. If you are a vegetarian or have a restricted diet you can expect this to be even more basic. When walking around and meeting people it is not uncommon for them to give you potatoes or other food as a snack. It is customary to accept all gifts of food, even if you are not hungry or inclined to eat the food. It is perfectly acceptable to put it in a bag to save for later, or to dispose of it as you see fit once you have left the house.

An exception to the rule of accepting food is in the case of chicha or other alcohol. Chicha is an alcoholic beverage made of fermented corn which you will probably be offered at some point during your program. Feel free to taste it if you would like, or politely decline. A word of warning: if you drink chicha, avoid following it with dairy products such as yogurt or cheese.

Cultural Adjustment


Regardless of how much an international traveler prepares, there is inevitably a time of adjustment as they familiarize themselves with a new area and culture, modify their expectations, shift into a new language, and meet new people. This time of adjustment can be an exciting time, but it can also bring a degree of stress and uncertainty. Recognizing your natural processes and being sensitive to your physical and mental needs during this time can help to smooth out this transition and make this a positive experience. While everyone’s cultural adjustment is different, most people progress through the following stages:

  1. Honeymoon Phase (Euphoria)
    • Feelings of excitement, anticipation, and enthusiasm
    • Everything is new and interesting
    • In your happiness you tend to smile and nod, even if you don’t understand
  2. Cultural Confrontation (Frustration)
    • Frustration and tiredness when using a foreign language
    • Homesickness
    • Longing for familiar food and conveniences
    • Anger, anxiety, and hostility
    • Culture shock that results in disappointment and irritability
      • Tiredness
      • Low energy
      • Changes in eating and sleeping habits
  3. Cultural Adaptation (Humor)
    • Relaxed, energy level returning to normal
    • Seeing humor in minor mishaps and mistakes
    • Feeling more comfortable and less frustrated
    • Absorbing information becomes easier
    • Greater sense of regularity and normality
  4. Home Stage (acceptance)
    • New culture feels like a second home
    • Able to make comparisons between new culture and home culture and see value in both
    • Sense of ease and understanding

Cultural adjustment provides the opportunity for international travelers to develop and grow- it is a time to learn about yourself as well as new cultures. It is a process though which you completely immerse and sensitize yourself to a new culture in a way that goes beyond the intellectual level.

Once you have passed through the difficult stages, most people emerge with a deep understanding and appreciation for cultural differences and unique characteristics.


As you experience cultural adjustment, it is important to recognize and be patient with yourself and the process. This is a unique learning experience that can be very rewarding and lead to immense personal growth. Keep in mind, there are some steps you can take to help ease the shock of immersing yourself in a new culture:

  1. Talk with other people who are going through or have gone through a similar experience
  2. Maintain a good sense of humor and look on the positive side of things
  3. Set realistic expectations for yourself and give yourself plenty of time to accomplish tasks
  4. Stray open minded and flexible- not everything will make sense right away, and that is OK
  5. Ask questions
  6. Try to make friends in the host culture- a cultural ambassador can explain things to you when you are confused or unsure
  7. Recognize that culture shock is normal and it will pass
  8. Write down what you are going through in a journal
  9. Prepare yourself to enter a new culture by taking the time to learn about it: its customs, history, politics, etc.
  10. Take care of yourself- eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and rest when you need to

Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of the AASD staff with questions or concerns. We are here to support you in any way we can during your cultural transition.

More information about food can be found in FAQ


There is no visa requirement to enter Peru, and all airport taxes are usually included in the cost of your flight. You must have a passport that is valid for the length of your stay, PLUS SIX MONTHS PAST THE ENTRY DATE. Upon entry into Peru you will go through customs, where you will receive a tourist visa stamp that is valid for 30-183 days. If you will be staying for longer than 30 days it is a good idea to ask for the amount of time you need.


There are two ATMs in Calca. There are also several places that exchange money from dollars into soles. Most ATMs have a S./400 per withdrawal limit, and a limit of S./800 per day- though this may be higher in the larger cities.

There are no ATMs in the communities, so money should be withdrawn prior to travel. Your team lead will advise you if there will be textiles available for purchase, or any other reason to bring money. The current exchange rate is approximately US$1.00=PEN 3.3

Be sure to check with your bank about ATM/credit card fees, and alerting them to your travel plans. Note that Calca and area communities are almost entirely cash-based economies so don’t plan on using a card (besides at the two ATMs available in Calca). Dollars can be exchanged for soles at the airport, but usually at a poor rate. Depending on your bank, it might be best to get soles from an ATM at the Lima airport (if going through there). We recommend (but are in no way affiliated with) Charles Schwab for debit cards, since there are no ATM fees.


Because of the high altitude, Calca does not have problems with mosquitos or mosquito-borne illnesses. The CDC suggests that travelers to all parts of Peru make sure they are up to date on routine vaccines, as well as Hepatitis A and Typhoid, as these can be contracted through contaminated water or food. The AASD recommends that you consult a travel doctor 4-6 weeks prior to your trip to learn what vaccines or other precautions are recommended for this area.

To avoid waterborne illness you can bring a water filtration system (water pump, Steripen, or drops).

The AASD will have filtered water available at the office and homestay locations, and will bring a water filter on longer community visits. Bottled water is also available for purchase.


The rainy season in Peru is from November- Mid April. During this time expect dry mornings and heavy precipitation in the afternoons. January and February are especially wet times of the year.

Temperatures are usually mild, hovering around the 60s, with a small dip in temperature at night.

During the dry season (Mid April- October), days are hot and dry, with an extreme dip in temperature at night, usually to just above freezing.

In the mountains, weather is very fickle and can change suddenly and often. It is a good idea to leave the house prepared for anything, regardless of how it looks outside. At all times of the year, sunscreen and rain gear are recommended.


While there is no specific dress code, modest attire is recommended. The communities are fairly conservative in the way they dress, and we recommend following their model when staying there.

While the crime rate in Calca is extremely low, wearing lots of jewelry can signify that you possess wealth and mark you as a target of opportunity. Generally, leaving expensive jewelry at home is safer to prevent losing or damaging it.

Most of our programs require a significant amount of hiking and working outside. Dress comfortably for physical exertion, and wear layers. We cannot stress enough how important it is to bring good rain gear, especially if you will be working in the communities, where it tends to rain more.


For the majority of our programs someone will meet you at the airport. However, in case you are coming on your own, the trip is fairly easy to make and inexpensive. From the airport, take a taxi to Calle Puputi, where you can catch a combi to Calca (there will be several combis with drivers yelling “Calca” to signify where they are going). The price of the taxi depends on where you get it- from inside the airport it generally costs S./15-30, if you walk outside the airport you can usually catch one for S./6-10. The combi should cost S./4-6. Once you arrive in Calca, the Combis usually drop off either in the central Plaza, or at the bus terminal.

Another option is to take a taxi from the airport all the way to Calca. From outside the airport, this will usually cost S./50-70 depending on the time of day.


Some cell phones do have international plans, and many program participants avail themselves of these plans for staying in contact with home. Check with your provider for costs before coming to Peru, and if you do not intend to use an international plan be sure you turn off your data usage option upon arrival to avoid incurring charges.

If having a phone is important to you, Peruvian SIM cards can be purchased for most unlocked phones. We recommend checking out this page for more information on using your phone abroad.


Sending and receiving mail is expensive and unreliable, so we do not recommend doing so if it is at all avoidable. There is a post office in Calca for sending postcards. An international stamp for a postcard currently costs S./6.50.


There are many internet cafes around Calca and nearby towns, however, most homes do not have wifi. The AASD office has internet during office hours. Please note that we discourage using the office internet for purposes other than work, as it is low bandwidth and the more people use it the slower it is.


Two-pronged cords work in most outlets in Peru, however, very few electrical outlets have a spot for a ground. Three to two prong converters are cheap to purchase at most hardware stores. The electrical current in Peru is 220v, but we have not found this to be a problem with American electronics, which use 110v.

Please inform the AASD prior to your arrival of any dietary restrictions. These can usually be accommodated, though this may limit the diversity of your meals. Food in Peru usually consists of various grains (often rice or corn), meat, potatoes, and vegetables.

At restaurants, most Peruvians order the set menu of the day, which consists of a soup, main course with meat and a starch, and sometimes dessert and a drink. For vegetarians, the main dish can usually be substituted for rice, egg, and tomatoes. Be prepared to eat this meal frequently.

Many vegetarians like to bring granola bars, nut butter, or other dietary supplements to create more variety in their diet. Food can also be brought to the communities to have prepared if you have a specific dietary need or desire while traveling.

For the majority of our programs, three meals a day will be provided Monday through Friday. For the weekends we usually do not provide food, as many participants travel on the weekends. We encourage you to try different restaurants, or even try your hand at cooking food from the market or the farm. Preparing group meals can be a fun way to spend time together and enjoy great food!

Water in Peru is not potable. Only drink water that has been filtered or boiled. All vegetables served in program meals have been washed in safe water. This is not always the case in restaurants, so until your body has begun to adjust to the food, it is a good idea to avoid fresh leafy greens in restaurants. Always avoid the mayonnaise that is left on the tables in some restaurants.


Many of our programs require a high degree of physical work- either agricultural work or hiking in the communities. Information specific to your program should be available in the program materials, or through communication with the program lead. Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with any questions relevant to your program.

Staff Contacts

Director of Experiential Learning Programs

Experiential Learning Programs Manager