Study abroad program brings students to the Amazon

Photo courtesy of Eric Wiener

A rustic ecolodge. The world's largest river. An indigenous Peruvian community.

Those are just some of the adventures that await students headed to the Peruvian Amazon, one of the unique options offered by Ramapo College's study abroad program.

The details of the Peruvian study abroad program were discussed this past Thurssday by  Professors Eric Wiener, Ronald Calderon, and Ashwani Vasishth during an information session last Thursday.

Professor Weiner opened the event by sharing his experience with the Amazon and discussing what the program will entail from an ecological standpoint.

No stranger to the Amazon, Weiner said that he has been traveling to the Amazon for the last 30 years, generally going two or three times per year since being at Ramapo. Weiner explained that he went last June to where the program participants will be staying: a “rustic” ecolodge called the Wasai Eco Lodge overlooking the river.

Students who decide to partake in the program will become very familiar with this river, as they will use it to travel via boats into the city and national parks. On these boat trips, students will have the unique opportunity to observe the vast amount of wildlife native to the Peruvian Amazon.           

Weiner also explained that while there, students will be expected to eat the local diet, though they can make dietary accommodations.

“A big part of the course is experiencing the culture,” said Weiner. “A big part of the culture is food, the humor, and the nature.”

Weiner explained that program participants will be interacting with a small indigenous community of about 1,000 people. Vasishth stated that the name of this community is Boca Parimanu.

“People just seem really relaxed and happy,” he said.

To further immerse themselves into the culture, Weiner also stated that they will be visiting a university, Universidad Nacional Amazónica de Madre de Dios, to engage and hear from local students.

Professor Calderon spoke briefly on the economics of the Peruvian Amazon.

During the program, students will partake in a four credit course called, “Peru – Engaging with Amazonian Livelihoods.” Calderon explained that understanding the livelihoods of the local people is an important component in exploring their culture. In terms of economics, he stated that the course will focus on understanding economic practices involved in the production and distribution of Peruvian Amazonian goods, and the consequences that these practices have both globally and on the local people’s livelihoods.         

Calderon spoke on the importance of the Brazilian nut to the region’s economy, as well as the significance of the relationship local people have with the forest in connection to economics.

Calderon also discussed how the United States is involved with the region’s economy and how the U.S. can begin to replace their exploitative practices with responsible, environmentally friendly ones.      

Professor Vasishth, who will be focusing on the social aspect of the Peruvian Amazonian culture throughout the course, gave a general overview of what the program will entail and answered any general questions students may have.

Vasishth explained that he, Calderon and Weiner will be teaching the course. The program lasts from May 29 to June 27, and Vasishth stated that students will spend half of the course at Ramapo preparing for the program and the other half of the program in the Amazon, based out of the town Porto Maldonado.

Before they go to the Amazon, Vasishth emphasized that explained that the professors will work individually with students to help develop their interests and tailor the course accordingly.

“A lot of work in the beginning is going to be the professors figuring the students out, and then them shaping the course around them,” said Vasishth. He explained getting many students’ perspectives is invaluable, as that is what culture is about: “multiple perspectives.” For this reason, the program encourages students of all different majors     

Vasishth also stated that while at the Amazon, the course will be “intensively hands on.” He explained that it will be primarily focused on field work, and while there will be active discussions, there won’t be lectures.

While the deadline to apply for the program is March 1, interested students can still reach out to the aforementioned professors at or, but must do so as soon as possible. Students can also contact Director of International Education Ben Levy at For students with questions about the application process, contact International Programs Advisor Donna Lane-Baur at For more information about the program, visit