JOHNSTOWN - Leah Reinke, who graduated this year from Fulton-Montgomery Community College, didn't want to pass up the opportunity to see Peru.
"Machu Picchu was my favorite experience," Reinke said, referring to the Incan estate built on a mountain ridge in the 1400s. "It was breathtaking to see that a bunch of people who are about 5 feet 5 inches actually climbed up these mountains at such high altitudes to build this city of stone. The pictures do it no justice."
Reinke was among 11 FM art students and alumni who embarked on a journey to Peru in May as part of college's first travel-study experience.
Tyler Schrader of Johnstown and Ye Hyun Lee of Seoul Korea sketch Moche Culture ceramic pieces in the Larco Museum in Lima, Peru.
Shown at Machu Picchu are, from left, Ye Hyun Lee, Brittany Larowe, Hayley Ferrara, Lucas Chapin, Erin Niland, Leah Reinke, Joel Chapin, James Burd, Luke Brunetto-Burd and Tyler Schrader.
The trip was the culmination of a course that focused on the art, architecture and culture of the Andes from its earliest civilizations to the Inca Empire and eventually the Spanish conquest, said FM professor of fine arts Joel Chapin.
"Seeing something in a textbook is only a two-dimensional experience, but experiencing something when it is right in front of you, it leaves a lasting impression," Chapin said.
The three-credit course took the students from the modern-day coastal capital city of Lima to Machu Picchu, the estate of an Incan ruler, and Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca. The course took place in the spring semester and culminated with the trip from May 20 to 28.
Fine arts major Tyler Schrader said the trip was "the chance of a lifetime."
"I couldn't pass up the opportunity," he said. "The whole experience was unreal. The art was beautiful and it was amazing to see it in person."
Upon arriving in the country in South America, Chapin said, students had to quickly adjust to the 11,000-foot elevation of Cuzco.
The group traveled by bus, train and airplane.
Reinke said it was a unique experience to go from a modern city such as Lima, which she compared to New York City, to the ancient cities such as Cuzco.
"You could just feel the history," Reinke said. "It was also cool to see all the llamas there. Llamas there are like dogs here; they are just so common and all over the place."
Chapin said the students also enjoyed tasting indigenous Andean foods such as guinea pig, alpaca, quinoa and chica.
Some of the students said the alpaca was good.
"I didn't even know it was alpaca until someone told me," Reinke said. "It was really good, though, but then we tried guinea pig, and it was really weird, but I had to try it."
Reinke said her ability to speak Spanish helped. One of her most memorable experiences was visiting the local orphanages.
"If you just took a minute to talk to them, they were extremely grateful," she said. "It was sad because all the kids had parasites from drinking the water. It just felt good to help out and hear about their lives. They are happy to get the attention and they should get that when they are little."
The students kept a travel journal, and many recorded what they were seeing in sketch books.
Two other colleges joined FM in Peru, and Chapin said the interaction was positive because it allowed the FM students to share their experiences with peers from the State University of New York at Alfred and Mansfield College in Pennsylvania.
Reinke will attend SUNY Purchase in the fall and said her experiences in Peru will help her studies in the language and cultures program as well as give her a better understanding of the world.
"It was life-changing," she said. "You are in shock that water is a treat because you can't drink from fountains or faucets. We live in the United States and just have to be extremely grateful that we have those kind of things. Especially coming from such a small area, after going to places like that, you can now see how big the world really is."
Chapin said each of the students paid for the trip, and one student received assistance from an international study grant.
Chapin said he will lead another trip to Belize on Dec. 27 to focus on Mayan civilization.
"Colleges need to expand students understanding of the world," FM President Dustin Swanger said. "We certainly do that in one way with a large international population on campus, but it's equally important to give students the opportunity to travel the world."