Summer Spotlight: From Hutchins to Machu Picchu

Daphne Volpp ’24 in Features | September 9, 2022

One of my goals this past summer was to reset and find a healthy balance between challenging myself and relaxation. I had the opportunity to participate in the Hutchins Scholars program and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. Although both activities were challenging in vastly different ways, they both taught me lessons I probably could not have learned any other way. More than anything, I learned to live in the moment, a lesson I hope to carry with me throughout this school year.

The first program I participated in was Hutchins Scholars in Science Research, during which I stayed on campus for two weeks to gain experience with reading scientific literature and working in the lab. My time was certainly very rewarding, but it did come with its challenges. My first night back on campus, we were given around 70 pages of reading on molecular biology. My friend and I decided to read it together, and the first page alone took us 30 minutes to get through. Given this discouraging start, I was very nervous about the program and unsure whether or not I was adequately prepared. The next day, we were expected to give presentations on the previous night’s reading, and although I was nervous, I spoke about what I knew and even mentioned what I was not entirely sure about. I got through that class and all our other assignments because I kept pushing forward. When I was exhausted and felt like I couldn’t complete a reading, I would take it one page at a time. Each page I read I was a page closer to my goal. These two weeks were a unique opportunity for me to work closely with my fellow classmates with similar academic interests and to push my peers to be both stronger students and people. They taught me not only how to be more comfortable with uncertainty, but also how to achieve difficult tasks and push myself beyond what I thought I could do.

Later in the summer, my family and I went on a trip to Peru to visit my older sister and hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu. The Incans, native to Peru, were quite deliberate in how they planned and built. In the 15th century, the Inca Empire was intent on protecting Machu Picchu from their enemies. The Inca people were known for their craftsmanship, which was evident when you compared their buildings to the imprecise and poorly preserved Spanish colonist reconstructions made hundreds of years later. The Inca Trail was deliberately created to be so physically demanding that only the Inca people could reach Machu Picchu. I personally experienced how physically and mentally challenging the trail was when I got sick on the last night of my trip; the following morning, I could barely walk around our campsite. Although the last day was supposed to be the easiest day of the trek, since we had finished climbing through several high-altitude passes and were heading downhill, the trek pushed me to my limits. All I wanted to do was sleep, but I knew that the only way through was out; I had to keep hiking. I kept telling myself that every step I took would lead me one step closer to Machu Picchu. When my family and I reached our destination, I was filled with relief, but when I look back on this experience now, I appreciate the hike, as well as my family’s grit.

I am very grateful to have had both the opportunity to participate in the Hutchins program and to hike the Inca Trail. Although my two experiences were vastly different, they cemented the same lesson within me: keep pushing and keep working, even when you are on the brink of failure. As the Fall Term resumes, I will take things one step at a time when things get difficult. Sometimes, the best option is to just keep hiking, little by little.