Student profile: Brian Boerner
Student profile: Brian Boerner

Senior Brian Boerner took 12 hours of coursework this summer, but it wasn’t in the halls of the Harper Center. It was in the mountains of Peru, specifically Villa El Salvador, in the province of Ayacucho, and the Amazonian village city of Iquitos. And they weren’t business courses but classes in Spanish, theology and sociology.

Boerner, a business intelligence and analytics and marketing double major and history minor, traveled to Peru with 16 other Creighton students as part of a six-week service immersion course led by Creighton theology professor Tom Kelly, PhD. Other professors on the course included Jose Migel Lemus, PhD, assistant professor of Spanish at Creighton, and PhD candidate Kyle Woolley from Loyola University Chicago’s sociology department.

Students attended class in the morning and then dedicated their afternoons to service, splitting time between two different service sites over a five-week period. During the last week of the immersion course, they toured Jesuit schools and nonprofits in Ayacucho and capped the program with three days in the Amazon.

For Boerner, service was divided between working in a community kitchen and then helping at a school homework club for kids.

“Immersion” is the operative word in the course description. Woolley, the Loyola Chicago PhD candidate, has spent 10 years cultivating relationships in the communities Creighton students live and work. “He understands what the community needs and how to put students in touch with people in a genuine way that not many other programs can hope to match,” says Boerner.

This depth of connectivity between Creighton students and their Peruvian hosts was the main reason Boerner enrolled in the program. “It has developed an incredible reputation for giving people a genuine experience with marginalized populations in a way that few other trips can accomplish,” he says.

Experiencing this “texture of poverty,” as Boerner’s professors put it, meant experiencing daily what it feels like to live on the margins of society. For Boerner, it was opening the refrigerator and seeing only bread and jam or visiting the cemetery with his host mom and witnessing how difficult it is to pay the yearly $30 fee to maintain a grave plot.

He said the experiences involved “going past the surface of what you can see when you first look at impoverished situations,” he says. “It’s about living with someone and experiencing their day as they live it, instead of their day as you see it.”

Though he embarked on this course with only a few Spanish phrases under his linguistic belt, he learned to communicate with the Peruvians in other ways. He taught his host brother to play the card game Speed and relished the camaraderie he shared with his host mother, who ran a charcoal and stove shop in the local market. “I would sit with her most days and sell charcoal while watching her knit things for her friends and family,” he says. “It was a privilege to live and work with her in that way.”

After the official course ended, Boerner remained in Peru for an additional six weeks to travel. He toured the country’s southern coast, meeting “incredible people” and taking in stunning sights that ran the gamut of rainbow-colored mountains to penguins and sea lions sunning themselves on sandy beaches. His favorite experience? A day spent climbing then running down the desert dunes in Ica. 

Boerner says his time in Peru has caused him to question previously-held views and business practices more deeply in his classes, to “look past a balance sheet and think about what the numbers actually mean for the lives of people.” In his econometrics class, he will analyze the Internet’s effect on education in developing countries. When discussing what globalization means for Wal-Mart in his strategic management class, Boerner envisioned what a business like Wal-Mart would mean for the community of Villa El Salvador in terms of job opportunities versus job losses and the potential for lowering the cost of living.

Travel can certainly be edifying. But it can also be more and foster enduring, life-altering effects. For Boerner, it has “changed the course of how I will work for and with others,” and, at least temporarily, altered his post-graduation career plan. Starting the summer of 2018, he will take what he has learned at Creighton and return to Peru to teach English and help with a business program for high school students.

 “Without a doubt, this trip was one of the best decisions I made in the past three years,” says Boerner. “It has ‘ruined me for life’ in the best possible way.”