Katherine Wragg - General Teaching Projects in Peru
About a year before I left for Peru I sat down in front of my laptop and started to search the Internet. I was in my 2nd year of a French and Spanish degree and was trying to decide what to do with my Year Abroad. I had already decided to go and study at University in France for the first semester but was determined to find something completely different to do for the Spanish half. A lot of my friends were just heading off to Madrid or Seville but I knew I wanted to go to South America, it’s not often you get the opportunity to just go away somewhere for a few months so I wanted to make the most of it! I had heard of people who had been away with Projects Abroad and decided to look into it further. I attended an Open Day where I got the chance to talk to former volunteers and immediately had my heart set on teaching in Peru. So in March this year I left home and started the long journey to Peru.
At first it wasn’t easy at all, I remember arriving in Cusco absolutely shattered and petrified about what the next few days had in store for me! I was met by Projects Abroad staff at the airport and was taken in a taxi to Urubamba to meet the rest of the staff. Everyone was so friendly and willing to offer help and advise that a massive weight was immediately lifted from my shoulders! I was then taken to meet my host family who welcomed me with an endless supply of Coca tea (although thankfully I didn’t really suffer from the altitude at all).
My first week was the hardest out there partly due to it being the beginning of the school year and partly due to my apparent lack of an immune system – however you can’t be too worried about those kinds of things in such an incredible country, surrounded by what is possibly some of the most amazing scenery in the world and after the first week I settled in to teaching and Peruvian life very quickly.
I taught in General Ollanta school in Urubamba which has been an experience in itself and I have loved every minute of it even despite the teething problems we had at the beginning…My first day at work was also the first day of the Peruvian school year and I arrived with Claire (the teaching supervisor) to discover that half of the school had been knocked down the day before! This meant that there was a timetable nightmare to be resolved - with 700 kids in the school and only enough classrooms for half of them the school decided to teach the 1st, 2nd and 5th grades at school in the morning and the 3rd and 4th grades in the afternoon! This solved half of the problem but then there was the problem of teachers... it was the first day of term and there were only about 3 teachers there! I was the only English teacher (for about the first 4 weeks!) and as I only work in the mornings this meant that the 3rd and 4th grade were getting no English classes at all to start with. I found this really hard as if I could I would have loved to have taught them all but it would have meant teaching from 8am to 6pm non stop! After a couple of weeks though my partner teacher arrived in the school and everything began to settle down!
However 2 months into the school year two Peruvian English teachers arrived in the school which took a lot of the pressure off me in terms of classroom control (the kids are all so excited about learning English which is brilliant but also exhausting when you are trying to teach!) and I can concentrate on making the lessons really fun and interesting for them (and me!) which they really appreciate. The most incredible students are the 1st grade ones who come up to me in break shouting “teacher, teacher!” and then launch into reciting the alphabet in English. I also used to hear them singing the English songs we had been doing in class on the way too and from school most days which was amazing.
I only taught 4 days a week which left lots of time for exploring as I ended up with a 3 day weekend every week! There is such a variety of things to do in Peru from white water rafting, paragliding, salsa dancing, trekking and bungee jumping to visiting Machu Picchu or just going for a weekend away to somewhere such as Lake Titicaca or Arequipa. It was so nice to have the contrast of living and working in one place to then being able to go and be a tourist at the weekends. I loved arriving back in Urubamba on Sunday nights after a weekend away to walk home and see all my students playing in the streets and even shop owners and other local people start to remember you after a while and say hi! I really felt part of the community there which was an amazing feeling!
Due to the fact that I was teaching for 4 months I was allowed 2 weeks holiday allowance which I used to travel to Buenos Aires to visit a friend who was living there for a while. We then travelled up together through Bolivia and back into Peru. It was incredible to be able to see more of South America as both Argentina and Bolivia were completely different to Peru!
Projects Abroad were a fantastic organisation to be a part of. I really felt that if I ever needed anything I could just walk into the office and someone would help me out. Especially on the occasions when I became ill (which unfortunately is inevitable – although there is good medical treatment out there!) the Projects Abroad staff were so helpful and caring that I never felt worried or alone (which I think made my parents back home in England feel a lot better too!).
Teaching in Urubamba has been the most incredible experience of my life so far. Peru is the most amazing country I have ever visited and even though I spent just over 4 months there I still feel like there was so much more I could have seen and done. My advice to volunteers looking to go out to Peru or other similar countries would definitely be to go for as long as possible. The more time you can give to these projects the better, one month is just not enough to make a difference especially in teaching projects and 4 weekends is not enough time to explore Peru or get involved in many of the exciting activities available out there!