Laura Gent - General Teaching Projects in Peru
As a student studying Spanish at Newcastle University, the time came for me to decide on my year abroad placement. After much research, I finally chose to spend part of my year abroad teaching in Peru, and having spent 3 months in the South of Spain, I knew this was going to be a very different experience.....
I landed in Cusco Airport, feeling a little tired and extremely nervous. I had never been away from home alone for this long before, especially not as far away as South America. I was immediately greeted by a little Peruvian band who serenaded us whilst we awaited our luggage. Rucksack in hand, I then walked outside where the stunning Andean mountains took my breath away. I shut my eyes for a moment and when I opened them I realised this was not a dream. I was actually here, and I knew I was going to have the time of my life.
Yessi from the Projects Abroad office met me and I was whisked away to the Urubamba office, about an hour away. I couldn’t stop myself from gaping out of the window at every opportunity - it was so completely different from the flat English countryside. After meeting the lovely Projects Abroad Staff I was then taken to meet my host family in the beautiful village of Pisac which was to be my home for the next 3 months whilst I taught English. As we walked up to the house, my host mother, Eneida, immediately embraced me and started chattering away. I felt then, that I had nothing to worry about. As I could speak Spanish, it was a little easier for me, but there was a lot still to learn, and after being given litres of Coca tea, I was ready for a long sleep.
The next day, fully refreshed and raring to go, I hopped on a local bus with the other teaching volunteers and maybe the odd chicken and headed to the Urubamba office where we started a teaching preparation workshop with our wonderful supervisor, Claire. As I was in Peru during the school holidays, I did not teach children, but was involved in the prestigious 6 week Teacher Training Course in Cusco where Peruvian English teachers had the chance to obtain a government approved certificate if they attended the classes. At first, I was slightly apprehensive at teaching adults far older than myself, but I realised I had no need to be.
After taking a short test, the teachers were divided into classes of different levels, and as I was initially the only native speaker, I took the advanced level group. Sadly, even these teachers had a very basic grasp of English and are poorly qualified hence the need for courses like this one. We had prepared our classes down to the very last minute, and armed with perfect lesson plans, we were ready to start. The other volunteers also lived in Pisac so each day we took an organised taxi to the school in Cusco which took about 45 minutes.
Lessons started at 8.30 prompt and we even had registers to keep track of any tardiness! The teachers were so friendly and willing to learn, and as I didn’t really want to spend the whole 4 hours standing at the blackboard talking at them, I made sure the classes were well varied with exercises, songs and games. Just because they are teachers, doesn’t mean to say they can’t have fun! As well as improving my Spanish vocabulary, I also improved my knowledge of English Grammar- my first encounter with the term “modal verb”! Through spending so much time with my class, I got to know them well and I realised what a friendly bunch the Peruvians are. Valentines Day was especially fun, with every class making an effort to show their appreciation to each teacher. There were traditional Peruvian meals, cakes, songs, and presents. We were even invited to a party at one of the teacher’s houses which proved an unforgettably amusing evening!
Every afternoon after teaching, the volunteers headed back to the Cusco office where we prepared classes for the next day. It was a really good way of “bonding” with fellow volunteers and it was also very useful to share tips and ideas. At the end of the whole course, the teachers received a certificate, recognised by the Ministry of Education in Cusco, and this involved a presentation ceremony, accompanied by various class songs and entertainment. It may sound a bit pathetic but I was actually really sad to say goodbye to my teacher pupils and to finish the project as I can honestly say it was the best experience I have ever had, and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.
Peru itself is such a wonderful and diverse country which would take years to fully discover. As we only taught for four days, we had a lovely long three day weekend which we could use to travel and explore Cusco and the surrounding area and spend time with our host families. Cusco itself is a lively and beautiful city, buzzing with backpackers, and boasting some great bars and nightlife. Many a memorable night was spent at the famous “Casa Grande” hostel after dancing, or even a rowdy night at the football stadium cheering on Cienciano, Cusco’s beloved team. On a cultural note, it is of course, is home to some of the best Inca ruins in Peru, notably Sacsaywaman, and one of my highlights was trekking on horseback around these sites above Cusco, an absolute must for anyone who doesn’t mind horses. I can go on forever listing my most memorable experiences, paragliding and salsa dancing to name but a few. As well as treks and cultural activities arranged by Projects Abroad, I also spent 3 weeks after my project travelling round Peru with my mum who flew out to meet me, and it goes without saying that Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail were definite highlights.
One thing I ought to mention about Peru in the months of January and February is that it is Carnival Season, where the Peruvians indulge in weeks of dancing, partying, drinking, and most importantly, water fights. I would recommend carrying supplies of water balloons and flour in your pockets just in case you are ambushed by the local children - I became an expert at using a special foam canister, much to their delight! Despite being soaked a fair few times, I am so glad I was out there for all the carnival celebrations as you really do immerse yourself into Peruvian life and make great friends (or enemies!) with the children.
Food in Peru is pretty straightforward, based on a staple plate of rice. They love their potatoes, which they are immensely proud of, and are quite delicious. Contrary to popular belief, Guinea Pig is actually a quite expensive delicacy, mostly eaten on special occasions, but you simply can’t leave the country without having tried it!
After gabbling on a lot about my memories and experiences (I could go on forever), I can do nothing but enthuse about the wonderful country of Peru. I could not fault a thing about Projects Abroad, the project was so well organised, my host family, so welcoming and the staff were incredibly helpful and always there when I needed.
As a languages student, I felt my Spanish improved no end, thanks to a lot of perseverance at mealtimes with my Peruvian family, who I’m still in touch with now. Sometimes, it can be frustrating not being able to express yourself, but it gets easier and easier as time goes on, and the language barrier does break down. Don’t worry if you don’t speak any Spanish, you will be surprised how quickly you’ll pick it up! At the end of my time in Peru, I felt confident and bursting with memories and stories that I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family.
As I look out of my window in England, I see pleasant English countryside, but I can honestly say, as much as I love Northamptonshire, it’s not a patch on waking up with a view of the Andean Mountains and the simply stunning Peruvian scenery dotted with alpacas - I’m fairly sure I’ll be back to Peru in a couple of years!