My experiences as a teacher in the English program in Trujillo with VivePeru were challenging, but extremely rewarding. As the only English teacher in my session, I had a more independent experience from the folks who were in the Clinical Medicine or even the Music programs. I worked closely with Melissa developing my own lesson plans, brainstorming ideas for activities to do with my classes, and overall just having a grand old time. She helped me gather resources, let me know when what I was saying in Spanish was totally off base (which happened a lot), and helped me solidify topics to discuss in class and think of activity ideas. Melissa was a huge help throughout the entire process, and I could not have done anything without her time and dedication.
When I arrived in Peru, I really didn’t know what to expect. My Spanish was decent, but definitely not fluent, which I anticipated being my biggest challenge (SPOILER ALER—it was! But it wasn’t too bad, promise…). Meeting my host family was extraordinarily intimidating. I discovered, though, that I was intimidated for nothing: my host family was extremely kind and understanding, patient with my relatively broken Spanish, and overall fabulous. We tried as much as possible to integrate into our family’s life by adopting their schedules when possible, trying to help out around the house (when Mom would let us!), and spending time doing the same things that they did on weeknights and weekends. A typical day consisted of waking up and eating breakfast with the family, heading to work, coming home for a giant lunch, heading out for more work in the afternoon, and coming back home for dinner and spending time with the family watching TV or just talking. The amount of closeness within the Peruvian family unit was incredible to observe—in the United States, I know a ton of kids who eat dinner separately from their parents and then disappear to their bedrooms immediately afterward. I really enjoyed spending time with my host parents and brothers, and feeling like a part of a Peruvian family.
Another key part to my experience in Peru was the food. Honestly? The food was awesome. We ate a lot of the same things at every meal—some kind of meat (usually chicken), rice, potatoes, vegetables, and a piece of fruit for dessert. We ate almost every meal with our host family, with lunch being the biggest meal of the day. Breakfast and dinner were usually small—we would eat rolls with jam for breakfast, and usually some kind of soup for dinner. Lunch was a larger affair—there were usually two courses (a soup and some kind of meat with rice or potatoes). What I liked the most about meals though was the opportunity to have time to sit down with the family and chat about our days and ask questions about life in Peru.
I worked at a small school a couple of blocks away from my host family’s home, so while most of the other volunteers took buses to work, I walked to work every day. I did quite a few different things at the school, including working as a TA for a high school class, teaching my own English classes at the elementary school level, and giving presentations once a week to classes about various aspects of life in the U.S. The most intimidating thing about working in the school was the fact that I’m not a super fluent speaker of Spanish, and the idea of speaking in Spanish all day everyday was terrifying. I ended up being pleasantly surprised—though the kids did laugh sometimes at the weird things I said or asked me to say various words and names in my Texas accent, when I was having trouble getting my message across they were pretty helpful in translating what my message was to a more colloquial (read: understandable) version of Spanish. The best part of the program was coming to school and seeing how excited these kids were to learn—their enthusiasm made my job so much more enjoyable.
In my English classes, I taught mostly vocabulary related to a specific theme for the week. We started out with greetings and moved on to colors, shapes, animals, and some other basic English vocabulary. The key when we planned our lessons was to encourage creativity in the kids—a lot of English classes at the school consisted of the kids just copying words and sentences from a chalkboard into their notebooks and then memorizing them. Using art, games (like charades), and some stories, we tried to encourage the kids to think for themselves to help facilitate learning. It was challenging—I remember for the first lesson I showed the children my example of a self-portrait, and instead of drawing themselves they started copying my example. We gradually overcame this, and it was amazing to see these kids really start to grow in creativity, independence, and general understanding of the lessons taught. What was most difficult about the classes was the relative lack of resources—in the U.S. we have tons of technology like computers, YouTube, and books to help with teaching. In my classes, I was limited to the materials that I could bring to class, and designing lesson plans within these limitations was challenging. Luckily, the staff at the school (e.g. the principal, teachers, and Melissa) was extremely supportive and gave me ideas when I was really stuck. It really forced me to think on my feet and be creative in my planning, and really helped make this experience my own.
After school, I went home to eat lunch, take a nap during the siesta, and then went to El Progreso with my fellow volunteers to teach lessons related to literacy, play games with children, and help out some of the medicine volunteers with nutrition lessons. This was one of my favorite times of the day, because the kids and parents were always so excited to see us. Though the kids were shy at first, once they saw that we always had fun games or crafts planned for them they began to interact more. It was an extremely rewarding way to spend my afternoons.
When I wasn’t working, I spent time exploring other parts of Peru. We frequently made weekend trips to Huanchaco to hang out on the beach with other volunteers. My roommates and I also took weekend trips to Huaraz (in the mountains) and Pacasmayo (on the coast). There is such a wide variety in the types of places you can see while you are in Peru, so if you have the means to take some trips and see some of the beautiful things that this country has to offer, I highly recommend it.
Overall, all I can tell you is that this program is so wonderful because you can really make this experience your own. The folks on staff with the program and the people at the worksites are so supportive and wonderful, and are there to help you get the most out of this experience. I left feeling like I did some good in the world, and learned a ton in the process—I hope that you leave as satisfied and inspired as I was.
University of Arizona
Summer 2012, Trujillo