Amanda Bahnuk - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Peru
A year before traveling to Peru, I had been thinking so much about traveling and teaching abroad. I did not know where I wanted to go, but felt drawn to being a part of a new experience. I have always enjoyed working with kids and had heard wonderful stories from friends who had traveled and taught abroad. So as I sat searching through the internet, reading through many of the different options and beautiful destinations around the world, Peru and Projects Abroad stood out to me!
I had done my research before applying and had been in contact with the Projects Abroad staff and knew right away that this was the organization I wanted to travel with, and I am so grateful to have made that choice. As I am a qualified teacher, I felt ready and determined for a new challenge teaching conversational English in a new country for what would become one of the best months of my life. On 27 June 2015, I set out on my journey to the Sacred Valley of Peru.
Arriving in Peru
The flight from Lima to Cusco was absolutely breath-taking, flying over the Andes. Upon arriving in Cusco, I was met by Santiago (a kind staff member) and other volunteers who had arrived at the same time. Everyone from the staff to my host family was so welcoming. I felt excited and nervous during the hour car ride to the town of Urubamba which would become my home for the next month.
Even though I was prepared and informed of there being culture shock, I didn’t know how much I would feel it until I arrived at my host family’s home. It was a mixture of feeling overly exhausted from the long journey and being a part of a whole new environment, but after taking a short nap I felt ready to get out in the town and explore. I spent my first afternoon in Peru being introduced to Urubamba by my host parents’ niece, and my first evening being a part of the festival of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with my beautiful host family in the Urubamba town Plaza. I felt ready to learn more and be a part of the Peruvian culture.
My Teaching placement
My teaching placement took place in a secondary school in the town of Ollantaytambo (a half hour bus ride from Urubamba). Even though the collectivos would get very crowded (and there were even days when I became so curious and interested to see how many people would be able to fit in the small collectivo), the view of the mountains from Urubamba to Ollantaytambo were an amazing sight to see during my travels to the school.
On my first day of teaching I was met by Hugo and later Elizabeth (two staff members) and brought to the school where I was introduced to the teacher I would be working with. My teacher and the staff of the school were very welcoming from day one, and the students seemed so excited to meet me. I was the only volunteer at my school for the four weeks I was in Peru. I brought a book with pictures from my home city in Canada and did a short presentation on my first day. The students loved learning about where I’m from and had many questions to ask to get to know me. I definitely recommend for future volunteers to bring as many pictures from home as the students love seeing and learning about a new place!
The teacher I worked with really enjoyed teaching her students English songs, so I had the opportunity to teach part of the song Let It Go to one of my classes. The students were so excited and enthusiastic to learn the song in English. I also had a chance to bond with my teacher’s daughter. During lunch breaks at the school, I would continue to teach her daughter English phrases while she taught me a little bit of Spanish. One of my favorite moments though was when her daughter tried to teach me Let It Go in Spanish. It was such a beautiful memory that will always stay with me!
The teaching experience as a whole was definitely a challenge, especially with the language barrier, but is an experience worth being a part of as you learn and grow as an individual. There were some classes who were more willing to learn than others, so it is definitely important to be patient and open to a variety of fun learning activities. As I was only in Peru for four weeks and teaching in many different classes, I realized it would be difficult to make the impact I was hoping to make. With that being said, next time I would definitely go longer. No matter the length of time you are there teaching though, you will always make an impact.
On my last day of teaching, the students thanked me and even sang songs to me in Quechua (a native South American language) and Spanish to show they were grateful for the time I was there working with them. On my last day in one of my classes, the students all swarmed around me with their books and pencils in hand, asking for my autograph. It was such a heart-warming moment and I definitely felt like a celebrity in their eyes. The students that I had the pleasure to teach will always have a special place in my heart!
My overall experience
I can’t even begin to describe how grateful I am to have had the opportunity to meet and live with my host family. They made me feel so welcome and a part of their family from the first day I arrived. Even though I didn’t know much Spanish upon my arrival, I felt very excited to learn from my family. We would sit together at their kitchen table (my Spanish dictionary in hand) and share stories and photos with one another. I would tell them about the Canadian culture and about my family and friends back home, and they would share stories and historical facts about the Peruvian culture. These moments together really allowed us to bond, and slowly but surely I began to feel comfortable in my new environment!
The Peruvian dishes normally consisted of rice dishes, quinoa, soup, papa purpura (purple potato), and oats in warm water for breakfast and delicious Peruvian tea. The food was delicious and I was always excited to try something new! Thankfully, I never felt ill during my stay and my family was so gracious in the way they looked after the volunteers in their home. Although I am not much of a tea drinker, I always looked forward to a delicious warm cup of tea after dinner, while sitting and enjoying my host family’s company. One of my favorite moments with my host father was when he brought me to see the Urubamba Ruins one Friday morning. He explained to me how the ruins were built and the difference between the Pre-Incan and Incan structures.
I am also grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the staff members of Projects Abroad. Elizabeth, my teaching supervisor, was always so enthusiastic to share ideas and stories with all of the volunteers. I admire her compassion and willingness to make a difference in the lives of the many school children in Peru! During my first week in Peru, I sustained a knee injury. The staff members and my fellow volunteers were so helpful, checking in to make sure I was okay. Knowing that the staff and the other volunteers were so supportive made the situation less stressful. I am so grateful for the constant support from the staff and all the volunteers, especially when unexpected situations arise.
I will always remember waking up and venturing out into the town and seeing the beautiful mountains, visiting the beautiful Machu Picchu and the other Incan Ruins with many of the volunteers during weekends, preparing different teaching activities for school, attending social events on Wednesdays, attending the teaching workshops every Thursday, visiting the different towns, getting to know my host family and immersing myself in the Peruvian culture.
Having had the opportunity to travel to a new country and be a part of a culture so unlike my own was a true blessing and continues to remind me how lucky we are. The simplicity of the Peruvian lifestyle is something that I truly miss and will always be a part of me. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to travel to Peru and meet many wonderful people who I am so thankful to call my friends. Thank you Projects Abroad for the amazing memories that will last a lifetime!
Read more about Teaching in Peru