Cassandra Chee - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Peru
Thoughts on my time in Peru
"You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place."
This is how I felt as I looked out the plane window leaving the beautiful place I had learned to call home. Home for the past two months had been Calca, Peru, a small town with surreal mountains, colorful traditions, and friendly people. Home was a cute villa house on Calle Espinar, a dog named Tato, two host sisters, and a host mum. Home was a school called Colegio Agropecuario, a teacher named Clara, and the faces of students eager to learn. But most importantly, home was the warmth of friends, families, students, and Peruvian people whom I had come to know and would always remember.
My first experience of Peru
I came to Peru to complete an internship for my Poverty Studies minor, and although I was beyond excited to see a new place and use my summer to do good, nervousness was an understatement to describe how I felt. I realized that culture shock is indeed a real thing, and I remember being completely overwhelmed by the language, the environment, the food, and the people. What helped my initial fears was my immediate love for my placements.
My Teaching placement
I was placed at Colegio Agropecuario to teach English to students aged 11 to 18. For 8 weeks I was not just a stand-in teacher; I was a fully-fledged homework-writing, activity-creating, lesson-planning teacher, and I have never worked so hard in my life, both physically and emotionally.
Some days were easier than others, and some classes were more cooperative than others, but most days I walked out of the gates of my school knowing that at least one child had learned something from me that day. I did my best to turn each lesson into a game and be the “cool” teacher that everyone wanted to have.
Bingo was my first success, and it turned my classes from mildly attentive to alert and competitive. Add in a prize of M&Ms, or chin chins as they are called in Peru, and I had myself some of the most fun, exciting, and rewarding classes during my time at Agro. One of my best days at school was teaching adjectives to my cute little first year students because they were so willing to participate just at the chance of catching and throwing the ball.
Teaching workshops offered by Projects Abroad were extremely beneficial in helping me come up with ideas like these to engage my classes. I was never at a loss for having materials to bring to class, and it was so reassuring to talk with other volunteer teachers who were going through daily ups and downs like myself.
Overall, being an English teacher was a true blessing, as I learned just as much from my students as they learned from me. My kids loved to pull me aside during recess and tell me about their lives, their families, and their dreams about coming to America. I also learned phrases in Quechua, traditional Peruvian dance moves, and some football moves. It was an impact that worked both ways because I have found myself a changed person after learning from the students I worked with.
Taking part in extra activities
In addition to teaching English, I worked in the Sports program on some afternoons, in which I served as a recreational volleyball coach and mentor to 10 to 11 year old girls. Although school was fun too, this was kind of like my playtime, in which I got to run around and play with the cutest little girls ever. Volleyball skills often also included tickling and tag and a whole lot of laughing, and usually by the time the two hours was up, I was exhausted from running after girls, carrying them on my back, or dancing around in circles.
Traveling in my spare time
Outside of my placement, my experience in Peru was incredible; I got to visit some of the most beautiful ruins in the world, and I can even say that I have hiked to the top of Machu Picchu. Spending time with the Peruvian families was also such a plus, as I got to try typical Peruvian dishes such as Ceviche and Cuy (guinea pig), celebrate a birthday Peruvian style, and drink Pisco Sours while dancing and singing along to traditional songs. These are some of the times I am most thankful for, as we volunteers were so welcomed into these families with such overwhelming love and care.
I was also lucky enough to be in Peru during a time of many festivals and celebrations. If there was one thing I learned about the Peruvian lifestyle, it was that Peruvians always find a reason to have a party, and they know how to have a good time. I experienced Corpus Christi, a religious celebration of the various saints, Father’s Day, Teacher Appreciation Day, and Inti Raymi, a festival in Cusco that celebrates the Sun God with theatrical representations and rituals.
My favorite celebration, and probably my favorite day during my time in Peru, was a festival that took place in my own town of Calca. To this day I am not exactly sure what the festival was celebrating, but it involved a huge parade of all the schools and their students throughout the town during the day and an all-night long party afterwards with live music and dancing. I was so honored when my school principal asked me to march with my school during the parades and hold the school’s flag along with the rest of the other teachers. It was in this moment that I no longer felt like a “gringa” but rather an accepted and appreciated member of the town.
Meeting the other volunteers
The one other part of my Peruvian experience that I am so incredibly thankful for is the amazing group of volunteers that I came to know and love. These were the people that I spent my free time with, whether that was travelling around Peru to cool places like Lake Titicaca, or just sitting outside on a bench talking.
It amazed me how quickly we all clicked as friends and not just as friends but good, true friends for life. I have never met a more extraordinary and gifted bunch of people and I miss them all every day.
Last thoughts on my experience
So it’s true that I will never be completely at home again because my heart belongs in a bunch of different places. Pieces of it remain in Australia, Denmark, France, England, San Diego, and Colorado, but above all a huge chunk is in Calca, Cusco, Peru.
Peru was simply put the best time of my life, and I think about it every day wishing to go back. Many of my students have messaged me on Facebook saying, “Cuando vuelves?” meaning “When will you return?” and although I do not have a definitive answer for them at this time, I know that I will be back.
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