Ben Peers - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Peru
Sitting on the long 11 hour plane journey from Madrid to Lima, I still had no idea of what to expect of the three months I would spend in Peru - two of them teaching English. I knew very little about Peru as a country, little more about South America and it felt very much like a step into the unknown. Scary? Yes. Exciting? Tremendously! The final leg of my journey, from Lima to Cuzco, flew me over the legendary Andes, and the anticipation began to set in. You do feel as if you are entering a different world.
On landing in Cuzco, hearing my voice called (with interesting pronunciation) over the loudspeaker in the airport was the first surprise! I was then whisked off on the hour's journey to the town of Urubamba, in the stunning surroundings of the Sacred Valley, where I finally arrived at my host family's house, on one of the town's dusty outlying streets. My host Mother, Renee was waiting outside. She looked incredibly happy to meet me, which immediately put me at ease, and the whole family seemed really friendly. Despite having studied A-Level Spanish, I didn't show any particular fluency for the language that night! Clearly an experienced hostess, Renee sensed my exhaustion and ushered me up to my (very comfortable) room, where I spent the next 12 hours.
The next morning, Renee walked me to the Projects Abroad office in town, where I met the Peruvian staff, who all spoke excellent English. I was taken to my school - which seemed to be half way up a mountain - and met the English teacher who I would be assisting, and one of his classes. It was all very surreal, suddenly standing in front of a class of these Peruvian 15 and 16 year olds and having to introduce myself! Since I had nothing prepared, a question and answer session seemed the best option. It was amazing to watch the students' reaction when I told them I had come on an eleven-hour plane journey all the way from England (I had to draw a map to illustrate). Then, when I told them that my dad was a TV producer, there were audible gasps in the room!
Over the next few days and weeks, I learnt a lot more about these amazing people. Their school uniform (a fetching maroon color) wouldn't have looked out of place in an English public school, but their lives couldn't have been more different. The fact that most of them, after finishing school at 2.30, went home not to sit in front of the TV or do homework, but instead to work the land and help their parents tend their crops. One incident that sticks in my mind is the time I was teaching one class about the Family. After I had drawn a family tree up on the board and taught some example phrases, I asked for a volunteer to come up and talk about their family. She started very well - "My brother and sister are students and my father is a farmer." Not thinking, I prompted - "and my mother." She just looked at me with big eyes and shook her head. I felt awful.
The experience of working and getting to know children living in such a different situation from my own upbringing, has given me an insight and understanding that I will never lose. Not to mention a fresh outlook on the world. At the beginning I felt extremely daunted at the thought of teaching, having had no previous experience. But it wasn't nearly as bad as I had expected. I learnt that if you're willing to have fun and make a bit of a fool of yourself sometimes (often through shaky Spanish!), the kids react with enthusiasm to a subject they don't necessarily feel is relevant to them. But it was brilliant just to have fun with them, play games and watch them enjoying themselves, because much of the teaching they are used to is a lot more dry and formulaic.
But I will remember my time in Peru for a lot more than just the teaching. Feeling integrated in a community so far removed from what I was used to was a real joy, and there's no better way to achieve this than doing something constructive like teaching, and living with a local family. After a few weeks I felt just as at home with my host family as I do back home in England, and I made some great friends amongst the other volunteers. Friday nights were spent in Cuzco (about an hour by bus from Urubamba), staying in a cheap-as-chips hostel on the beautiful city's central plaza, and enjoying a pint in the local "Irish Pub" (the world's highest, apparently) before moving onto one of the many exciting clubs.
Weeknights were spent with friends in Urubamba's "The Muse" restaurant/bar, watching DVDs and eating pizza rolls and chocolate brownies! I also had so many other new experiences, too numerous to list - paragliding, white water rafting, (proper) mountain biking and eating guinea pig amongst them! When I was there it was the middle of the festival season, every week there seemed to be another excuse to celebrate, with marching bands and never-ending fiestas celebrating the seemingly most random and trivial of things - and normal life nearly always comes to a complete halt.
Peru is a place where you never know what's going to happen next - even the bus journeys were exciting - you often end up sharing it with some interesting fellow commuters, monkeys and chickens being just a couple of examples. It is a big adventure. Perhaps it sounds clichéd, but, in all honesty, I had the time of my life!