Throughout my 3 weeks in Cusco, Peru, the most rewarding moments were those that sparked a conversation through the Spanish language. My time spent with ACE showed me the power and beauty of language, providing me with the opportunity to speak with locals in and out of our community work. Before my arrival, my Spanish skills were fairly well rounded. I had taken several years of classes in high school, as well as a quarter of Spanish in my first year here at Stanford. Yet nothing improves and furthers your understanding and use of a language more than direct exposure to every aspect of the language itself. I am eternally grateful for my experiences this summer and for the ability to be able to learn more about the culture that encompasses the truly breathtaking country of Peru.
There were two main experiences that stood out to me, both allowing me to learn so much more about everyday life in Cusco. In our first week, we traveled to Pongobamba, a community in the Chinchero district, where there is a school for children in primary and secondary levels of education. That week, we created games centered around environmental sustainability, for example, teaching the kids about proper actions they can take to help conserve water, utilize recycling and compost, and clean the lake. Lake Piuray, which sits in the heart of the Chinchero district and supplies a majority of the city’s clean water, is facing the consequences of the rapid increases in tourists in the area recently. Our goal that week was centered around providing fun and entertaining ways to help get the kids involved in learning about how to protect and preserve the future of their environment.
One afternoon, while the kids were playing one of many games, I found myself standing next to one of the primary school teachers. She turned to me, unsure if I spoke Spanish, where I quickly reassured her that I was a beginner, yet nevertheless beyond ecstatic to speak with her. Over the next 30 minutes, she and I spoke about how she got involved in teaching. I learned about the wonderful 26 years she had spent at the Pongobamba school, where she had watched this place grow and develop from the very beginning. Even though she didn’t directly tell me, I could immediately see her passion for teaching. The woman’s face lit up with joy any time we discussed her students and how much they had grown and learned because of her job.
She also asked me about my life back in the United States – what I was studying, what my family was like, where I lived. Her genuine interest and fascination with the differences in our lives was apparent, and I loved having the opportunity to learn about where she called home. She and her students were all so excited to learn about the sports we played at our universities. They loved to hear about the variety of our sports, and they were so eager to learn more about these American sports. My time at the Pongobamba school was the start to a truly eye opening 3 weeks.
“Our relationships began over the commonality of a language, and continued to blossom from the desire to learn about each of our own lives.”
About 5 minutes down the street, we spent our remaining 2 weeks at the community site. One spot was a developing trail and viewpoint, and the other was a budding tree nursery. We all were able to work at both sites, and I spent my time in both, depending on the day. There was one particular man who made my time in Peru truly unforgettable. I met him on our first walk up to the trail – keep in mind that this uphill walk took roughly 30 minutes, and with an altitude of approximately 12,000 feet, was no easy feat for us. Nevertheless, the locals continued to impress me, as I quickly learned that at 66 years old, this man hiked this trail multiple times a day. This was just one of several locations in the community where he worked, along with the tree nursery and other beginning locations that promoted environmental sustainability and development in the area.
On our walk down that day, he and I discussed more about his job. I asked him as much as I could. I was so eager to learn about what his days consisted of and what he loved most about his work. I quickly learned about how much he enjoyed working towards something that would benefit the future of the community. He told me about how his entire life was here, how he grew up in this community and loved this place. He continued to ask me about my life back home, how long I had been speaking Spanish, and we undoubtedly made jokes about my developing Spanish skills. When we asked him about living anywhere in the world, he immediately responded with right here in Peru. He opened my eyes to the amazing work that he does, and gave me a greater appreciation for a culture so wonderfully different from mine in the United States.
Before I set foot in Peru, I made it a goal to learn as much as I could about the country while there: the culture, the language, the people. I was fully immersed in the Peruvian culture, trying new foods, experiencing the traditions, and understanding the history and elements that make up this country. The experience transformed my love for Spanish. I became far more advanced in my speaking and understanding, and that allowed me to absorb every moment there. After everything, there is not one aspect of Peru that will stick with me for the rest of my life more than my interactions with the people there. Our relationships began over the commonality of a language, and continued to blossom from the desire to learn about each of our own lives. To the primary school teacher, to the man I met on our trail walk, and to all the locals along the way that decided to speak with me, thank you. Thank you for leaving a mark on my life. Despite my short time in your beautiful country, I will be back one day to continue learning about all that makes Peru everything that it is.
To ACE and my ACE group, thank you for making my 3 weeks in Peru ones that have allowed me to meet some amazing people while experiencing something amazing together.
See you again one day, Peru.