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Peru’s two dominant languages are Spanish and Quechua.  As part of our ACE program we visited a local community called Pongobamba fifty minutes outside of Cusco. Since Pongobamba is predominantly a native community, Quechua is the dominant language spoken which makes our “Americanized Spanglish” more of a barrier than in the tourist city of Cusco.  At the community’s school we conducted lessons about environmental responsibility and sustainability.  Our lessons consisted of card games, board games (shown in image), and songs applying ideas of a healthy community and environment.  Our main challenge in teaching and connecting with the children was that everything had to be in Spanish.  To overcome this language barrier, we planned and rehearsed our lessons the nights before. Additionally, we took a Quechua class to learn the basic words and phrases of their language.

Talking to the kids for a whole day in Spanish was mentally challenging.  Yet, watching them happily play the games we prepared was so rewarding. As we introduced ourselves to each class, we described our distinct collegiate sports.  The most memorable moments for many of us were watching the kids try to mimic and understand our sports which were likely unfamiliar to them.

As we played the games with the kids, we would sometimes praise them with the Quechuan phrase for congratulations, “Kusa Kusa.” This phrase means ‘excellent’ or ‘good job’ and would make the kids look up at us with surprise and a giggle showing appreciation for our small but meaningful effort to connect in their language.

Through this first week of speaking with community members and local street vendors, we have improved our Spanish and found a new confidence to try speaking- even with our Spanglish imperfections.

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