This is Clare’s story living and learning Spanish in Cusco.
I started my year abroad in Peru knowing three spanish phrases, “El baño?” “no habla espanol” and “gracias”. In hindsight, I now know why nobody understood me- I was saying the first two wrong! Thanks to Google Translate and lots of guessing, I made my way through my first few days in Lima. The next three days were spent taking Peru Hop buses from Lima along the coast, finally arriving in Cusco.
The mountains were breathtaking. I’m from Canada and I’ve seen my fair share of snow capped summits, but these ones were different. Covered in green and brown, the city of Cusco is surrounded by their curves and peaks which are lit up at night in a breathtaking view.
After settling in with my host family, I focused on learning Spanish. I knew I had to do something about my minimal skills. My goal was to be able to take classes at the local University, Universidad de San Antonio del Abbot de Cusco in 6 months, so I contacted Proyecto Peru to help me achieve my goal. I started taking intensive private lessons with one of Proyecto Peru’s teachers, Karina. Four months later, I was able to ask where the bathroom was in perfect spanish and better. It was great to be able to talk to the locals around me in full conversation. All without Google Translate. Living with a host family also helped me practice my spanish daily. I got to experience Peruvian birthday celebrations, typical Peruvian dishes, Halloween and Christmas with a family here. They showed me the differences and similarities between Peruvian culture and my own.
Alongside my spanish classes, I did volunteer work at two different local organizations that Proyecto Peru connected me with. I helped children with homework, art, and sports at a local after school program and later worked at a dog shelter helping care for former street dogs who had been mistreated and abused. Being part of grassroots organizations always helps me feel like I am a part of a community and it is a great way of giving back for all the blessings I have received. I especially appreciate that my donation goes towards much needed expenses at each project.
Proyecto Peru staff supported me greatly, helped me learn spanish, found a lovely family to stay with, connected me with local organizations to volunteer with and helped me plan tours for my weekends to beautiful places like Machu Picchu and Maras.
After doing volunteer work and learning Spanish, I realized I didn’t want it to end. I loved what Proyecto Peru was doing for volunteers and the local community and the dedication they had towards supporting sustainable, responsible volunteering in Cusco and the surrounding area. I wanted to help support their goals so I applied to be an Operations Intern. The Spanish classes I took allowed me to communicate with local families that work with Proyecto Peru as well as the organizations that they send volunteers to. From volunteer to intern, I took on more responsibilities and helped the behind the scenes action that had helped my stay in Cusco go so smoothly when I was a student and volunteer.
Moving anywhere for a year can be hard; the language barrier, lack of family or friends, the new climate, the new food. I learned to roll with the punches and enjoy the sweet moments, to laugh and dance waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone. I learned a new language, how to make Pisco Sours, how to barter for a sweater at the local markets and for cheaper fares with the taxi drivers. My time is Cusco has been amazing, from student to volunteer and finally intern, each stage has been full of its own unique lessons and memorable moments. I’m sad to have to leave this beautiful city behind but I know this is not the last time I will be here. After all, there are no llamas in Canada.
If you’d like to know more about Proyecto Peru, you can check our website!