LIFESTYLE | TRAVEL

Travelling do-gooder

Erica Enriquez

Desperate to take a break from the rat race, ERICA ENRIQUEZ went on a quest to find out what else she can do with her time on Earth and landed high up in the Andes teaching little Peruvian kids how to speak English.

Erica's class in Cusco, Peru.
Erica's class in Cusco, Peru.

I’ve always wanted to visit Peru so I thought I’d go check it out – and teach English while I’m at it.

I went with an organisation called i-to-i that specialise in gap year and career break travel for those who want to do something different with their time abroad. They offer English teaching placements as well as conservation work with animals and building placements where you can help restore whole neighbourhoods.

English teaching in Cusco, Peru caught my eye, so once I psyched myself up to do it, I signed up online. Within a few days I had a representative from the organisation contact me about my placement and the preparation for my work.

I was teaching English to primary school-aged children in Cusco, Peru. Turns out that in order to do an English teaching placement, you had to complete a teaching course. They call this a TEFL certificate (TEFL stands for Teaching English as a Foreign Language) and it helps with the work you’ve signed up to do.

The TEFL course is accessible online and would-be-teachers can complete it in bite sized modules. These weren’t as easy to complete as I thought. In fact, there was one module (the dreaded module four) that made me want to tear my hair out. It was on grammar, or, more precisely, how to teach English grammar to non-English speakers. I wasn’t formally taught grammar in school myself so all of that was a bit of a hurdle for me.

As the departure date got closer I was reminded by the i-to-i rep about my home stay accommodation in both Lima and Cusco, and the arrival details at the airport in Lima. Someone from the Lima office of i-to-i would pick me up at the airport and drop me off at my home stay in town. The same would be done upon my arrival in Cusco. Phew! My Spanish was (is, I should say) laughable so the idea of someone assisting me as soon as I was on foreign soil was a huge relief.

Both home stay places were great. A home stay is when a local person opens up their home to visitors. There is no reception, no lobby and no generic hotel décor. For the most part, you eat home-cooked meals, are able to meet and interact with family and friends of the homeowner and feel like you are a guest in their home instead of a customer in a hotel.

Having only stayed in Lima for two nights, it remember the home stay in Cusco the most. The Ochoa family made me feel like one of them, although they didn’t speak a lick of English. They fed me amazing Peruvian dishes, introduced me to their children and grandchildren and even invited me to their Father’s Day lunch.

The actual teaching placement was eye-opening. I worked in a local school teaching kids aged six to 12 years old, alongside a Peruvian teacher whose only subject to teach was English. Margarita was a wonderful person and she made sure I got the most out of my teaching experience. But it wasn’t the teaching that made it an unforgettable experience, it was the children.

They were rowdy, raucous kids with boundless energy, who gave me hugs as I entered their classroom and then plastered me with stickers from their own collection at the end of each lesson. They sat with me at recess and practiced their English with me. “Amarillo es yellow?” they’d ask me, and I’d answer with “Si, muy bien!”. Thrilled with my response, they’d beam with delight and offer me part of their packed lunches from home. The other teachers were friendly and would also try out their English on me. In the end, I learned more from the staff and students than anything I could teach them. TEFL knowledge gained in Australia just became secondary to the knowledge I gained about the people of Cusco.

If you’re looking for time out from the daily grind that offers neatly-packaged activities for the lazy tourist, then volunteering in another country is not for you. If you’re looking to gain a new perspective on life, wanting to meet new people and understand life in another culture, then give your time to volunteer tourism, I guarantee you will come back a changed person.

* Fore more information, visit www.i-to-i.com

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