Testimonial Volunteer Peru Cusco, is the first place I have visited outside of my home country, the United States, and I could not have asked for a better experience. I go to college only about an hour and a half away from my home, so I am accustomed to seeing my family often.
Testimonial Volunteer Peru Cusco
1.- Whats was a daily schedule at the program, hours volunteered?
I volunteered at the clinic from 8:00-12:30 in the morning (4.5 hours) and had Spanish lessons in the afternoon from 2:00-6:00. When I arrived at the clinic in the morning, I would assist the nurses in washing, brushing the teeth of, and the changing the clothes of the children residing in the clinic (with neurological or physical issues).
I would then participate in a mix of shadowing and assisting with the children´s therapy. I would also help feed the children, as the majority of them are unable to eat on their own. The Spanish lessons were either at my host family’s house or the house of my professor, depending on the week. Often we would go on excursions during my Spanish lessons to experience more of the culture of Cusco while still receiving instruction.
2.- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
Host Family: I expected my host family to be welcoming of me, but I was surprised at just how welcoming Maria Elena, her daughter, and her friends were. I truly felt like I had a “Peruvian mother.” I was invited to join in everything that was happening at the house and felt like I had a home here in Peru.
Program: I was surprised at how much it depends on you, the volunteer, to initiate doing things at the clinic. At the clinic, I was never outright told what to do or how to help – I needed to find my place there and ask questions, clarify what I was supposed to do, and have a lot of initiative.
This was refreshing and after getting settled in at the clinic I felt that I knew what I could and could not do and that I had found my place and capacity to help.
Country: I was very surprised by the mixing of old and new cultures here. You could walk down the street and see a woman dressed in traditional clothing one second, and the next you could see teenagers decked out in Adidas and Nike. You don´t see this kind of contrast in the United States.
Some people still live very traditional lives, and others have very modern lifestyles. It was really interesting to witness the blend of cultures on a daily basis.
Volunteer South America
3.- What was the most challenging thing you experienced?
Host Family: I really did not have many challenging things that I experienced regarding my host family. If I had to choose one, it would be getting used to the times meals were eaten. I am used to the standard American schedule of a small breakfast at 8:00, medium lunch at 12:00, and a large dinner at 6:00.
Here, I ate breakfast before volunteering but then would not eat lunch until around 1:00 or 2:00 and it would be much larger than I am accustomed to, followed by a small dinner at around 8:00. I eventually grew to like this pattern better than the pattern in which I eat at home, but it was difficult to get used to at first.
Program: The language barrier at the clinic made asking questions and understanding instructions more difficult. The Spanish was spoken very quickly, which made it more difficult for me to comprehend. Peru is the first country I have visited, and although I studied Spanish in school, hearing it spoken by native speakers is much different!
I sometimes felt that I was not being as helpful as I could be or getting as much out of shadowing because I did not understand everything. I don’t like having to ask people to continually repeat themselves, and sometimes it felt like I had to do that. Accepting that I was not going to magically perfect my Spanish and be able to communicate fluidly with the medical staff within four weeks was hard to accept, but it was the reality and the experience was still great and I felt like I was doing the most that I could.
Country: The difference in pace here. I feel like my life at home is very rushed and there is always a strict schedule, but here it is quite different. It took a lot to get used to not having every single minute laid out for me and to relax. I did get the hang of it though, and it was nice to have that change of pace. It is a completely different culture here and even though I felt like I was coming in with an open mind, it was hard at first to get used to.
Gap Year Peru
4.- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations, money, internet)
If volunteers are coming during the months of June-August, it would be wise to bring lots of layers of clothing – it can be quite warm during the afternoon, but at night it gets very cold. It is also always good to have a paper copy of your passport with you at all times – at some stores, you must have a copy of your passport to use a credit card to pay.
It is possible to pay with a credit card at many of the tourist spots, but I also found it good to always have some soles on me just in case. If you plan on doing a lot of hikes, it is a good idea to have at least two pairs of tennis shoes (or tennis shoes and hiking shoes). Also bring at least a week’s worth of socks.
5.- Other things volunteers should know before coming here (besides Spanish):
Host Family: Do not be afraid to express any concerns you have! Your host family is here to help you, and they want to know about anything and everything that is bothering you or is causing you stress.
Program: Don´t be afraid to jump right in! You might not receive much formal instruction on what you should be doing – ask the nurses, the program director, etc. Everyone is happy to help you and happy to have you helping them.
Country: The people here are extremely nice and polite. The weather is mostly predictable (especially if you come during the dry season), but the weather does change temperatures a lot during the course of a single day (cold morning and night, warm afternoon). I also found that taking taxis was the easiest mode of transportation, but the buses are definitely sufficient.
6.- Personal Paragraph about the experience (ABV Program Testimonial):
Cusco, Peru, is the first place I have visited outside of my home country, the United States, and I could not have asked for a better experience. I go to college only about an hour and a half away from my home, so I am accustomed to seeing my family often. Was slightly nervous to be going abroad for a month as my first time out of the country, but everything about this program made my first experience fantastic.
I felt welcome, loved, and like I had a second family in Peru. Not once did I feel homesick the entire month I was here. I was able to get out of my comfort zone while knowing that I had a support system both here and in the U.S.A. to fall back on if I needed help. The volunteer aspect allowed me to get more experience in the field I hope to enter one day and gave me the opportunity to assist children and nurses. The Spanish lessons in a Spanish-speaking country were incredibly different from my classes at home and I improved my Spanish more in one month than I feel I have in many years.
Cusco was a wonderful place to be located because there was so much to do close to my homestay and so many archeological sites only a few hours away. There was always something to do in the downtime that I had, and I had support and suggestions from my host family for everything that I wanted to try and fit in in the month I have been here. Overall, I would highly, highly recommend this program to both those who have traveled the world and those who have never left their home town\city.
7.- How would you describe your accommodation: meals, security, friendliness, quality others:
Meals: The meals that Maria Elena prepared for me were absolutely fantastic. There was not a single dish that I did not enjoy! She always confirmed that I liked the dish and she would have prepared me something different had I not.
There was a lot of variety, with most of the meals consisting of some kind of meat, vegetable, potato, or rice. The soup was also a staple, but the soups were always different and all delicious. The dishes were always prepared with fresh ingredients. The fruit was also always available (oranges, bananas, mangoes, etc.). I never once felt hungry nor obligated to eat.
Security: The house I stayed in was extremely secure. There was an outside gate that always remained locked and the door leading to the inside of the house also always remained lock. I never once felt unsafe or like I needed to have extra protection for my belongings. There were also keys available to lock my room if I so chose, but I never felt the need.
Friendliness: I felt so welcome here in Peru! Maria Elena and her family welcomed me with open arms and I genuinely felt like I was part of the family. I was invited (and strongly encouraged) to participate in all of the events put on at the house (i.e. birthday party for Maria Elena´s daughter, etc.). Every single visitor was so friendly and welcoming. I loved everyone that I met while staying at Maria Elena´s.
Quality: I could not have asked for a better homestay! I loved my time here and cannot speak highly enough of the quality. Everything was clean, organized, welcoming. My bedroom was large and I had plenty of room for my belongings. It gets quite cold at night but I had so many blankets I never felt it. As mentioned above, the people were beyond lovely and the house was as well.
7.1.- Score the following from 1 to 10:
Quality of meals: _10__ if under 5, what was the issue:
Every meal was great! I have no complaints.
Quantity of each meal: _10__ if under 5, what was the issue:
The portions were always sufficient and Maria Elena always confirmed that there was enough on my plate before serving me.
How clean was the house: _10__ if under 5, what was the issue:
The house was cleaned almost every day that I was here. Towels and decorations were changed often and the kitchen was cleaned after every meal.
How safe was the house: _10__ if under 5, what was the issue:
The house was extremely safe. There were two locks (an outside gate and a very strong lock for the front door). The house was also located in a safe area and I never felt that I or my belongings were in danger.
8.- How were the local ABV Coordinator/staff and the support provided in-country: Airport, orientation, introduction to the program, schedule of the program, friendliness, solving problems?
Maria Elena, my host mom, is also the local coordinator. ME was amazing! She picked me up from the airport (my flight was delayed a few hours and she had been waiting for a while but was still so positive and excited to see me). Maria went with me the first time to the clinic and introduced me to the director there and made sure that I was aware of what was happening at all times. I never had any problems regarding my work or Spanish lessons, but I have no doubt that she would have solved the problems with ease.
In terms of setting up excursions (i.e. Machu Picchu, Lake Titicaca, etc.), she was also fantastic. She went with me to see the program director she usually recommends and I always felt safe on the excursions. Whenever I and the other volunteer staying at the house went on any excursions, she checked in on us many times to make sure everything was going well and that we were okay. She always asked for feedback on everything – the Spanish lessons (she even switched our instructor to one who would be better suited to our learning style after listening to one of the lessons), our volunteer site, and our trips. She always responded right away to any questions or problems we had, and I never felt like I had trouble contacting her.
9.- What was a daily schedule at the program, hours volunteered, activities you did?
I began my day at the clinic at 8:00 am. When I arrived, I immediately went to the children’s unit and assisted the nurses with brushing the children’s teeth, changing their clothes, and bathing them. We then either spent time with the children in the form of taking them outside in their wheelchairs or assisted in their therapy. I helped feed the children lunch and after I would again assist in brushing their teeth and changing their clothes. Left the clinic at 12:30 pm (4.5 hours volunteered) and walked home, where I ate lunch.
After lunch, at 2:00 pm, I would go to my Spanish professor’s house and we would do two hours of grammar and then two hours of conversation practice outside of the house at different sites in Cusco (museums, different plazas, etc.). This was great because I felt like I got to experience much more of the city than I otherwise would have. At 6:00, I would either return to my host family’s house for dinner or stay out for dinner.
A lot of my evenings consisted of exploring the city – going to different restaurants, stores, markets, etc. I had excursions planned for every weekend that I was here. They included: a city tour, Rainbow Mountain, Lake Titicaca, Machu Picchu, and the Sacred Valley. The schedule each weekend differed depending on the excursion.
10.- What was your favorite memory of this trip?:
Accommodation: I have so many favorite memories! One of my favorites is when we had a birthday barbecue for Maria Elena´s daughter, Paty. Friends and family came over the house and cooked so many delicious dishes! Kaitlyn (the other volunteer staying at my homestay) and I made carrot cake for Paty, which was a very fun experience because we had to get creative with the recipe to accommodate for the altitude.
We got to meet so many friends of the family and watch the World Cup (which is a much bigger deal here than in the United States) together, which was so fun!
Program: My favorite memory from volunteering at San Juan de Dios would be when I got to assist with therapy for the children. The therapy was working on cognition and fine motor skills. Most of the children I worked with were nonverbal, so therapy consisted of puzzles and games involving fine motor movements in the children´s hands.
One day I was working with a child named Anibel, and he had finished all of his puzzles correctly. His reward was to blow bubbles. Witnessing the joy he was experiencing while blowing those bubbles is definitely my favorite memory at the clinic.
Country: Again, I have so many favorites! One would have to be my visit to Lake Titicaca. I got to stay the night in a hostel and then go out on a boat the next day and visit the floating islands and meet the people who live on them. It was such an eye-opening experience. That same weekend I stayed the night on one of the islands with a host family. It was their daughter´s 16thbirthday so I got to celebrate that with her and her family.
The culture was so different on the islands from the mainland of Peru – different language, marriage traditions, etc., and it was really cool to get to see that firsthand. Also, the hikes that we did while on the islands were so beautiful it was really quite hard to believe that what I was seeing was real! At the top of one of the hikes, we could see Bolivia!
11.- How was the ABV USA support prior to traveling? Emails, chat online, calls, volunteer guide:
The travel guide was extremely helpful to have before traveling – it had suggestions for clothing, money, airports, food, etc. The online chat service was also very helpful to have. I had a few questions before coming and I used the online chat and I always received a prompt response. The emails and calls helped remind what I needed to do before leaving the United States and had very clear instructions.
My flight was delayed and I called the emergency number that was in the guide to let them know, and they let my coordinator (and host mom) know. I also received text messages asking about updates on my flight´s arrival, which was extremely comforting – I knew that people were checking on me and making sure that all went well.
12.- What do you think about the reservation system online?
I felt that it was a very efficient and effective way to organize my program. Instructions were clear and easily followed, and the availability of the online chat made any confusing aspects seem much less daunting because there was always someone ready to help you with any questions you might have.
13.- How did you find Abroaderview website?
I was looking for medical internships to go abroad on the internet. I was searching for something that involved volunteering, and I typed those requirements into the search engine and the website for Abroaderview popped up.
14.- Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers?
Yes, of course!