Ben Chung - 2014 Program Participant

La Plaza de Armas of Cusco, Peru

La Plaza de Armas of Cusco, Peru - Photo Courtesy of Ben Chung

What inspired you to apply for an international program in Peru?

I went to Peru with Projects Abroad not explicitly because it was outside the U.S., but for the content of the program. Quechua was, and still is, a language that fascinates me, and I thought it was appropriate to begin learning it where it itself began: the Andes.

Why did you choose a program focused on Quechua?

I want to work with language conservation efforts in the future, and I do not think knowing Spanish alone is enough for that type of work in South America. Quechua is underrepresented today, but has a historically important cultural presence that still resonates within the Andes. I see Quechua as another tool and window into South American culture. Anyone who has a vested interest in Peru, let alone South America, I think ought to investigate it further.

What was your favorite part about the location of your program?

I lived in a small town outside of Cusco (Qosqo in Quechua) called Pisac (Pisaq). It was relatively quiet up until the town festival and allowed me to study and focus on Quechua. However, it was still close enough to Cusco to go into the city when I had a free day. I was able to live in both rural and urban Peruvian settings.
Hiking to Machu Picchu, Peru

A trip to Machu Picchu - Photo Courtesy of Ben Chung

What made language study in Peru unique for you?

Few people specifically want to study Quechua when they come to Peru, but there are many Peruvians enthusiastically ready to teach foreigners their native tongue. Projects Abroad offers instruction both in more widely spoken languages like Arabic and Spanish as well as local languages like Wolof and Ewe. Quechua is one of the local language programs, and even for other Projects Abroad volunteers in the town, I was a black sheep for studying this less widely spoken language.

How supportive was local staff throughout your program?

The Projects Abroad staff was helpful and understanding domestically and in-country. When I had an issue with my class schedule, they listened and responded to my concerns and problems promptly, even though it was a little difficult to contact them at first.

What do you wish you could change about your program experience?

Statue near Machu Picchu in Peru

¡Bienvenidos a Pisac! - Photo Courtesy of Ben Chung

I wish I had learned and spoken more Quechua in Peru. I did not reach a level of fluency; I did not expect to. However, I wish I had done more since I knew it would be harder to continue learning Quechua in the U.S. Additionally, getting my finances settled beforehand would have been optimal. It is not fun to be in Peru with just a few Soles in your pocket.

What was a normal day like for you in Peru?

I would wake up at around 6:30 a.m. for my 45 minute Quechua class at 7:00 a.m. It was early, but my teacher was usually late or sometimes did not show up, so I would go to the local café, Ulrike's, to get in some extra studying or for food. Classes would end at around 11:00 a.m. or 12:00 p.m., and so afterward, I would do homework with my housemate who at the time was learning Spanish. After work and lunch, my housemate and I would go hiking, to the market, into Qosqo, or hang out with locals or other volunteers. At nights, all the volunteers and our local friends would convene at our Peruvian friend’s bar for some decompression and relaxation.

What activities did you enjoy most outside of your language lessons?

Eating cuy (Guinea Pig) in Peru

Festival cuy! (Guinea Pig)

The final week I was there, the town had a huge festival for their patron saint. It was a perfect end to my time in Peru. Most nights, we would go to the public/private get-togethers on what seemed like every corner of the town, eating local foods like cuy (guinea pig) and enjoying Peruvian party customs. It was a great way to say goodbye to a bunch of people I grew close to. We still remain in contact to this day.

What kind of housing did you have in Peru?

I lived with a host family that owned a small bar close to the main plaza of the town. They were welcoming, gave me my own room, and spoke some Quechua too! They treated my housemate and me just like real family, especially when the whole house got the flu for a week.

Some of my friends recently went down to Peru and even visited Pisaq, delivering some letters for me to some friends and my old host family. They all ended up spending the day in Pisaq with them, and my host family even sent a letter back with them for me.

I have had host families in the past, and this one by far was one of the friendliest, always teaching me about Peru and its customs.

How have you taken what you learned in Peru and applied it in your life at home?

In the United States, I volunteer at a local Hispanic center, and there are some Peruvians that work here as well who are at least familiar with Quechua and Aymara, another indigenous language of the Andes. Quechua works as a mechanism for cross-cultural connection, and through them, I have learned about other opportunities to learn Quechua domestically. I am still a student of the language and am looking forward to studying Quechua and other indigenous languages more in-depth at university.