GoAbroad Interview

Chelsey Rickert - Director of International Programs in Peru

Chelsey Rickert

Born in Colorado, Chelsey moved to Hawai’i when she was 17, spending many years on the island of Maui, which she considers her real home. When it was time to finish her degree in Psychology she moved to the Big Island, “Hawai’i”, where she also studied speech pathology. During the summer of her last year of university she went to Peru to volunteer, and she never went back! Instead, she became part of the Maximo Nivel team and now directs all programs in Peru. 

How did you first learn about Maximo Nivel?

I first came to Maximo Nivel as a volunteer in 2013. I worked in a childcare project at a preschool for about three months. 

What international experiences of your own inspired you to get involved in the field of international education?

The first time that I had ever travelled abroad was when I came to volunteer with Maximo Nivel. The experience was literally life changing as I had not expected to stay here when I had arrived. I also took Spanish classes at Maximo Nivel while I was volunteering, and acquired more of the language in two months than I had in years of taking classes in the United States.

I was so thankful for the experience that I had here and everything that I had learned that I wanted to be able to take my experience and use that to help others through their own experiences. In this way I am able to help not only our international learners, but also the communities where we work. 

Antioch University students at host familys house in Peru

With students from Antioch University - New Hampshire at their host family’s house

Why do you think international education is valuable?

International education is valuable because it helps us to connect to others and realize how similar we all really are yet at the same time it enlightens us on our differences, for better or worse. This is so important as the world becomes more and more globalized all the time. 

Understanding cultural similarities and differences allows us to think more profoundly about our own beliefs, and analyze our thoughts, deeds, and actions on a deeper level.

I also think that traveling internationally makes us a bit more vulnerable, but in that vulnerability, we can begin to see the world from a much different perspective, and begin to realize how many amazing people there are in every corner of the globe that are doing truly wonderful things. 

International education, in terms of language, is an absolute necessity. To learn a language internationally is to also discover much more about the history and culture from which the language emerged. It it also invaluable in pushing you beyond your comfort zone, so that you have the opportunity to use the language in all of its’ practical uses. 

Since you are director of Maximo Nivel’s international programs in Peru, why do you think participants should choose Peru?

There are so many things that make Peru an amazing place and why I am so proud to call it my home! Machu Picchu is the obvious choice. It was definitely on my bucket list and one of the reasons I came here in the first place. Since being here, I have realized that Machu Picchu, while incredible, is only the tip of the iceberg. Peru also has an amazingly beautiful coastline (with penguins!), desert, and stunning mountains that roll into the Amazon rainforest! 

Traditional Peruvian culture is also very strong. When I first arrived I worried that much of the wild dances and colorful traditional dress that I saw was just something that was put on for the tourists. It wasn’t until I began volunteering in communities that I realized that all of it was the true Peru, and that it was just a benefit for them that the tourists enjoyed it as well. There is always a celebration to enjoy here in Peru! 

Chelsey Rickert working at the Maximo Nivel office in Peru

Working at the office

Learning Spanish was also made incredibly easy for me here. Peruvians, especially in Cusco, speak a much slower, clearer Spanish, making it so much easier on the ear. I think anyone interested in learning Spanish should really consider choosing Peru for this reason. 

Also…the food! There is so much variety in the food across the country due to the diverse climates found here. Peruvians are also very proud of their food and would never place a sub-par plate of food in front of you! They are starting to become famous throughout the world for their culinary creations and trying everything that Peru has to offer will show you why they are getting their reputation.

What makes Maximo Nivel’s programs in Peru extraordinary?

The passion that we put into what we do is what makes Maximo Nivel Peru so extraordinary! Every one of us on the team puts everything we have into what we do. We are all so happy to be here and help to make Cusco and the surrounding communities even better, and I think that this is what makes all the difference!

How are students supported throughout their time in Peru?

All of our learners are supported by our team every step of the way, from the moment they leave their house back at home, until the moment they leave Cusco, and even beyond! We are available on call 24/7, so if there are any hiccups on their journey here we are always available to support them. Our team also works with our travel partner to make sure that everyone is picked up safely from the airport/bus terminal upon arrival, taken to their home, and then to the Maximo Nivel office.

From there we provide orientations, tours, answer any and all questions, and give them all the information they need to have an amazing experience here in Peru. We also check in on all of our learners at least three times a week, either in the Spanish classroom, at their homestay, in the projects where they do their volunteer work, etc. to ensure that every learner feels completely supported and has all the guidance and structure they need to accomplish their goals. We are available by phone, Facebook, Whatsapp, email, etc. 24 hours a day as well for any support that a learner might need outside of our scheduled hours.

Once a learner leaves we are also available too! We help with reference letters, with fundraising efforts, with updates, and much more as well.

Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

At the Uyuni Salt Flats in Bolivia

What does a typical day look like for a Maximo Nivel participant in Peru?

We have so many programs here at Maximo Nivel Peru that a typical day may look very different depending on the program:

For our TEFL learners, they typically begin class at 9:00 a.m. and end around 4:00 p.m. Every day throughout the TEFL course includes so much diverse material. Our amazing TEFL trainer Claudia is always coming up with dynamic and interactive ways to learn, it is hard to say what a “typical” day for a TEFL student might be. But, it is sure to include lots of laughs, tons of great advice, and a wealth of information they can take with them.

For our Native Spanish program, a learner can choose a variety of programs that best suit their needs. The most common program includes a four hour group lesson followed by a two hour private lesson later in the day. While six hours a day of studying may seem intense, our Spanish teachers are fantastic at integrating class time with fun activities and often also take their learners out of the classroom to visit museums, marketplaces, restaurants, etc. 

For our volunteer program, a typical day would start out with breakfast with their host family. After this they would likely go to work at their volunteer project site, working at clinics, schools, orphanages, construction sites, etc. After that they would have lunch with friends around town and attend Spanish classes in the afternoon. A typical day would also include time to explore the city and a family dinner with their hosts at night.

For volunteers in our jungle conservation program, they would likely spend the mornings after breakfast working on conservation efforts, have lunch together in the afternoon, and a rest during the hottest hours of the day. As it gets cooler, volunteers would probably resume their work they began in the morning and have a community dinner with other volunteers in the evening. At night they might also take part in data collection and monitoring of nocturnal amphibians, insects, mammals, and other critters. 

A typical day for an intern would be very similar to that of a volunteer, but they would also have more hours working at their site and frequent meetings with their Maximo Nivel program advisor, to maximize their impact at their project site and help them to prepare their final presentation at the end of their time here. 

We also have yoga, scuba, and surf schools in Peru, as well as an adventure program to check out some of the most incredible sites and ruins in the Cusco area. For these programs, a typical day for one would be very different than a typical day for someone in another program, but all would be truly wonderful! 

Boating in the Amazon in Peru

On the boat to one of our jungle conservation sites in the Amazon

On the flipside, what does a typical day of work look like for you?

For me a typical day starts at 7 a.m., and sometimes earlier depending on phone calls from learners needing my support. I come into the office and begin each day with a meeting with our international team to make sure that we are all ready and prepared for the day. After which we all go in separate ways, with most of us leaving the office to check in on our learners in the field. 

Our amazing client service manager, Silvia, stays in the office to ensure that every learner at Maximo Nivel has the support they need when they come in for advice. Some days I stay in with Silvia to manage the day-to-day operations and other days I am fortunate to go out into the field and work with our volunteers at our project sites. Then I am usually back in the office to help close up and start fresh for the next day!

What do you enjoy most about working for Maximo Nivel?

There are many things that I really love about working for Maximo Nivel that it would be difficult to pick just one that I love the most. I love that everyday can be completely different from the next and there is never time to be bored. I love that we have the ability to help so many people. From learners studying with us to the children and adults we help at our projects, at the end of the day I can always say that I accomplished something great that helped others.

Maximo Nivel as an organization is always very supportive and helps us to achieve our goals within the community. They provide us with the resources we need to do many great things! I know that this is not just one thing, but they are all truly interconnected and without one, the other wouldn’t be possible either. 

If you could participate in any of Maximo Nivel’s programs, which one would you choose and why?

Volunteering at another Maximo Nivel location would be at the top of my list. I truly love spending my time helping other people and I would love to learn from that exchange as well. Since I have already volunteered, taken Spanish classes, and completed the TEFL course with Maximo Nivel, I would also really enjoy trying something new and would love the opportunity to do the Yoga School (RYT200) Certification program. I have always really enjoyed Yoga and know that whatever and wherever Maximo Nivel does a program it is certain that it will be an amazing experience!