Jennifer McCarron - 2016 Program Participant

TEFL certification class in Cusco, Peru

TEFL classmates

What inspired you to apply for an international program?

Last year, my husband and I visited Cusco briefly as a part of guided tour of Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley. Over the four or five days we were there, I was thrilled to feel my Spanish-speaking muscles bulking up quickly. On a cab ride back from the train station at Ollantaytambo on our second to last day, I was practicing my Spanish with the cab driver. He mentioned that many Cusquenas and Peruvians want to learn English and take advantage of the area's booming tourism industry. In that dark and bumpy ride, I began planning my return trip! The clouds of ideas were forming. I wanted to learn to teach English as a Second Language, and teach it Cusco.

Why did you pick Maximo Nivel in particular?

When researching Maximo Nivel, I found that their organization had grown significantly over the past 10 years. This indicated that their programs and staff were effective enough to create and sustain growth. To me, this is a sign of a quality organization.

Stairs to Cristo Blanco above Cusco, Peru

Climbing stairs at over 11,000 feet to Cristo Blanco

What was your favorite part about Cusco?

For me, one of Cusco's highlights is its colorful markets. Outdoors or indoors, the markets are chock-full of artisan and agricultural products that are a delight to behold. A far cry from the supermarkets and boutiques of the states, you can ask a vendor "who made this stone sculpture?" or "where were these grapes grown?" and they will answer simply "my husband made it" or, "they're from my neighbor's farm." This is the epitome of buying and eating local.

How is Maximo Nivel’s TEFL program unique?

Maximo Nivel's TEFL program is unique because it has the un-equaled Claudia Behnke for a teacher. Claudia, or "Mama Clau Clau" made what could be a grueling program (believe what they say-  there really is A LOT of work to do in three weeks!) into a fun and interesting one. I would say Maximo's TEFL program rivaled my Master's program for the amount of work assigned in a short amount of time. But, Mama Clau Clau makes it do-able for everyone. She, as well as the other staff at Maximo, was flexible and accommodated my and other student's special needs and concerns.

In what ways did local staff support you throughout your stay?

When I started feeling sick, I called the International Office at Maximo. The staff arranged for the doctor to visit my homestay home within a few hours. Dr. Grover speaks nearly perfect English and, unlike many doctors, is a good listener. He had me set up in the hospital with all the medicine I needed within thirty minutes of arriving at my home. He gave me a calm assurance that I would be just fine shortly. This was invaluable to me as I was about as sick as I have ever been in my life, and without any family around!

Colorful markets in Cusco, Peru

Colorful Markets

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

If I could change anything about my trip, I would not have eaten whatever it was that landed me in the hospital for three days! The difficulty of being sick and without family in a foreign country caused me to end my journey early. However, I do have plans to return to Cusco soon! Even the extreme gastrointestinal distress I had could not, it seems, end my love affair with the green hills and rocky sidewalks of Cusco.

I would like to tell anyone traveling to Cusco that they should be MORE than careful following the rules of eating raw food there. I would also like to tell anyone traveling to Cusco that the nurses at SOS Clinic in Barrio Wanchaq are BEYOND wonderful! I was treated with respect, gentleness, and understanding. My treatment was very effective and I felt very comfortable and cared for with the clinic staff. (Shout out to Danitza! A hardworking and lovely nurse at SOS Clinic).

Describe the structure of your average day in Cusco.

Every morning, my roommate and I had a quick breakfast before walking to school. One thing I really valued about our daily lessons was that we had breaks every hour; in such a faced-paced program, this was crucial! During breaks I could plan trips with my friends, review material, or just relax. During our hour lunch breaks, my fellow students and I visited different nearby eateries. Our afternoons were peppered with fun games and discussions (such as karaoke battles and telling your most embarrassing stories) and classes ended promptly at 4PM. After class, there was time to shop, do assignments, and maybe take a salsa class before dinner. By the end of everyday I was ready to fall into bed!

What was your favorite thing to do outside the normal day-to-day schedule of your program?

My favorite thing to do on the weekend was to walk to Cristo Blanco, at the top of hill right on the edge of Cusco's city limits. This tiny trek offered wonderful views of the whole city, a heart-pounding, stair-stepping workout, and a great chance to chat with friends on the way.

Ruins in Pisaq in the Sacred Valley, Peru

A day trip to the ruins at Pisaq rivals Machu Picchu

What were your living arrangements like in Cusco? What did you like best about it?

I lived in a homestay in Cusco with a roommate taking the same TEFL program. The woman I lived with was retired but still an artist teaching occasional painting classes. I loved our dinner conversations; our host was open-minded and had a huge breadth of intelligence and experience. Our host, my roommate, and I discussed the films of Kurosawa, the literature of Borges, the curative qualities of Ayahuasca, environmental concerns, Inka heritage and history, favorite recipes and other things. It was wonderful to look forward to these interesting and edifying chats over simple but delicious dinners.

How is life different after your experience in Peru?

I now have a crucial skill: I know the critical ESL teaching techniques and am extremely motivated to put them into practice! As I apply for ESL jobs here in the states, I also have a new appreciation for super hot showers! I also know that I have a treasure trove of friends in Cusco, including my homestay host, the Maximo Nivel staff, and my classmates who stayed in Cusco. I can't wait to visit again soon!