I love to travel and felt I needed a purpose, and volunteering in any capacity certainly fulfills that need.
Why did you choose teaching English specifically for your time abroad?
I travelled with a cousin who encouraged me to try teaching English, to go outside my comfort zone, and challenge myself.
What was your favorite part about volunteering in Cusco?
I loved meeting all the brave and courageous people, both young and old from all over the world, who so selflessly give of themselves in these opportunities. I loved meeting the people I worked with and experiencing Cusco from a different perspective than just as a tourist.
What surprised you most about Peru?
I went to Peru with no expectations. I have travelled extensively and looked forward to being exposed to a different culture. The volunteer experience was lovely and, I suppose, a surprising way to travel as we were totally immersed in the community, experiencing the city and the culture from the inside, making it one of the best travel experiences I have ever had.
How did the local Maximo Nivel staff support you throughout your program?
They were available, they included us in activities and made us feel valued and significant, they photocopied, they downloaded films, and they offered constant encouragement.
What do you think made your experience abroad unique?
The people, the volunteers, the people I worked with, and the staff of Maximo Nivel.
Describe a typical day in the life of your program.
We went to our placement at 6 p.m. and ended at 9 p.m. We had two classes, each one was an hour and half long. I had an advanced class who were so bright and motivated, and wanted to focus on pronunciation, so we focused on readings with each student taking turns and derived a vocabulary list from the readings.
What did you enjoy doing in your free time?
Wandering the beautiful colonial city of Cusco, going to Machu Picchu and seeing the Incan ruins, and learning about the history of this area.
Was it difficult to communicate with locals?
It was not difficult to communicate. I was very honest and open with people about my limitations, and everyone I met was so warm and welcoming and helpful. I also became extremely good at charades, so it was fun trying to communicate.
What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?
Our host family was so nice. They provided excellent meals, but it was cold and I wish I had been better prepared. It was close to our placement though, and we were able to walk back and forth.
What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in Peru?
I wish I had known more about the temperature so as to be better prepared for the cold, although it was easy and inexpensive in Cusco to shop for warmer clothing. I was prepared for rain, but if I’d prepared for the torrential, soaking downpours, then I would have taken better rain gear.
Anyone packing for Peru should know to take very warm night clothes and take clothing to dress in layers. Not all homes have hot showers, so go prepared and lower your expectations. Travel with an open mind and an open heart, and be prepared for significant differences. It's fun and enlightening to explore different cultures and different living experiences, and the volunteer experience certainly affords one that opportunity.
What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?
I think the hardest part of volunteering in Peru was not feeling overly confident in my own skills and abilities, never having taught before. I intend to volunteer at a local library at home to further develop those skills though, as positions are available in volunteering to teach conversational English in my home city. Each project has its own set of skill requirements, and although volunteers cannot expect to be proficient in every skill required, just practicing in any area before going would help. Although, even licensed teachers that I spoke to said it was different than what they had experienced in their own careers.
How has your time in Peru impacted your life?
Travel provides an incredible education, an opportunity to experience and broaden your mind. I share the experience with my children and grandchildren. If my travelling motivates them to explore, it will have been all worthwhile.
What do you feel the biggest benefit of volunteering abroad is?
The greatest benefit to travelling and volunteering abroad is realizing how capable you really are. It inspires self confidence and provides the chance to develop new skills, learn about the world we live in, and pass information onto others. My grandson is studying Peru in grade three and I collected little trinkets to bring back for his school. I have even been asked to take my pictures into his classroom and talk about my experience in Peru, which I think will be wonderful as it is something I think needs sharing.
I realized that no matter a person's age, everyone has something to offer. I learned so much from the people I taught and it was such a wonderful reciprocal experience. I'll not forget this one too soon.
Would you recommend your program to others? Why?
I would strongly recommend this to others as it is a life enhancing opportunity.
If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?
I intend to apply for another volunteer position in the not too distance future, but am open to anywhere, doing just about anything. Perhaps teaching English again or working with children, but there are endless opportunities and endless places to visit, so I'd like to see and do it all.
Joy has two sons and three grandchildren. She is a retired social worker, but she spent the majority of her career helping people with disabilities, as well as people struggling with poverty and addiction. When her husband died three years ago, Joy learned that you have to truly live while you are alive, which has inspired her decisions ever since.