Yijia Wen - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I am always longing to live with a clear purpose, to make sure I am pursuing what I really want. So, I chose to go abroad to find myself. Before leaving, I was always not sure whether "I want to be a teacher" or "my mother wants me to be a teacher", whether "I want to live in New Zealand" or "my mother wants me to live in New Zealand". In my first year at uni, I have been getting to know that something you like might not be what you really like. Instead, you are just imagining "I like it. I like it." The only way to clarify my genuine enthusiasm and imaginary enthusiasm is to try to experience it by myself.

Volunteer with a child in Peru
Some stories will never end.

In the past 12 years, we were fully educated to study hard for the entrance exam of university. But, nobody told us what we should do while studying in uni. All things need to be explored by ourselves. If you have no clear answer in your heart, go outside your comfortable zone and experience it seriously.

While traveling, I can see how people live their lives and achieve themselves in a completely different way than me. There is a tiny balance inside, from which I could find something might not be so important, while something ignored before is considerably vital. I am longing for this power deeply in my heart.

Why did you choose Maximo Nivel? How about Latin America?

Initially, I chose Latin America just because it's very far away from my hometown. Two points decide a straight line; this line is almost a diagonal across the Pacific Ocean. I wished I could travel to somewhere far away as far as possible while I was still young.

Maximo Nivel is a leading educational travel and study abroad organization based in Latin America, which provides variety of volunteer, internships, TEFL certificates, and native Spanish programs. Volunteer programs focus on experience, which were fit for me as a freshman in uni, as well as being most able to get me immersed in local cultures. I taught English at a local school, which was also an opportunity to examine if I would really like to be a teacher for my future career life.

Machu Picchu, Peru
Machu Picchu - here you are full of life with loving green colour. Only the cloudy sky would remember what happened 500 years ago.

What was your favorite part about Peru?

I was located in Cusco, Peru while on my program. It was a small but exquisite, historical city. I loved staying alone at Plaza de Armas, keeping diary with the breezes in a sunny morning, as well as seeing old couples sitting together under the big trees. I loved talking with my homestay grandma every night. She was always curious about all things happened in my days, and always gave me useful guidance to feel the smell of the city. I loved her cooking, super great Peruvian dishes every day, and also admired her serious lifestyle.

Besides, as a Chinese person, I also loved to see Chifa (Chinese restaurant) all over the streets. I could feel great respect and warm welcome from local people. They often say "Chinese girl, great" after knowing I am from China, which made me feel really incredible and super wonderful.

What made your experience abroad unique?

For the limited reasons of time and finance, I only visited Cusco and Lima in Peru. It was considerably different between central Lima and my volunteer placement of rural Cusco, just very similar with the huge gap between the wealthy and poor in China, which might be common among most developing countries. I felt so lucky that I have seen both poverty and wealth, both depression and coziness in this country in such a short time. I have seen a little girl crying for her mom's death, as well as a couple kissing in the setting sun.

How did the local staff support you throughout your program?

The project director, Coco, at my placement was a great man. He helped me a lot to immerse in the local cultures and get in touch with the children. He introduced a lot of backgrounds about them and told me his difficulties frankly, which made me feel like I was important to develop the small project.

Hand touching Inca stones in Peru
Touching the 12-angled Inca stones, I felt like all the stories with the children around Cusco in the past few weeks were just in my dream. It was a long, huge, and amazing dream.

Another big special thank you for Eveline, a super great field manager at Maximo Nivel. She assisted me with some useful skills of classroom management and course advice, as well as the inspiring words and warm hugs. I will always remember that in the year when I was 20, I traveled alone to the edge of the world and met someone who was also a lonely dreamer. Also, I would always remember the great smell of sunshine and wind in Latin America.

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

Broadening the children's horizon. "They even don't know Lima.", this was what Eveline told me. I was there for only one month. It was impossible to improve their English skills a lot; the only thing I could do was to let them know how huge the world was, as well as stimulating their motivation for further learning. I could have done more, instead of showing them the world map with names and pictures of countries only.

Outline a typical day at your placement.

  • 3 p.m. - Arrive at the project and greet the children. Some indoors activities, such as reading stories and coloring pictures.
  • 4 p.m. - English class for older group of children.
  • 4:45 p.m. - English class for younger group of children.
  • 5:20 p.m. - Play with the children in the yard.
  • 6 p.m. - Discuss some problems with the project director.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

Exploring in and around Cusco city. Keeping diary at Plaza de Armas in the sunny morning. Talking with my homestay grandma. Meeting some great friends at the cafe at Maximo Nivel.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

It was a local homestay, providing tasty breakfast and supper every day. I had an independent bedroom and bathroom. The hostess was an old woman living alone in Cusco centre. She learned how to paint in Italy in her early years, and had traveled to most of the world. She was very independent and ambitious in thinking and living, and kept passionate to the world as she was young. I loved her fridge best, because of all the travel souvenirs on it. I wish I could be an elegant woman like her someday.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

You are coming here to help the children in need, not to have fun for yourself and get a volunteer certificate only. It's your responsibility to try your best to bring them new things and have them experience something different.

English teaching volunteers in Peru
See you great guys again someday.

Now that you're home, how has your time in Peru impacted your life? 

Traveling abroad didn’t make me set new goals; it simply stripped away whatever was hiding deep inside. Currently, I am studying mathematics with a minor in education at uni, pursuing a bachelor's degree. I am also planning to do a master’s in teaching and to be a secondary math teacher later for several years.

After being fully independent in finances and life decisions, I wish I could go back to take public welfare in education as my career, because this time abroad made me feel like I am belonging to Latin America. I loved it there. I have already enrolled in some introductory and intermediate Spanish courses in my uni for the next year, so I hope everything will go well.