The build up
I signed myself up to Peru with a completely positive mindset, my only worry was missing people. The plan for my PTY was to try two different career paths: teaching in Peru and charity work in the UK (which I am currently undertaking). Now, my blind optimism did trip me up a bit. I’ve never been an over thinker however, some nerves about this journey probably would have helped. In hindsight I definitely should have clarified the details of my accommodation. I had been told I would be living in a shared house with five rooms. Some might say it was therefore safe to assume there would be four other people living there. This was not the case. I arrived in Lima, the capital city, late at night after a very stressful outbound journey which was delayed by an entire day, so when I got to the house, I immediately passed out onto the bed.
A rocky start
6:00am – my eyes popped open. Jet lag. I got up and unpacked my suitcase (yes, I only brought one suitcase, no I don’t know what I was thinking either). At 11 I had my first and only training session on how to teach English. The other students were really nice but none of them were based in Lima so we went for some Pisco Sours (a traditional Peruvian cocktail) and got to know each other, slightly pointlessly, and never saw each other again. This meant it wasn’t until the next day that I realised there was no on else living in the house. I was DEVASTATED. Studying has always provided me with ready made friends whether that’s housemates, course mates or people you meet through societies, but this was not studying abroad, this was a placement year. I tried not to let it get me down but eventually everything hit me at once, the jet lag, the isolation and the culture shock. I began to wonder what on Earth I was doing there.
I woke up the next day with a new burst of determination. The amount of time, energy and money that had gone into getting myself to Peru forced me to ensure I had a good time. Thankfully I managed to track down a group of English students working in Peru on Facebook and we met up. Unfortunately, they were all coming to the end of their placement. I was disappointed because I didn’t know if another group would replace them, but I was grateful to have friends even if it was only for a few weeks. Whilst it was great to spend time with them they didn’t want to do any touristy things because they had already seen it all, so we spent a lot of time in Irish bars, they were all desperate for English food having put up with chicken and rice for breakfast and dinner every single day (a slight downside of living with a host family).
After I started my placement, I got a lot happier. The teachers were so kind and welcoming and the kids were adorable. I was nervous about teaching as I had pretty minimal experience, but I got the hang of it quite quickly with a lot of support from my supervisor Janet. I went from assisting with lessons to planning and delivering my own.
I had a three-week holiday coming up and I had no idea what to do with it. It is too dangerous to travel Peru as a single woman and the thought of staying in ‘Lima The Grey’ on my own for three weeks was far from enticing. (turns out South American winter is COLD despite the weather app telling me it was 20 degrees every time I checked it before arriving.) Eventually it became apparent that the group I had met were going travelling after they finished and two of the girls invited me to come with them! I was ecstatic, we went to Chile, Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay. I booked my flights and we were off! It was the best three weeks I could have hoped for, but as the trip came to an end the thought of returning to Lima was creeping up on me.
The French girls
As I trudged up the stairs to my house, I heard voices. I stopped in my tracks. People!? Spanish people!? I opened the door and saw four girls sitting round the table drinking beer and smoking. French people! I said “Hola, do you guys speak English?” and they said “Yes”! I could have exploded with happiness, I had housemates! The next day was the first sunny day I had experienced in Lima. I know what you’re thinking, this example of pathetic fallacy is way too convenient for an English Lit student’s blog, but its’ true. The sun was shining and we went to explore Miraflores and agreed to go surfing he next day. It was happening! I was living in Peru! And really experiencing it this time! We quickly became really good friends. We went on two trips together to a beautiful lake and the northern beaches.
After the French girls arrived time began to fly by, I went from counting down the days until I was going home to being desperate to stay. At the half way point my boyfriend came to visit and we travelled to Huacachina, an oasis in the middle of the Ica desert. My parents arrived a few weeks later and we visited the jungle and Machu Picchu. I was extremely lucky to see so much of Peru, a country with lakes, mountains, deserts, beaches and jungles!
I learnt an incredible amount during my placement abroad, I picked up some Spanish, overcame culture shock, developed the ability to Teach English as a Foreign Language and gained an understanding of Peruvian people, food, dance, music and history. I experienced three earthquakes, a hospital trip due to a spider bite and took fourteen flights. I was shocked to realise how different the experience was, compared to what I was expecting, because nothing can really prepare you for how overwhelming it can be.
Peru will always hold a very special place in my heart.