by Emily Gabbard
I get off of a plane at 4:30 a.m. in Trujillo, Peru. I’m running on no sleep from my travels. In the first hour, I compete in a food eating contest. I eat a mixture of bread, jello, an egg, a banana, and a soda. My partner and I come in last place. I feel like I’m in a parallel universe or something. But things normalize soon.
Let me explain a little bit about what I am doing in Trujillo. I am an English teacher at the Horizon School. The Horizon School was founded by Manuel and Lino Gutierrez, who believed that teaching children English would provide them with a better future. This school is not exactly in Trujillo, it is located in the “slums” of the city in a smaller part called La Esperanza. I do not believe that this small town is as bad as people claim it to be. Some taxi drivers refuse to take us home because they have this belief that La Esperanza is horrible. People here make assumptions and judgments based on unreliable evidence. I know from experience that La Esperanza is not all bad. The first time that I went to the local market I dropped 100 soles, which is a lot of money for anyone. A woman picked it up, found me, and made sure that I got my money back. This woman looked like she needed the money more than I did. She was wearing tattered clothing, old beat up shoes, and she made a living selling fruit, which I am sure is a tough thing to do. However, this woman did not take the money. This was an unbelievable act of kindness that I will never forget.
I live in the volunteer house at the Horizon School with people from Germany, Switzerland, Denmark, and America. All of these people learned English as a second language. They speak Danish, German, and Spanish. They have conversations in different languages, and I have no idea what they are saying. This is completely foreign to me: I am used to being in America where people speak English, and I know exactly what is happening. I already know a great deal of Spanish, but hopefully when I leave here I will be able to speak German and Danish as well.
Living and working in the same building can sometimes make a person crazy. Once in a while I love to get out of the house to go to the local market: It is beautiful there. I can almost buy everything I need at this market, and it is only a ten minute walk from the house. I can buy fruit, vegetables, eggs, rice, milk, tea… everything. Also, the people that work at the market love seeing “the gringas” (the white people) come buy food at the market. I love supporting the local businesses, and the market is very cheap, so it is a win-win for everyone.
Besides volunteering I go on adventures that allow me to explore Peru. I have been to Chan Chan, a local Incan ruin, Huanchaco, the closest beach to where I live, also the first time that I touched the Pacific Ocean! I have been to the lovely and beautiful Plaza de Armas. I love to sit there and watch the different people, cultures, and languages float around the center. Another great adventure happened just last week. I, along with my house mates, found a beautiful beach that almost nobody goes to. We call it our own secret beach. There are many more adventures to come in the next month.
Not every day is filled with an exciting adventure. Most days are spent teaching, relaxing, thinking, reading, and writing about everything that I have experienced. I reflect on the horrible fishy smell that I pass in the market, a smell that I had never before encountered in my life. I think about the children that I teach English to, how eager and ready they are to learn. I think about the nature that I am surrounded with. There is no grass, few trees, and the little flowers that we do have we have to cover them with a tarp so they will not get stolen: I feel like that kind of defeats the purpose of having flowers. Also, I think about the fact that it has not rained the entire time that I have been here! I am not used to that considering I lived in a place that was once categorized as a rainforest.
Now down to my volunteer work. Teaching at the Horizon school is wonderful. I teach English class five hours a day, five days a week. I spend the rest of my time preparing for class and then cooking meals, eating meals, and finally cleaning meals, which makes me very grateful for my mother back at home. Oh, how I miss her cooking!
As I said before, I live and work in the same building! It’s very easy to wake up and walk out of my bedroom into my classroom. The students I teach are wonderful because they are eager to learn. Most of the students have aspiring dreams of becoming a doctor or changing the world in some great way. These students feel like they need English in order to accomplish these goals.
I am using this opportunity to explore my teaching interest. Is this something I want to pursue at Carolina? I understand now how hard it is to teach and prepare for a class, but also how rewarding it is when my students are excited to learn.
I took four years of Spanish in high school, but it did not prepare me for this. There is definitely a language barrier between me and the students. I am teaching them English, but they are also teaching me Spanish. The students understand when I mispronounce a word. They are willing to help me the same way I willing to help them.
I have learned a lot about myself throughout this first month of my gap year. I have learned how to live on my own, travel by myself, and speak enough Spanish to have a taxi take me to the grocery store and back home, one of my biggest accomplishments, I must say. I have learned so much that it is almost unexplainable. I am beyond thankful to UNC, the fellowship, and everyone that made this possible.