Benjamin Chung - Quechua in Peru
One day during school, my friend Nina told me about her upcoming programme with Projects Abroad in Moldova. I found it very interesting, and decided to take a look at what other destinations Projects Abroad offerred. I came upon Peru, and knew that I should apply! Already loving the Andes and South America, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity and experience.
I chose the Quechua language course, which I would later learn to be an obscure choice for a seventeen-year old (especially since it was my only project). Already having a firm grasp of Spanish, I wanted to expand my knowledge of South American culture and learn a very interesting language.
I felt confident beginning Quechua since I understood its type of grammar as a result of knowing Korean. I want a career in field research, so learning Quechua, I think, would be quite beneficial. In early July, I then packed my bags and set off to Pisaq, Peru to start my three week journey.
Arriving in Peru
After making a fool of myself at the Lima airport, I fuddled my way out of the terminal in Cusco. I was greeted by a happy Projects Abroad staff member who held a sign behind a fence. After a little wait for the hired taxi, I was whisked away, given a brief tour of the major streets and plazas, and then taken to my temporary home in Pisaq.
My Host Family in Peru
My host family was quite nice and accommodating. They were hosting veterans! They told me about their past residents from all over the world, and asked me the basic introductory questions. This was not my first host family. They were quite nice and gave me a private room with electricity.
I didn’t get to know their sons too well since they were always busy. Both were studying, working, or doing both simultaneously. However, I did enjoy their company during festival week when they were off, but I didn’t spend all my time with them.
My host sister (now a whopping four years old), and I would have fun together. We were close, and she seemed to like that I could more or less keep up with her in Spanish, unlike some of the other volunteers. In general, I really enjoyed my family.
They gave me some freedom but also made sure I was taking care of myself, especially when I fell ill. The food was tasty, pretty filling, and very starchy! Most days I would find myself in Ulrike’s; a wonderful Internet café that had Wifi and food.
The greatest part about my placement was that my host mother spoke Quechua. She was conversant, and would often throw it in to confuse me during our conversations. She was a great resource when studying. However, sometimes the vocabulary she gave me conflicted with that of my teacher. This was not a huge problem though. It brought on some great dialogue about cultural and linguistic creolism between my teacher and I.
Quechua Language Lessons
My Quechua classes were held at the house. After coming from a sightseeing trip with the host ladies, my teacher appeared out of the blue. It was unexpected, but my classes had started. My classes more or less followed this style.
As the classes progressed, we focused more on what I wanted to learn in order to continue my linguistic education in the US. As we focused more on grammar, I began to pick it up. By the first week, I could start conversations in Quechua, but they would disappointingly always go back to Spanish. It was useful to practice with locals though.
I learnt new vocabulary and worked on my accent, which I was told by my teacher is difficult for Asian people. By the end of the programmme, I was able to at least shop at the Pisaq market and communicate in Quechua. I was also able to continue conversations further without much hesitation. No matter my ability, the Peruvians I met were all very surprised and delighted about my linguistic adventure. They would quiz me and inquire about why I wanted to speak it since not everyone in Peru is able to; though, I learnt everyone recognises it.
Meeting Other Volunteers
The most important and wonderful part of my Projects Abroad experience was definitely meeting other volunteers. The first few days I was alone as almost everyone else from Projects Abroad was visiting Lake Titicaca. One Sunday I was woken up by two volunteers shouting about packing space in the next room. We eventually got introduced. I got to meet some of the greatest people I have ever met!
Even though I was the youngest of the Pisaq crew, I was welcomed and became great friends with the group. I missed the time when there were other guys in the town, since my Aussie housemate left after twenty-four hours after introduction. He was then replaced by a fun loving French expatriate woman from Montreal.
My second housemate and I became great friends! I accompanied her to Machu Picchu, helped her with Spanish, and shared in the surprises that Pisaq held daily. The same relationship occurred with the other pairs of volunteers in town. All the volunteers grew close to each other, but each housing pair had its own special bond.
My Final thoughts
My time in Peru was exciting, draining, and almost perfect! The final week was the Festival of the Virgin Carmen, and it wrapped up my time exquisitely. Here I could experience the Peruvian culture and gastronomy first hand, practice Quechua, speak Spanish, and celebrate with my friends the closing to all our adventures in Pisaq.
I still keep in contact with them, practice Quechua (though it’s difficult to find resources), and want to continue my time in Peru. I am looking forward to return to the country one day; ready to speak Quechua of course!