Buenas noches! I am officially back in the States and able to reflect on my last week of my study abroad trip to Peru. We spent the last week of our trip in Cusco after being in Lima for the first three weeks. We had the opportunity to sit in on classes at a Fe Y Alegria in Andahuaylillas, play with kids at a Ludoteca after school program, and participate in an Andean ritual and visit a sustainable house in Cuyuni.
From the time I got off the plane, to the end of the Andean ritual, I could tell how drastically different Cusco was compared to Lima. Cusco was much more traditional in look and feel compared to the very urban feel of Lima. Men, women and children were dressed in traditional clothing and were more ‘reserved’ in nature. I think there is a strong sense of culture in Cusco and this was really important for me to understand upon traveling here so that I could better comprehend the way of living and especially the way education works. The context that you are going to experience and learn from is very important so having background knowledge is pertinent.
The school that we had the privilege of visiting was called Fe Y Alegria 44! It is a privately funded, public school in Andahuaylillas. This school is bilingual and they speak Spanish and Quechua. Something that I immediately recognized in the school was how lively, colorful and fun all of the classrooms were. They seemed to encourage learning along with the playfulness of being a child which I thought was different from classrooms I saw in Lima where most of the art was based almost solely for learning purposes. Something else that I thought was very encouraging was the way that they approach the use of both languages. In one of the classrooms, the teacher asked them about Quechua, if they know it or not, if anyone in their family speaks it and what they think of the language. These questions were not asked in a demeaning or negative way but rather in an explorative and curious way to get the kids to think about questions they may not have thought much about. From the few days I spend experiencing the Andes education system, I found that their ways of teaching harbored positive thoughts, actions and ideas and while there are a lot of differences between the Andean education system and Lima’s, I think they are equal. They are equal because the kids are learning important skills such as math and science but also skills like healthy coping mechanisms, self-esteem and more. In some ways, I think that the Andean education system may be a step above Lima’s regardless of the material things that some of the schools in Lima have.
In all of these context we talk a lot about flourishing and about being a whole person and how to get to that point. In education one of the most crucial things a student can have is self-determination. In all of the schools that I visited in the past month, there is one thing that didn’t change throughout, and that is the will of these students to succeed in all aspects. You could see through their attentiveness, thoughtfulness and eagerness that they did not take their education for granted. I think that the students and the families of these students know how helpful a solid education can be and how challenging it is to get into the public colleges that are free so they work extra hard to set themselves up for success. Even if there goal is not to continue on to college but to get a job right after, they work incredibly hard to learn the trade skills that they need to get hired. I also think that self-determination in an education system means advocating for themselves and having the self-esteem to do well for themselves.
Throughout this trip we have also talked about power operating within these contexts. In the Fe Y Alegria, power was operating in a very positive way. The students were learning from the teachers and the teachers were learning from the students. Their classrooms were very respectful, safe environments where the students seemed excited to express themselves in whatever medium that might be whether that’s theater class or astronomy. The Spanish language is much more social than English so there is always a little bit of chatter in the classrooms but the teacher never punishes kids for that. They ask them kindly to be quieter but do not make a scene. I think the way these classrooms are run can happy, intelligent children.
When I look back to the schooling that I experienced verse the schooling that I got to look in on in Cusco, I think there’s a lot of similarities. Most of my teachers taught with the same energy as the teachers in Cusco but I also had teachers that did not foster a healthy classroom environment and you could see that in the success of the students. In my future career, I would want to work with teachers to give them tips and tricks to inspire students to do their best and to want to come to school because I think often times if kids don’t feel like their in a welcoming environment then they aren’t going to want to learn.
It’s to believe my month long study abroad trip is truly over but I have learned and experienced so much that I cannot wait to use in my future. Thanks for sticking with me throughout my journey!