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How Peru uncovered a hidden passion

March 22, 2011

I am pleased to announce another guest post on The Act of Traveling! Asia Bird is an upcoming travel writer from the United States. She wrote a great story about how she discovered her passion for foreign languages while traveling in Peru. You can also follow Asia on Twitter.

I’ve taken Spanish 101 no less than 4 times. I practiced, I got straight A’s, but I couldn’t speak a lick of Spanish. Why was learning Spanish so hard?

It wasn’t until I took a trip to Peru and stepped outside of my comfort zone that I began to make real progress. I discovered the key to learning Spanish: passion to understand people!

This story is all about how I accidentally uncovered a passion I didn’t even know I had.

Girl in Wakawasi hr

By the Seat of my Pants

Off to Peru we went, me and my friend. Suddenly I was surrounded by foreign sights, smells, and sounds. Up until this point, I had only traveled in Europe so Cuzco, Peru seemed intoxicatingly, wonderfully different.

This was the first time that I had really traveled, meaning no itinerary, no schedule, just going where we wanted to go. In doing this, my friend, Erika and I ended up speaking more with locals than tour guides, as we tried to make our way around this city. We made some local Peruvian friends, who graciously showed us around ‘their’ Cuzco, far away from the usual tourist spots.

Asia Bird & friends hrp

Wakawasi

I spent time in an indigenous village, Wakawasi, where the main language spoken was Quetchua, and learned that while we are different in so many ways (they live in a mud hut without electricity, water, or plumbing, make all their clothes by hand, and eat only what they grow) we also have a lot in common (we worry about our love lives, love to dance, and we often get together with the girls to gossip).

Wakawasi girl hr

I shopped at an outdoor local market far away from the tourist traps. Where instead of selling postcards, handicrafts, and t-shirts souvenirs, there were shoes, illegal movies, spices, and guinea pig on a stick! The locals market seemed much more community focused – little kids and dogs were running around everywhere, women wandered around chatting and carrying babies, teenagers made-out around every corner and loud Spanish music competed for our attention with the strong smells of roasting meats and fish. The market felt alive with hustle and bustle. In comparison, the tourist markets felt sterile, and unauthentic.
I felt like I had captured a small glimpse of what it was like to live in Peru as a local. My passion to understand these people started to grow…

We also spent a day at an orphanage, playing with these sweet little kids. We learned how hard it is to run an orphanage when there is a very unregular availability of electricity, hot water, and even caretakers. I realized that even though these people don’t have a lot of money, they have a lot of heart and love.

Orphanage Wakawasi

Learning about Incas or Pilgrims?

The more I found out, the more I wanted to learn. I thirsted to know everything about the history, the people, the architecture, the culture, and the language. Everywhere we went, I found myself dying to to be able to communicate with the people, to ask questions and connect. I wanted to understand our similarities and differences, and hear their stories!

What was it like to grow up learning about the Incas instead of the Pilgrims? What are their customs, what are their traditions? What drives them, what inspires them, what are their hopes and their dreams?

But also: do they celebrate Valentines Day? Were high school students looking forward to college or dreading a future of hard work with little pay? What did they think of Americans? Why are their teeth so naturally white?

Woman and child Peru

Feeling Cheated and Ashamed

My American public school education didn’t teach me about this richly colored culture, or their history. I felt a little ashamed that in all my traveling before now, for never really taking the time to talk to the people outside hotels, airports, and restaurants. By keeping to myself, I never found this amazing sense of joy that comes from connecting with people through another language. Speaking the local language enables you to connect.

I came back to the United States with a renewed excitement about travel and language. I just knew that this time I was going to learn how to speak Spanish, come hell or high water. I committed to learn at least a little bit of Spanish everyday until I was fluent.

Because of that trip to Peru, I found my passion for connecting and communicating with people. Simply put, I love to travel and I love to talk, put the two together and what have you got? Motivation!

The experience of conversing with people that have a completely different lens from which they view the world exhilarates me! That’s something I didn’t learn in Spanish 101!

How have your language experiences or struggles during travel impacted you? How do you feel about learning a language in order to really understand a country?

About Asia Bird and LanguageWrangler.com

Asia Bird

Asia is a long time Spanish student and loves to travel. Not everyone can live in or travel to a foreign country to learn a language, so Asia started LanguageWrangler.com, a site dedicated to encourage busy adults to continually learn a foreign language a little bit every day in order to reach fluency without foreign immersion. LanguageWrangler.com supports continued language learning through resources, exercises, news, and motivation.

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From → Americas

15 Comments
  1. LOVE LOVE LOVED this post! I’m dying to travel to South America. Thanks for the lovely guest post!

    And in regards to language, well, someone once told me that in learning another language, especially at an advanced level, you “gain another soul”. Because learning another language opens your eyes to an entirely different way of seeing things – another world, if you will. There are foreign expressions to take in, that if translated into your native language, would just not make any sense!! It also helps you understand and communicate with other human beings (the world needs a little more understanding anyway!) so learning languages is always a very good thing. 😉

    • Absolutely! I have definitely found that to be true. Learning Spanish has definitely made me more of the language I use when communicating with anybody, in English or Spanish! By the way, If you ever need a travel buddy for exploring South America, I’m totally your gal, I’m dying to go back! 🙂

      • Yay!! Sounds good!! D-Man and I were actually thinking of possibly getting around to Latin America either this Fall (2011) or the next (2012). I’ll keep you in mind! 😉

  2. I always try to learn local language whenever I travel. I remember when I visited Germany and Austria for about 2 weeks, I tried pretty hard to learn (at least understand) German. Moreover, learning local language does open new possibilities, especially in terms of interacting with local people. Hence, understanding their culture better.

    • harindabama – that’s a great point! I think that local people appreciate when visitors at least try to speak a little of the language. 🙂

  3. Loved it! Bookmarked “Language Wrangler” so once I get my Japanese down I can “relearn” the Spanish I used to know! Wonderful pictures of people- those you don’t see often.Thanks!

    • amblerangel – Yay! Thanks for bookmarking me! I’m in the process right now of working with some of my friends that are trying to learn Japanese to review some Japanese software tools. Check back soon!

  4. Neil permalink

    Great article, Asia! It was a pleasure to read, and the pictures are really fantastic! 🙂

    • Thanks Neil! 🙂 Peru is an inspiring place! I highly recommend it! 🙂

  5. I was just curious, how do they keep their teeth so white? As a little girl, my Spanish was very fluent. When I began school, I was made ashamed of speaking Spanish in school. I soon learned that English was the only one I was expected to speak. So, I put my Spanish in limbo and used only English. It is only now that I’m older that I realize what a gift I was given. I’ve forgotten a lot of my Spanish, but now I try to speak Spanish whenever I have the opportunity.

    • Gladys – I’m SO glad you asked about your teeth, as it was something I wondered about when I was there. The reason that their teeth are so white is because most don’t eat sugar, drink coffee, or eat any kind of preservative/food chemical. Another interesting note is the children are all very still and quiet. It made me wonder if they were just shy, or if all the kids I’m used to interacting with in the state have ADD! 🙂

      You definitely were given a gift! Lucky for you, all that Spanish is still up there! It’ll be easier for you to “re-learn” it than if you were just starting from scratch! Kind of like muscle memory. The more you use it the more it will come back! 🙂

  6. Hans permalink

    Loved reading your article Asia. It’s clear that you have a passion for people and the language is the key to get closer to them. I bookmarked your website – I have a feeling it’ s where I will find the motivation and tools I need to help me learn (brazilian) portuguese – no pressure there 🙂
    Take care!

    • Hi Hans! Yes, absolutely! Thank you for checking out my site, I’m excited about helping you learn portuguese. Are you planning a trip to Brazil, perhaps? 🙂

  7. Trish permalink

    Hi,
    I have a sister who has progressive dementia, and she wants to get out of the US once in her life, so yesterday I booked a trip to Peru (no, not Cozy-Mel, where vacationers go), and I’m going to take my 15-year old son along to help. Even tho it’s an escorted tour, I am encouraging my son to start taking his Spanish class more seriously. I have found in my travels, that if one speaks some of the language, no matter how little, doors are opened widely to a world tourists don’t usually see.. Great post!! Trish

    • Absolutely Trish, a bit of local language helps a lot. Great you booked a trip to Peru, enjoy all the preparations. Doing this for your sister is wonderful.

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