How Peru uncovered a hidden passion
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.
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.
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).
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.
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?
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 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.
- Related post on this blog: Following the Pan-American Highway: Hidden gems of Peru