Volunteer Abroad Interview: Natasha

I met Natasha when we were both studying abroad with CIEE in Seville, Spain. She decided that a semester abroad wasn’t enough and continued with CIEE volunteering in Peru! Here’s what she thought of her time there:


1. Where are you from?

I am from Agawam, MA.

2. What made you decide to volunteer abroad?

I wanted to do something meaningful the summer after I graduated from college and before the real world sucked me in. After spending a semester abroad in Seville, Spain, I thought volunteering abroad would be the perfect opportunity to both experience and contribute to a new culture. I looked into programs and Peru made the most sense for the time I had, plus I have always been itching to visit South America!

3. Was this your first time in Peru?

Yes, and it won’t be my last. While the first few days were tough (as they are anywhere), I fell in love with Peru during my five weeks volunteering there. What I found most appealing was that I could spend one weekend hiking a glacier in the Andes, the next weekend sandboarding in the desert oasis of Huacachina, and the next exploring one of the new wonders of the world Machu Picchu – all the while spending the days in between in the classroom with the sweetest, most eager to learn students.

4. Which program did you volunteer with?

I volunteered with CIEE, the same program I studied abroad with in Spain back in 2013.

5. Did you choose Peru or did your program place you there?

I chose to volunteer in Peru, although there were a limited amount of programs that fit the timeframe I was looking for. The choice ended up being between Peru and Mexico, and I was definitely more drawn to Peru. I’m so glad I ended up in Peru, as I think it is one of those places where I never would have gone, or at least had a comparable experience, had I not volunteered there.

6. What did you do on a daily basis/how long were you there?

I was in Peru for five weeks, which consisted of classes for social change twice a week and volunteering at a school in an underserved community of Lima three times a week. In the classroom, we discussed matters related to education, the specific situations we encountered on a daily basis, and how to create a better learning environment for our students. I left Peru with a Certificate of Education for Social Change, which was really cool coupled with my experiences there. On the days I spent volunteering at the school, I assisted in a 3rd grade class where I helped the teacher keep the students on track with the lessons and assignments throughout the day. I also created English lessons of my own to teach the students. They especially loved learning through activities, such as Simon Dice (Simon Says).

7. Have you worked with children in education in the past?

I spent some time in college volunteering in a local middle school’s P.E. class, but I had never actually worked with students in the classroom. While most of my peer volunteers were in the education field, I have an accounting and finance background – I think teaching abroad is for anyone who values a good education and enjoys working with children.

8. What has surprised you the most about volunteering?

I would say I was most surprised by the energy radiating from my students, and their content with simply being able to go to school. It was refreshing and something you don’t get to see often. Most of the children were living difficult lives at home, and watching them interact with others and find happiness in the classroom affected me more than I could have imagined.

9. What was your favorite part of volunteering?

The hugs! Every day I was greeted by a swarm of hugs as soon as I entered the classroom. There is no better way to start your day.

10. What was your least favorite part of volunteering?

This was not necessarily my least favorite, but the most difficult part of volunteering was when I struggled to communicate with the students. Since I worked with 3rd graders, they were older and very talkative. I’ve studied Spanish for many years, but it was still frustrating for me when I couldn’t understand what the students were saying or vice versa.

11. What’s your favorite word or phrase your students used?

To this day, I have a video saved on my phone of one of my students saying, “Cuando tú te vas mi corazón se rompe, pero cuando estás se forma otra vez” (When you leave my heart breaks, but when you’re here it comes together again). Talk about heart-wrenching!

12. Are you planning on volunteering again in the future?

I have no plans to as of right now, but I would definitely love to!

13. What advice would you give a prospective volunteer abroad?

My biggest piece of advice to a prospective volunteer would be to keep an open mind, and enjoy every day for what it’s worth. Don’t overthink anything; you are where you are because you’re meant to be there. Be grateful and embrace the experience, both the victories and challenges that come with them.

Muchas gracias, Natasha!

If you are a volunteer, language assistant, or English teacher abroad and would like to participate in an interview, let me know via the contact tab!

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