Ann-Sophie’s Story – Global Volunteer in Peru

22nd of June, 10.30pm.

It was exactly 24 hours before I was leaving our Belgian territory and started my AIESEC journey in Peru; it was 24 hours before the start of an experience which turned out to be a life-changing and – so far – the most beautiful adventure of my life. I felt every nerve in my body, I was super nervous.

My suitcase was packed. Though I was practically ready, I didn’t feel ready at all. I was scared and had no clue of what was ahead of me. My parents drove me to the airport and I started to realize that it was really happening. I had been waiting for this moment for 4 months, preparing everything that needed to be prepared and looking forward for my departure.

 I must be honest: saying goodbye to my parents and to my life in Belgium was not easy. But as soon as I got on the plane, I remembered where I was going, what I was going to do and especially why I was going: I was about to start the greatest journey of my life while making impact in an amazing country.

23 hours later I arrived in Chiclayo, a beautiful Peruvian city 600 km in the north of Lima. My AIESEC buddy and Peruvian EP-manager were waiting for me at the airport, holding a big festoon that said “BIENVENIDA” and a bag full of typical Chiclayan products. I felt welcome in a minute and my fear disappeared like a puff of smoke.

During 6 weeks, I worked in a school for disabled children. We played together, we danced together, we sang together, we painted together, and we laughed together. If I learned one thing in Peru, it is that laughing was the most important part of all. I think everybody aims to make a big impact in their host country, but once you arrive, the only purpose you have, is making other people smile. After all, being happy is the main purpose of life.

It’s been one week now since I have been back in Belgium and I miss my little kids like hell. I remember the short but beautiful moments I experienced with the kids, where they sometimes almost squeezed me to death in their hugs. It brings tears to my eyes to think about these moments.

The most challenging part of my AIESEC experience was living in a host family. I had a lot of contact with my Peruvian brother upfront my departure and I was looking forward to spend time with this welcoming family. It seems easy as an outsider to live in a host family and I didn’t saw it as the biggest challenge of my AIESEC exchange, but it was.

As a person, I’m deeply interested in new cultures and every single aspect that is attached to it. But living in a family that has norms and values that differ so much from yours, was more difficult than I expected. However, one of my learning goals was to turn every experience into a learning experience, so I did.

I learned to communicate with my family (read: I learned to speak Spanish), I learned to invent solutions very quick with the little resources I had, I developed my flexibility and I enjoyed every little aspect of the rich and beautiful Peruvian culture.

I’m so grateful for my Peruvian family. Even though it was not always simple, they taught me so many cultural and life lessons and loved me as their own daughter. Besides the need to adapt very quickly, I learned to appreciate every little thing. It sounds incredibly cliché and I think almost every exchange student will answer this when somebody asks him or her what he or she learned. But now I’ve experienced it myself, I must admit it’s true.

We are so damn lucky to be able to take a shower every morning and never worry about a lack of water, to be able to wash dirty spots on our clothes with warm water and to have such an enormous wide variety of food products to eat something different for one month long.

Next to that, we have to appreciate our origin. I was amazed by the pride of the Peruvian people – and damn right they are. The Peruvian culture is beautiful and it was so enriching to experience this culture myself. Peru is divided in 3 areas – the Selva, Costa and Sierra –, every region has its typical food, music and dance. Peruvian people are so proud of their culture and know it all by heart. They can spontaneously start to dance in a restaurant, love to cook the typical Peruvian dishes and can dress up beautiful.

I felt like this was something I was missing; I wasn’t so proud to say “I’m a Belgian”. And I figured this was unfair. When I showed pictures of my country or things that are typical to my culture, the other volunteers were surprised and told me we had the most beautiful cities. I learned that every country has its own history and culture, which is special in his own way. So, I learned not only to appreciate more of what I have, but also of my culture and my country.

Last, but certainly not least, I am mostly grateful for the amazing people I met during my adventure. I met the sweetest and special kids, I had to pleasure to be adopted as the Belgian daughter of the loveliest Peruvian family and I got to know the best friends a girl could wish for. Spending time with the other volunteers and getting to know their culture made this whole adventure even more special.

I can’t describe how special it is to meet people from (literally!) all over the whole world who have the same mindset as you, want to step out of their comfort zone as well and are all for the same purpose in Peru as you. These strangers became my best friends and I can’t wait to see them again in any part of this beautiful world. <3

Are you ready to live an experience like this?

Somewhere around the world, an opportunity is waiting just for you. Sign up on aiesec.org and start looking for your own volunteering experience.

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