Cuando Pienses en Volver/ Homecoming

“Yes, Teacher!” says one of my students, in English, as I give him a pop quiz.
“Why are you so happy?” I ask, surprised.
“Because I want to know cuanto he aprendido,” he replies.
He wants to know how much he has learned. He wants to know if he is doing well in his English class.

It’s funny that he replies in Spanglish. He is trying to communicate as much as he can in the language he is learning, and I love that. The fact that he is happy about learning, being tested, in English, makes the chaotic combi (bus) rides to the school worth it. It is the laughter that my students provide and their strong determination to learn what motivates me to get my sol for the combi ready every day and yell esquina baja to signal the cobrador, the person in charge of collecting the bus fare, that we are getting off soon to begin our walk to the Flora Tristan community.

I am Peruvian. I am twenty-four years old and I have been with HOOP for six months. My family and I moved to the U.S when I was eleven years old. My parents made this decision because of the economic and educational opportunities that a developed country provides. I spent many years enjoying the privileges of living in the U.S. However, I always missed Peru. I missed being able to speak Spanish, see my extended family, and eat good Peruvian food. I also wanted to pursue career that was aligned with my passions.

I studied business administration at The University of Texas in Austin and graduated in May of 2017. I worked as inventory analyst for an American retailer for a year and a half before making the decision to do something else. I enjoyed doing analytical work, training new analysts, and getting a significant discount at the most loved stores in the U.S., but I was not happy. I did not enjoy the fact that my work was not benefiting society in a meaningful way.

I constantly looked for ways to get involved with community-service opportunities in the education sector. I enjoyed doing this, but I did not think it was enough. I wanted to be able to dedicate the majority of my week to doing work that would help young people access better educational opportunities.

I think I am passionate about education because I have witnessed the impact it had on my parents’ lives. By getting a university degree, my parents were able to get good jobs and help their families out of poverty. Because of my parents’ experience and advice, I’ve always known that education helps people succeed economically. I wanted to be able to have a career where I could help others get the same opportunities that I’ve had.

One day, when I had decided that I would leave my corporate job to pursue my passion, I realized that I needed to come back to Peru and do something that could help improve the future of Peruvian kids. I googled volunteering opportunities in Arequipa (the best city to live in Peru, in my opinion) and found HOOP. Moving to Arequipa after living in the U.S for thirteen years was not an easy decision, but it truly is the best one I have made so far.

In the six months I have been here, I have experienced many emotions. I have complained a lot about how dry the weather in Arequipa is, how much I dislike drivers that do not yield to pedestrians, and how annoying it is to ride a packed combi. But I have also met an incredible group of people. The HOOP family is extremely passionate about helping the Flora Tristan Community. HOOP provides psychology, social-work, and legal workshops to the moms in addition to the free English class we give the kids. We believe that it is important to educate the moms on these topics to ensure our students get the support they need at home as well.

One of my favorite things about HOOP is the fact that I have met people from all over the world and across different age groups. I have become best friends with people that are the same age as my parents and also with volunteers that have just finished their first year of university. I have enjoyed learning a few words in German and a few idioms in Canadian, British, and even American English. I have made friends that I continue to talk to and learn from after their departure. We are all very different, but we have one characteristic in common: a passion for helping others and working with children.

Leslie´s official photo 2019

I currently teach two classes while also helping the Academic Coordinator improve the English curriculum for our students. I have learned a lot about my students and also about myself. My patience has been tested multiple times, but I have learned to stay calm. My students are making progress, becoming less shy, and now they get excited about learning funny mnemonics that I have used to learn English myself. I have improved my teaching and public speaking skills while having fun with curious and talented students. Every day I learn something new, sometimes in the classroom with my students, and often on the combi, standing up, while talking to other volunteers.

I am really happy to be part of HOOP and I am excited about the work we have accomplished so far. I have become very close to the volunteers, staff, and my students. I am glad that I made the decision to move back Peru and make Arequipa my new home. I can’t wait to meet other volunteers from different parts of the world and continue learning from HOOP. I also hope that by the end of the year, when I ask my students why they are all so excited about exams, they can all answer confidently, in English, “because I want to show how much I have learned.”

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