5 Things I’ve Learned in Cusco, Peru – Christina Romero

When I decided to pick up and leave the U.S. for the first time, I knew it would change me, and I hoped that it would for the better. I wanted this experience to be equally as challenging as it was rewarding and wanted to immerse myself in a way that would allow me to learn more about the world, new cultures, new ways of thinking, and myself.  It seems that I’ve learned something new every day, whether that be about myself, a student, or the beautiful country of Peru. However, the following 5 things are the most important lessons I’ve learned and the ones I hope to take with me as I return home and continue to travel.

1. Relationships will change.

Leaving home for an extended period of time means you also leave your loved ones behind. To me, this may be the hardest thing and the only downside of living abroad. Often I’ll find myself hiking through the mountains, eating a delicious meal, exploring somewhere new and although I enjoy it, I can’t help but yearn for my people back home. I wish I could be experiencing all of this with them too.

However, the beauty of traveling is that you meet people who are traveling too. These people get it. They understand that there’s a little piece of your heart being held captive by your loved ones at home. With that, when I find myself missing my tribe back home, many times the other people you’re traveling or teaching with do too. These new friends you make feel what you’re feeling and understand on a level others wouldn’t.

The friends you make understand the oxymoron that is yearning for adventure and exploration, while still at times missing the comforts of home. In my experience, the bonds you form with these people also feel stronger and more genuine than other relationships. These friends feel more like family, and become your little pieces of home in the flesh. My coworkers are some of the best people I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know. And even better, I now know people from all over the world who I get to go see in the future.

Soon enough, I know I’ll have to leave these new friends behind. With that, I’ve learned we should enjoy as many moments as we can with the new people we encounter and those we leave behind. This is because there is no guarantee how long those opportunities will last.

2. Impermanence and uncertainty are your friends.

Some of the best trips I’ve had while living in Peru are the spontaneous ones; the ones where you head to a destination without a plan, without a hostel booked, without anything in mind. All you know is where you intend to go and for how long.

Traveling with uncertainty and spontaneity in mind allows you to gain insight from locals or other travellers on what the best things to do are. It also means that with no expectations for how the trip will be, you don’t end up disappointed. You end up having a way better time than intended.

Impermanence is also my saving grace when things go wrong. When you’re struggling, frustrated, or sick, it’s easy to feel hopeless. In reality, the hurdles we jump over are only temporary, and that’s the beauty of it. Nothing in this world is permanent. With that, impermanence has reminded me to stay present in the moments when I was truly enjoying my experiences abroad. Just as quickly as these moments come, they leave.

              I’ve really learned to enjoy each moment while it’s there, while I have that moment in the present. Not having reliable Wi-Fi is a beautiful thing. Not keeping your head stuck in your phone, or worrying about catching an Instagram-worthy shot to show your friends back home is so much better than being preoccupied with how your life looks online. Your present, real moments will always be better than that.  

3. Advocate for what you want and need.

Time is not of the essence in Peru.  “Peruvian time” is a very real thing, which means everything moves at its own pace. With that, if you need something fast or punctually, you really have to advocate for yourself.  It is very easy to be “forgotten” about at restaurants, or taken advantage of with surged prices for foreigners if you don’t stand up for yourself. For example, a taxi driver will charge you a “tourist price” in a cab if you don’t negotiate a price beforehand. A restaurant may “forget” to bring you something that’s included in your order if you don’t specifically ask for it. With that, I’ve learned to truly stand up for what I want and need and to not be afraid to ask for the things I need.

4. Be patient.

Patience is essential as a teacher, especially for those teaching English as a foreign language. Patience is key for your students. In order for your students to truly learn, you must allow them to come to conclusions on their own, to remember answers for themselves. You must remember that they’re taking classes with you in their free time while also maintaining careers, raising children, or taking university-level courses. They come to your class exhausted, but ready to work hard and learn. All they need is your patience.

As previously mentioned, “Peruvian time” means that eating in a restaurant will most likely take way longer than expected. It means that although your students mean well and truly love classes with you, they will arrive 30 minutes late to class. Every day. Without patience and a sense of calm, you’ll drive yourself crazy.

Living in a developing country also presents you with different obstacles every day. This can mean, for example, that your running water and electricity may cut out at random, even when you’re attempting to shower. This may leave you unable to do what you’d like right at the moment when you’d like to do it. Although your activities may be delayed, you’ll still be able to do what you want and need to eventually, all in good time. Living here has taught me to relax, to not be in such a rush, and to know that not all things have to happen super quickly and immediately.

5. Trust your struggles.  

As cliché as it may sound, all of the struggles and difficulties you experience abroad make you a stronger, better person. Any obstacle that I’ve overcome has made me more confident in myself and my abilities to problem solve, to advocate for myself, and to not be so afraid of making mistakes.

While traveling, things will go wrong in one way or another. It’s inevitable. The only thing you can control is your attitude when these problems present themselves. By learning to laugh off the small problems and to stay calm during a more serious problem you truly can thrive while abroad.

I’ve found the beauty of my travels is how genuine each experience has been. The highs have been some of my happiest moments thus far in life. The lows have been very low. However, all of it has been incredibly authentic and has allowed me to become more humble and to reiterate what’s truly important in life: the moments you are truly living and enjoying a desire for life, the people who make every adventure and experience better, and the beauty that’s hidden in every corner of our world.

Although these 5 lessons I’ve learned are the ones that stand out to me the most, I still hope to continue learning more every day. I also hope that these lessons can inspire others to stay open, curious, and learn lessons, both hard and easy themselves, while on their own journeys. I look forward to future adventures as well that will allow me to learn 5, 10, 15 more lessons in each new place around the world.

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