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How Serving Abroad in Peru Changed My Life

Author, Tracy IVHQ Travel Blogger Scholarship

Author, George IVHQ Travel Blogger Scholarship

I reached a point in my life where I'd say if you judged me from the outside, you'd say I'm a success story. I received a great education, earned a good paying job, could provide for my family, took vacations often and after 7 years of driving, could successfully parallel park without hitting anything (or anybody for that matter...thank you back-up cameras). I was living comfortably and had always been passionate about giving back to my community, but I always had a desire deep in my heart to do more and to be more than just a doer; I wanted to be a giver.

So, I did research. And I fell upon IVHQ. IVHQ had the most affordable volunteer programs and based on reviews, was deemed safe, reliable, and trustworthy. Their placement programs allowed me the flexibility of volunteering somewhere for as little as one week at a time. I was immediately drawn as I am a strong believer that my success is that much greater when those around me can succeed as well.

I was placed in the one week IVHQ Peru-Cusco Program where I would be teaching children English. Up until the day that I left for Peru, I was hesitant about volunteering abroad in that type of capacity. My biggest fear was that I would make the children I met feel as though their lives were an exhibit. It was convenient for me with my work schedule to do a one week volunteer program, but how would it make the kids feel if they constantly had volunteers come and go? These kids have experienced more and have struggled more than most adults have in a lifetime and I did not want to make matters worse. Could I really make a difference in a week or would I do more harm than good?

All of these doubts clouded my decision making process, but I took a leap of faith and I did it.

And boy, did it change my life.

I think that goes to say that there are several elements that you learn about yourself when you not only go abroad but when you serve abroad.

1. Taking risks will force you to believe in yourself

I'd say the biggest risk I had ever taken up until I flew to Peru was probably letting my Hot Pocket microwave for a minute longer than I should have. And that was a horrible decision. So when I signed up to go to South America on my own without even knowing any words outside of 'restroom' and 'food' in Spanish, people thought I was crazy. But I took this risk and it paid off in every way imaginable as I had nothing to lose and only lessons to gain. I learned how to believe in myself even when I was doubtful. Trust me when I say there were plenty of times that I felt like I didn't know what I was doing. Side note: download every kind of translator app to your phone if you do NOT know the language. When all you have to rely on is yourself in a foreign country, you better fake it ‘till you make it. Where ever you volunteer, there will be people that are relying on you for guidance, support and mentorship; so put your big girl pants on and give yourself the push you need to go full steam ahead. I was forced outside of my comfort zone and in return, it challenged me to continue taking risks that I otherwise would have never planned for. Trust your instincts and trust that your heart will never lead you astray. 

Tracy Do meeting an Alpaca in Cusco
The face you make when you land the leading role in The Emperor's New Groove: Cusco #believeinyourself

2. You can change the world if you change your mindset

You get out what you put in and at the end of the day, the truth is, when you want to help someone, you help them. I have come back as a more open-minded individual with a level of consciousness that I would not have gained had it not been for the people (and animals! Shout out to that horse that saved me on Rainbow Mountain- you are the real MVP) that I met in Peru. Be vulnerable and be willing to open your heart. I had my obvious doubts because before I even met these kids, my heart wanted to protect them. What I didn't want was for the kids to ever feel like they weren't loved and cherished enough for people to stay. However, what I quickly learned was that I needed these kids just as much as they needed me. It took me all of five minutes with them to see that my concerns and my hesitations were nothing compared to their ambition and eagerness to learn. These kids at the homeless shelter physically had bare essentials but were still giving me 100% of their effort and that was all I could ever ask for. That week, I saw the light bulb go off for a lot of them and it showed me that coming into the classroom with my uncertainties would only hinder their learning. My worries were based off of assumptions that were fed on the idea of fear that I would not deliver in the classroom. The kids were making connections and were showing me that I truly was capable of teaching them valuable lessons. Changing my mindset allowed me to really make a difference.

IVHQ volunteer classroom in Cusco, Peru
Waiting for my students to show up!

3. Get over yourself

Maybe a bit harsh, but needed. I work a job that requires me looking at numbers at a desk all day and I will admit that it is pretty easy for me to get in my head. I complain about the small things like my daily commute in traffic, having to bring in my large load of groceries from my car in two trips instead of one, or, my favorite, not liking the potato chips that came with my catered lunch.

All of a sudden, I am in Peru and none of this matters.

Was I aware of what was going on in the world? Absolutely. I prided myself on being someone that always acted locally and thought globally, but until I was there and living it, I had no idea that I was taking a lot of things for granted. Nowadays if you turn on the TV, you hear about tragedy- mass shootings, attacks, murder…everything that makes you lose faith in humanity. But you go abroad and you see how other people live and you realize that humanity needs humanity. I cannot control some of the things that happen in this world but what I can control is that I want to help the world. And if I can make one child feel as if someone truly believes in them, I know that the world can change. You have to remember that they're just as scared as you are, but it’s a team effort and it’s a mutual understanding that if we help each other, we are better because of it. Put all your things aside, lay your worries to rest, get over your doubts, and separate your wants from your needs- THAT is when you will see how much more room you have in you to give.

IVHQ volunteering in Cusco
Wool-ly neat experience watching the women make scarves

There are distinct moments in your life that become pivotal points in your book of life. Everything that happened before it and everything that happens after it is different after you have this moment. And in Peru, I had my moment.

The lightbulb went off for the children just about the same time mine went off and I’d like to refer to that as the light of purpose. I remembered everything about this trip not because of the memories I made, but because of how determined I felt to keep doing what it was that I was doing, and that is to serve the world. Maybe volunteering abroad isn't your sole purpose in life but if you let it, it will completely change your life and your approach.

If and when you choose to want to make a difference, my biggest advice is that you lead with your heart. Climbing Machu Picchu and trekking Rainbow Mountain?  The biggest physical challenges I've ever faced but going abroad and seeing the conditions that some of these kids are in has been the biggest challenge on my heart. It's hard to really think that out of all the billions of people in this world one person can make a difference but I encourage you to fight for that belief and standby it and support it and act on it.

I came into this thinking of what I could teach these kids, but walked away with everything that they have taught me. I am forever changed and will continue to practice what I have learned in a way that encourages others to discover their success and purpose.

Meeting the locals as an IVHQ volunteer in Peru

Thank you, Peru and IVHQ, for allowing me to pay it all forward. Te amo mucho!

Read more from IVHQ's travel blogger finalists.

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