As senior year approaches, one of the questions I hear a lot is “What do you want to do after graduation?”
Although I’ve spent my past few summers interning in DC, I can honestly say that I’m still not sure.
Last summer I was an intern with the United States Agency for Development, and everyone I worked with recommended going abroad. At Richmond, I had taken classes in development and humanitarian work, and it was something I was always interested in. Spending two months in Peru teaching English at Supporting Kids in Peru, or SKIP, has opened my eyes to the importance of international development and has given me a greater understanding of what I want to do post-grad.
I arrived in Trujillo, Peru, to an airline agent who only spoke Spanish, an overconfidence in how helpful five years of high school Spanish would be, and a missing checked bag that contained all of my possessions for the next two months. I left with a phone number to call and a carry-on backpack containing one change of shirt and a toothbrush. The city was busy and lively, and gave me a sense of freedom that came with living somewhere so unlike my suburban home or the quiet campus life I was used to at Richmond.
In March, flash floods and mudslides had torn through the Peru and left lasting damage. The center of the city, where SKIP volunteers stayed, had recovered relatively quickly. Fifteen kilometers outside the city, however, El Povenir was a different story. Thousands had been left homeless, and the impoverished district where SKIP operates was hit especially hard. In June, white UN tents still lined the roads leading to El Povenir and local football fields had been transformed into camps for people who had lost their homes to the floods. The lack of drainage and adobe houses meant that the few inches of water per day had created a dangerous situation. As the rain dried, the mud turned to dust that clogged the air and made it difficult to breath. SKIP was closed for a month, and the volunteers’ duties transformed from teaching to distributing food and water and repairing the damage done to the school. Families spent days, and even weeks, without accessible fresh water or food.
Although I was at SKIP for a short time, I fell in love with the country and the students I taught. I expected a group of young teachers, but there were volunteers of all ages who had temporarily left behind jobs and families in order to make a difference in Peru. I was grateful to work within such an intelligent and caring community, people who would spend hours after class creating games and activities that would keep students engaged and learning and wo were incredibly kind and welcoming to each new volunteer. I would often end my days drained and exhausted, and there was at least a few occasions where I considered booking an early flight home. Teaching taught me to focus on and celebrate the little victories. Having an activity go well, having a kid nail the pronunciation of a difficult English word, or having them ask me a question in English never failed to brighten my day. Teachers come and go at SKIP and I doubt that the kids will remember me in a few years, but I’m sure I’ll never forget my time there. I now understand why so many workers in the international development community advocate for time spent abroad. I had read about the flooding in Peru, and seeing firsthand the lasting effects of a disaster like the flash floods gave me a new perspective on why I want to dedicate my life to international development .
I’m back in the US now, and although I’ve slipped easily back into my life here I find myself missing Trujillo. I got to hike the Andes, surf at an amazing beach, learn to salsa, and have so many experiences I’ll never forget. I’m still not sure what I want to do after graduation, but I know that I want to pursue a career that advocates for and promotes the wellbeing of people like those I met at SKIP. As senior year approaches and graduation get closer and closer, I know I’ll be grateful for the time I spent in Peru and I hope that it will guide my decisions for life after Richmond.