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Murray Edwards College
University of Cambridge

Rosamund Casimir-Brown: Language School in Cusco, Peru

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    01 Oct

    I would like to thank the Gateway Challenges Fund for helping open up a new language and culture to me, allowing me to see and learn such wonderful aspects of the world that I otherwise couldn’t have even dreamed of. I had a wonderful and unforgettable summer, that’s uplifted me and restored my energy, vigour and love of life!

    I spent 3 weeks in Cusco, including 2 weeks at language school to learn Spanish. I stayed with a family in central Cusco, who were lovely and made it a unique and authentic experience for me. I went on several mountain hikes, saw incredible, ancient ruins and Holy sites, and got to climb Montana Machu Picchu – which was a real cardiovascular challenge but one of the most amazing days of my life!

    Saying goodbye to my parents, I actually cried. I was exhausted, hadn’t really recovered from the emotional strains of the Cambridge environment and had been working long shifts, waitressing for the past month. And now I had to negotiate my way through four flights; totalling a 51-hour journey. When all I wanted to do was lie in bed all day and watch Netflix.

    Turns out, however, that long-haul flights are quite good for that, so I even got what I wanted. And, I had organised a stop-over in Miami. I had some great sleep at a fun little hostel, a last (big!) dose of sunshine and heat to last me the winter and a relaxing swim to send me on my way. I still felt a little lost and a little vulnerable and not fully convinced that I wanted to be in strange places, finding and doing new things, all by myself. And this feeling still played on and off for a few days after I arrived in Cusco. But I soon realised two things, that changed this completely.

    The first was that I was actually very competent. I’ve had my confidence shaken, by being faced with the rigorous academic challenges of a Cambridge degree. I was no longer feeling adept at handling what life expected of me and had got used to feeling a little bit dejected and hopeless – feeling like things weren’t worth the bother and scared of putting myself out there. Through travelling by myself, I could do things my way. I could handle the real world better than the Cambridge one, and my trusty instincts could now be trusted again. Day after day during this trip, my confidence was able to be built back up and I could once again feel lucky and powerful.

    The second was that I was well supported, wherever I went - right from the plane journeys. In the real world, I had something to offer. I could do something, and succeed, just by connecting with people. Wherever I went, I met lovely and incredible people and I soon felt at home even in such a different place.

    Going to language school really helped with both of these things. It gave me a lovely group of friends and reminded me that I was still good at learning. I was also reminded how I learn best, drawing links and in using and applying what I learn. It’s given me a real boost to start my clinical education. I went to a small and super friendly Spanish school, tucked away through some market stalls behind the Cathedral in the main square. The language school was a real community – it was a small school where the owners (and family!) were available to chat to in the office every day, and everyone there was so friendly, helpful and caring. Classes were jovial and went at a good pace, and I grew really fond of my teachers in just the two weeks. They also had excursions during class-time every Friday to practice Spanish “in the real world”, including to a chocolate museum.

    The location of the school was also one of the main draws – right on the beautiful main square, it was in the heart of Cusco and meant I could go exploring at the end of the school day, and easily wander into museums or markets on my way back. Cusco is at 3399m and I also loved the challenge of the altitude! I felt really refreshed spending time breathing in such thin, clean mountain air. Considering Cambridge is at 8m above sea level, I really noticed the difference!

    One of the best things about learning Spanish in Cusco was the location – Peru has perhaps some of the most stunning landscapes in the world, with unbelievable variation within a single scene. Some of the highlights of my trip were my weekend excursions, including to the unique Rainbow mountains, and the world-famous Machu Picchu. The beauty and jaw-dropping nature of these places was an unforgettable and magical experience. There’s something so stirring about these sites, in the ancient stillness of the rocks and the vast expanses, that’s really hard to describe but impossible not to feel when you’re there.

    The culture is rich and Cusceñans are proud of their heritage - and there’s loads of history to learn. Pre-Colombian, Incan and recent political turmoil all make for very colourful stories from guides and locals and give lots of material for more advanced conversation topics! Cusco is very well set-up for tourists and there’s plenty of opportunity to learn about the history and culture (and test your Spanish!) especially in guided tours, museums and books. I did several guided tours in Spanish, such as of the sites of the Sacred Valley of the Incas, and at different weaving workshops.