Ordering food and drinks, asking for directions, buying fruit in the local San Pedro market, bargaining for souvenirs or simply being able to converse with locals makes learning Spanish a must. Taking Spanish classes in Cusco is a good option as the Spanish in Cusco is considered to be very neutral in comparison to learning in other cities and countries. There are many options here in Cusco for the short or long term Spanish student. Depending on the length of your stay you can opt for classes only or get involved in a local volunteering project. Spanish schools here in Cusco also offer homestays to their students. These options are useful ways to learn and continue to improve outside of your classes. Different schools here in Cusco offer different programs and try to tailor them to your specific needs. It can be useful to email the school before turning up as some schools have changed locations or closed. The links below will give you some detail on Spanish classes in Cusco.
Most schools will offer homestays while you are taking Spanish classes in Cusco. A homestay is when the student lives with a local family. It is an additional expense to your classes but most schools can offer a package. In theory, homestays are an excellent way to practice and improve your Spanish and an authentic experience for the traveler. However, homestays can vary from country to country so don’t expect the sun, the moon and the stars. Generally speaking it should include your accommodation and food. Accommodation can differ depending on how much you pay. Lodging can vary from private room, with ensuite/shared bathroom or a bed in shared room with ensuite/ shared bathroom. Internet might be included. Food should include breakfast and dinner and in some homestays, lunch. Meals are typically Peruvian. Breakfasts can be basic with offerings of bread, marmalades, butter and fruits and on occasion an egg of some sort. Portion sizes can also be small. Dinners are typically carbohydrate based with rice, noodles, quinoa or potato as the focus. It’s not unusual for meals to consist of two of the above mentioned carbohydrates. Most meals include some sort of meat and most can be lacking in vegetables also. Common dishes are lomo saltado (beef stir fry), aji de gallina (slightly spicy chicken dish) and homemade soups. If you are a big eater it might be worth while keeping a stash of nuts, cereal bars, dried fruits or cereal to fill you up throughout your Spanish classes or projects.
Some homestays are worth the cost but others can be a money making game for the family. Some students complain of not actually seeing the family, not getting to practice their Spanish and poor quality meals. Others say the only interactions they got were with the family cook at meal times. This can encourage you to speak English or your native language with fellow homestayers and can defeat the purpose of your Spanish classes.
It is very worthwhile to do your research before you embark on a homestay. Read reviews online from other students. Ask your homestay coordinator in your school can you read the evaluations that other students completed at the end of their stays. Find out the location, is it suitable for you. Are you going to spend extra money every day commuting to and from your house? Is it close enough to pop back for your lunch during the day? Ask fellow travelers that you meet what to expect from homestays.
Other Accommodation Options
It is possible to find your own accommodations while learning Spanish here in Cusco. The Rueda de Negocios is a newspaper published every Monday and Thursday and costs 50c. It gives listings of available accommodation in Cusco and the surrounding region. Befriend a local Cusqueñan and have them call up and enquire for you! House shares, whole apartments, rooms to rent are all available to the Spanish student in Cusco. Finding your own accommodation can work out a lot cheaper and allow you more freedom. It affords you the luxury of cooking your own meals or having the option to eat out without losing money. You have the free time to pop to Paddy´s Pub for a beer and that brownie after all that hard work in Spanish classes!! You may live with some locals, other Peruvians working in Cusco or fellow travelers. It can be a great opportunity to learn Spanish and improve what you already know as well as make new friends.
Some schools can offer discounted prices for hostel stays. However, staying in hostels is not very conducive to learning Spanish and improving. And can work out more expensive in the long run.
So you want to do your bit? You want to give something back? And learn Spanish at the same time? There are a plethora of volunteer opportunities in Cusco. However, it’s important to state that you should really, really think about what you want to get involved in. Ask yourself what you have to offer a project? Is it worth your while and theirs? Are you exposing yourself to any dangers? Projects can vary from teaching English, being a classroom assistant, working in a kindergarten, hospital work, working in a lab, working in an orphanage, working in a juvenile detention center and animal rescue and welfare.
Solid advice to anyone wishing to get involved in volunteering is do some research!! What sort of skills do you have to offer and what type of work would suit you best? Try to visit the project before you start. This will give you an opportunity to gather some information on the project. Don’t just jump on the bandwagon and think that because you’re a gringo you can help! A common complaint from volunteers is that they feel they are in the way or that there is nothing really for them to do. Another problem is the language barrier. It is strongly advised that you take Spanish classes before starting any project in Peru. Most of the people you will encounter at the project will only speak Spanish. It’s important to be confident and competent in your Spanish. This will help you and the people with whom you are working. It can be a fun and interesting way to spend your day outside of your Spanish classes. But, honestly, volunteering isn’t for everyone, so have a good long think before you do it. Be prepared to act on your own initiative. Get involved! Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty. Be useful! And most of all enjoy it.