Kayla Vigil is an undergraduate student from Las Cruces, New Mexico. She is currently majoring in communication studies at New Mexico State University. She is active on campus, including being part of the World Student Alliance. She has travelled in the United States, as well as to Sweden, England and France with her family. Over her winter break she spent two weeks in the “assisting at a geriatric center” Volunteer Abroad in Cusco, Peru. She proved to be a great UBELONG Volunteer who showed the spirit of flexibility and humility that all good international volunteers posses. She made a positive impression on everyone she came across and will be missed in Cusco. Here are her words.
Why did you volunteer in Cusco?
I needed a change and something different. I wanted to immerse myself in a culture and not just be a tourist. I wanted to be part of the local pace and interact with local people directly. I felt volunteering abroad was the way to do so. I would experience Cusco on a much deeper level, while also giving back instead of just taking.
As for Cusco, I just wanted a Spanish speaking country so I could practice my Spanish. I had also seen Cusco a lot in pictures, so felt it would be a great place to get to know.
What are three pieces of advice you would give to a future UBELONGer headed to Cusco?
First, be open-minded. Cusco is not like the US and you have to be flexible. You have to be able to adapt. There are times when I was left wondering, “that’s interesting” or “that seems off”. But it’s just that Cusco is so different than where you come from and you can’t forget that. You’re a guest and it’s up to you to adapt to the local culture.
Second, do things you wouldn’t do otherwise. Step out of your comfort zone. Just on my project, I had never come into such close contact with people that came from very different backgrounds than my own. It was difficult to experience, especially in the beginning. But I pushed myself and was better for it in the end. Or, to give you a non-work example, I went paragliding. I would never do that at home. But I did in Cusco—it’s a time to experience new things and live fully.
Third, speak to locals. They chat. They want to know you and share stories. We were talking to one guy who was working the desk at Saqsaywaman an Incan ruin on the outskirts of Cusco] and learned so much. He told us stories about his life and we told him stories about ours. He was just a normal guy, but we connected and learned so much. Don’t be shy.
What was your impact?
At my project they were very appreciative of my being there. They were almost surprised to see somebody so willing to help out. A lot of the people did not have a lot to do. And many were pretty lonely. They came from poor backgrounds and most didn’t have a lot of family left. So I would go and just be with them. We would color, talk and gossip a lot. They loved to gossip! And one day I broke the mold. I brought clay to show them how to use it. We made things and had so much fun. You could tell how meaningful it was to them. It was different and interesting. They loved it. By the end of my placement they were giving me hugs and kisses. Leaving was difficult. We came full circle.
I also became close with other volunteers. We clicked so well. I made friends from all over the world, and just that opened my perspectives so much. And it was a cool way to unite. All these people who were so different ended up together helping and doing good.