She now works for an NGO called Sacred Valley Project in Ollantaytambo, Peru and is a published poet. You can discover more about her adventures by following her at @achristinen on instagram.
Tell us a little about yourself!
I’m 23 years old (which can feel old or young depending on the day) and I’m from a suburb of New Jersey. I got my undergrad degree in English, Sociology and Women’s and Gender Studies. I’m a writer of poetry (with a book out now!), a feminist and a big talker. I find it easy to strike up conversations with strangers (a skill I can practice while traveling). I love cooking and baking. I’ve also got strong opinions about the political climate of today.
What are you doing in Peru?
Originally, I planned to study publishing but had a difficult time finding a job after graduation. Instead, I began working on a midterm campaign last October, where I met someone who had plans to come to Peru to volunteer. After some research on different organizations, along with some deliberation about the status of my Spanish (non-existent), I decided to take a big risk and choose Peru as my next destination. I am currently living in a small community in Peru called Ollantaytambo (Oh-yan-tay-tam-bo), or Ollanta (Oh-yan-tah) for short. We’re located about an hour and a half outside of the city of Cusco, in the Sacred Valley, surrounded by the Andean mountains. It’s heavily populated with tourists coming and going, as we’re located along the road to Machu Picchu.
I volunteer with a nongovernmental organization (NGO) called Sacred Valley Project (SVP). This organization houses girls whose families live in higher altitude communities around the Valley. They live together in the dormitory in Ollanta (and another dorm in a neighboring community), and go to school here or in a neighboring town. Through SVP, they have access to education that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to in their family’s communities. Two hours each night, the girls all come together to do homework. I tutor English at these homework sessions, while our two other professors tutor Spanish subjects. I also work in a café/restaurant here in town, and tutor college essay writing in my “spare” time. When I’m not working or volunteering, I spend my time writing about the mountains and the way the sun hits them, or the peace and balance I feel here. I’ve just published a book, and have another in the works about my time and experiences here. I love to hike. The time I spend in the mountains is incredible nourishing, especially when I’m alone and all I can hear is the wind and the bees.
How did studying abroad in Italy prepare you for work in Peru?
While I was abroad in Italy, I became hyper-aware of the differences and similarities amongst people. Italy inspired me to write about things like the universality of laughing and smiling. Plus, the compassion I felt for others grew with my fondness for one of the most beautiful cities in Italy—Florence. Identifying these differences as I traveled around Europe allowed me to find similar quirks about Peru. Italy helped me understand the commonalities between these new people and those I’ve already met. Italy gives me a frame of reference for the beauty of cultural difference.
When I got to Italy I knew almost no Italian. It was similar with Spanish when I arrived here in Peru. Five months ago when I arrived, I came to realize that being afraid of messing up while speaking a new language would not allow me to grow and live the life as a local would. My previous challenge of going to town in Italy and putting myself out there while retaining my English personality in Italian really informed this similar arrival experience in Peru. In order for me to blend into the cultural and community as I hoped to, I had no choice but to throw myself into it. And that I did, much more fiercely than I had in Italy. My reward has been a rich immersion into Peruvian culture.
On the working front, while living in Florence, I had the opportunity to volunteer at a school and teach English as an assistant in a classroom a few times a week. The time I spent in those classrooms with those kids definitely informed my expectations for tutoring here in Peru with the girls. As with all things, I was in for a different experience than what I’d anticipated. Overall, I keep about as busy as I did in Italy, but my transition to life in Peru was definitely easier because I’d already experienced a cultural transition when I arrived to Florence.
Did studying abroad influence your decision to work abroad? If so, please elaborate on how.
My time abroad opened my eyes to how imperative travel is for me. Feelings of stagnation and monotony cloud my thoughts when I’m not moving often enough. Traveling to Europe showed that to me. When my time in Italy came to an end, I longed for more time spent meeting people from different, unexpected places. The connections I made have stayed in my heart and in my contact list. I wanted more of that. So yes, I was influenced by studying abroad and living in a place so completely different from my home. Originally, I’d planned on heading to Indonesia and teaching with the Peace Corps for two years. When I decided my heart wasn’t in it, the opportunity to come to Peru presented itself. It seemed like fate, calling me to the Valley. Here I’ve made incredible connections, and gotten exactly what I wanted—people who have touched me, like the eccentric, gentle vegan couple from Wisconsin, the fun Australian volunteers I worked with briefly and the strong-willed Dutch girl I met in Colombia, who I hope to see again very soon.
I never feel more free than I do while traveling. Without attachments and the luxurious comforts of home, I am content to watch it all unfold before me. It was an easy decision to buy a one-way (solo ida) ticket down to Peru once I convinced myself that diving into a new culture and learning a new language would make me happier than staying in my hometown.
Do you plan on more globalized activities in your future? How will this impact your career?
As of right now, I’m considering going back to school for my master’s degree in International Relations and Gender Studies. Ideally, I will attend a school overseas, as I believe an IR degree will hold more weight from an international institution. Plus, learning another language (maybe German!) would be great for my personal growth. I pick up languages quickly which is the most exciting part of new cultures, considering it offers another perspective that tourists don’t usually get. Moreover, studying overseas, I will have the opportunity to experience yet another culture different from those I’ve already seen.
Interview conducted by Jessica Terrell, an ISA Alumni Relations Coordinator.
Allayna Nofs was an ISA Global Ambassador at Rowan University. She studied with ISA in Florence, Spring 2017.
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