A Place Only Peru Can Fill

As she stood in front of 62 first-grade students, all girls, Jacki D’Amico ’18 realized she was engaged in the ultimate student-teaching experience in Peru. Addressed by the girls as Miss Jacki, she spent six weeks at Colegio Villa Maria in Miraflores teaching the students and working with their teachers to develop the curriculum. D’Amico felt satisfied that she had made progress—the students were learning what she was teaching them.

Although most of her students spoke and understood English well, D’Amico laughs remembering that all of her students wanted to hear her speak because she was a native English speaker from the United States!

With funds from two major and complementary U.S. Department of Education grants of nearly over $250,000, 12 undergraduate students and two graduate students had an opportunity to complete a portion of their student-teaching experience (if they were Education majors) at schools administered by the Sisters, Servants of the Immaculate Heart of Mary in Lima, Peru. The grants, the Fulbright Hays Group Projects Abroad and the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages (UISFL) Program, allowed the students to travel to Peru for six-weeks through Immaculata’s newly created Global Perspectives in Education Program.

The students spent time observing and learning Peruvian educational pedagogy in elementary, secondary, and special needs schools for children and adults in Centro Ann Sullivan and Alegría en el Señor. “They also engaged in a variety of student-teaching activities including classroom management and assessment, monitoring the playground at recess, dining with teachers in the faculty room, and joining in the ‘fiesta’ spirit of school assemblies,” says Sister Annette Pellitier, IHM, chair of the Theology Department at Immaculata and veteran missionary in Peru and Chile who accompanied the IU students to Peru.

Luca Giardini ’19 enjoys the travel excursions in Peru with Sister Annette Pellitier, IHM, chair of the Theology Department at Immaculata and veteran missionary in Peru and Chile who accompanied the IU students to Peru.

Luca Giardini ’19 enjoys the travel excursions in Peru with Sister Annette Pellitier, IHM, chair of the Theology Department at Immaculata and veteran missionary in Peru and Chile who accompanied the IU students to Peru.

Luca Giardini ’19 was so impressed by the people he met and the experiences he encountered that he equated Peru to Coca-Cola. “You know that saying, there is a place in the stomach that only a bottle of Coke can fill? Well, there is a place in my soul that only Peru can fill,” he states proudly. Although not a senior yet, Giardini was invited to teach in the primary through high school levels at Colegio Villa Maria in La Planicie. Through the experience, he came to appreciate the students, the teachers in Peru and his fellow Immaculata classmates.

One of Giardini’s goals during his six-week trip was to soak up as much culture as he could so that when he became a teacher, he could incorporate that knowledge into his class. While in Peru, he observed that the student/teacher relationship was more personal than it is in the United States; students often address teachers by their first names. A fellow Peruvian teacher, Manuel Ramirez, gave Giardini advice telling him that “the students become your own children; you guide them and you treat them as such.” This loving environment extends to the Peruvian people in general who are outgoing and willing to accept and embrace all people.

“I learned that these students are the next generation of this world and they are willing to teach you about themselves,” D’Amico notes. During her classes at Immaculata University, her Education professors continually emphasize the importance of getting to know the students. D’Amico not only had the opportunity to hear about her students’ families but also met many of the fathers during a Father’s Day event held at the school. Giardini was completely thrilled when he was asked to play in a game with the school’s soccer team.

“We were there so long that it actually felt like we became part of the culture,” D’Amico says laughing.

If they were not becoming part of the culture, they were certainly exposed to it while exploring several Peruvian treasures. One of the most anticipated trip was to Machu Picchu, a World Heritage Site officially recognized by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

“That was my favorite day,” D’Amico exclaims referring to the trip to Machu Picchu. “Just the train ride to get there was amazing…with its 360-view.” D’Amico explains that the town of Machu Picchu sits at the bottom of a mountain and you take a bus to the top of the mountain and spend the rest of the time hiking.

Giardini agrees about the splendor of Machu Picchu but was equally enthralled with the Ancient Sillustani Burial Towers of Puno. He describes it as a massive stone structure where “important people are buried.” He found the location, overlooking a lake, very peaceful and calm.

On the weekends, the students would come together to enjoy excursions across Peru with Sister Annette and Melissa Reed, Ed.D., chair of the Education Department at Immaculata University, and expert travel guides. In addition to Machu Picchu and the Burial Towers, they visited Lake Titicaca, the Uros Islands, the Magic Water Fountains, and the cities of Cuzco and Lima.

Having traveled to Peru twice before, D’Amico knew to pack light so she would have room to bring home souvenirs. “I didn’t buy much,” she insists as she begins to rattle off her purchases: wool sweater from alpaca farmers, three clutch purses, two rings, hand-painted sugar bowl, scarf, blanket….her voice trails off.  Although she is not sure what she will be doing after graduation, D’Amico is making sure her memories of Peru last a lifetime.

Jacki D’Amico ’18 engages her first-grade students from Colegio Villa Maria while student-teaching in Peru.

Jacki D’Amico ’18 engages her first-grade students from Colegio Villa Maria while student-teaching in Peru.

Of course, she could go back to Colegio Villa Maria, as she was offered a teaching position upon graduation. She could also teach at one of the IHM-affiliated schools in Santiago, Chile. In addition to the teaching offers, D’Amico is currently pursuing a Fulbright Scholarship. She wants to make the most out of her final year at Immaculata where she will earn a degree in Elementary and Special Education next May.

During his sophomore year, Giardini’s academic advisor, Dr. David Brennan, suggested that his students start thinking about where they wanted to conduct their student-teaching during their senior year. Having the opportunity to get a head start in Peru, without officially beginning his required student-teaching, was a blessing to Giardini. In two years, after he graduates with a degree in History with Secondary Education, he has been offered a job at Villa Maria La Planicie.

“I was hesitant at first, but one night I spent the whole night thinking about it: could I live down here? And I thought, right now, I definitely could.” And the most important question to ponder: does he want to? He answers emphatically, “I definitely do!”

There is a place in Giardini’s heart that only Peru can fill.

For more information about the Global Perspectives in Education Program, please visit http://www.immaculata.edu/peru-education or call 484-323-3037. This student international experience is funded from both the U.S. Department of Education Fulbright-Hays and the Undergraduate International Studies and Foreign Languages (UISFL) Program. The two major and complementary U.S. Department of Education grants of $162,347 in year one cover 96% of the program expenses. The remaining 4% ($7,000) is financed by student fees.

Author: lszyjka

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