Peru is a diverse country that boasts dramatic natural landscapes, cosmopolitan cities, and a rich history illustrated by ruins, both famous and obscure. Located in western South America, between Chile and Ecuador, this is a unique country where you will feel welcomed from the moment you arrive.

Learn About Peru

Peru has one of the most interesting histories of any South American country. Ancient Peru was the seat of several prominent Andean civilizations, most notably that the Incas, whose empire was captured by Spanish conquistadors in 1533. They have left behind the impressive ruins of Machu Picchu for modern-day travelers to Peru to enjoy!

Although a Spanish-speaking country as a result of colonization, you still might hear aboriginal languages, such as Quechua and Aymara, at your volunteer assignment. When it comes to ethnic diversity, Peru is a melting pot of Amerindians, Europeans, Africans, and Asians. This assortment of influences can be seen in paintings, tasted in the abundant variety of Peruvian cuisine, and heard in music. Peru gained independence in 1821 from the Spanish, and in 1980, returned to being a democratic society.

Peru’s more recent history includes the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), a Maoist insurgent organization starting internal conflict in the 1980s. As a result of this organization, based largely in rural areas of Peru, a pueblo joven (shantytown) developed in the vast, empty sand flats due to the urgent housing needs of immigrant Peruvian families. Today, volunteers work in Villa El Salvador, a model of a self-sufficient housing zone, assisting with their activities in public kitchen, health committees, and schools.

The capital city of Lima is an intriguing mix of modern and traditional, ancient and evolving. With just over 7.6 million citizens, Lima is Peru’s largest city, and it has something for just about everyone. You may be visiting a local artisan market one day, and a bustling modern shopping mall the next. As Lima is often called the “culinary capital of South America,” you can have a meal of haute cuisine by a world-renowned chef, or snack at ceviche stands around your neighborhood. On your weekend, you may find yourself indulging in nightlife that can rival that of any big city worldwide, and then touring ancient ruins at the Pachacamac archaeological site the very next day. Lima is a land of contrasts and contradictions, and just when you think you’ve gotten it pinned down, it will morph into something else entirely.

Cultural Do’s and Don’ts

Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.

  • Learn some basic Spanish phrases
  • Address people formally when greeting
  • Use phrases like Good morning sir: “Buenos días, señor”.
  • Tip very much!
  • Take a taxi without first negotiating the fare
  • Be too affectionate in public (it’s frowned upon)

Fun Fact: Peru is home to the highest sand dune, the highest navigable lake, the driest desert, and the deepest canyon in the world!

Culture Shock

Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?

Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, its cultural norms, and its people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.

Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.

"I - I hardly know, Sir, just at the present," Alice replied rather shyly, "at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then."
- Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

  • Have a sense humor.
    Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
  • Expect differences.
    In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
  • ...but look for what’s the same.
    You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
  • Keep learning.
    Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.

Language Skills

Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.

Here are a few key phrases to get you started:
Spanish Phrases
Hello – ¡Hola!
Please – Por favor
How are you? – ¿Cómo estás?
Do you Speak English? – ¿Hablas Inglés?
Thank you – Gracias

Intro to Spanish:
Basic Level

As with learning any new language, reading phrases is helpful. But listening is one of the best ways to grasp sounds and vocabulary. Click below to hear Country Director Enrique Bossio begin your first Spanish language lesson.

Ready for the next level? Practice your Spanish with these online sites:

Babbel »
Rosetta Stone »

Recommended Reading and Films

We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of Peru so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:

Travel & Leisure: A Trip Through Peru »
CCS Blog: Peru »
YouTube: Lima, Peru »

Activities & Excursions

Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends with the CCS in-country staff. Our activities & excursions are an important part of your experience for exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always be there to guide you through getting to know the culture and country.

Here are a few of our favorite activities that might be included on your schedule.

Spend an afternoon on the Pacific Ocean – marveling at Peru’s beautiful, rocky beaches and dramatic cliffs.

Venture off the beaten path to explore a Spanish colonial town.

Despite the miles of beautiful coast lines, the beach isn’t the only place to surf in Peru. You can try to hang ten on one of the biggest sand dunes in the world. Sandboarding down the sandy slopes can be an ultimate rush. And don’t worry, if you’re not interested in sandboarding, the view can also be enjoyed from a ride in a dune buggy.

Take a stroll through an Inca market. This is a great opportunity to pick up some alpaca socks, hats, sweaters, and absorb some of this amazing culture.

Training Sessions

If you’re ready to start learning more, review your online Training Session below (this is required – so make sure you allocate enough time to review your training). About 2 weeks before your program begins, you’ll also want to plan on joining your Final Pre-Departure call with your group. We can’t wait for you to join us, meet your fellow volunteers, and explore all that CCS has to offer. .

Training Call 2:
Savvy Street Smarts »

GO TO: Volunteering in Lima HSVA

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