Hasta la próxima. Until next time. I’ve repeated these words many times over the past several days as I bid farewell to my co-workers and friends in Peru, and each time I’m reminded of how different this departure feels. Every time I’ve left Latin America, I’ve been able to anticipate when I’d be coming back for my next extended stay. This time, as I hugged my roommates goodbye amid the dense traffic of baggage carts and hurried travelers crowding the Lima airport, I was unable to make such a comforting prediction. Even though this uncertainty is unsettling, it has also propelled me to more consciously and consistently exercise gratitude for what I’ve learned and experienced this summer.

One of the experiences for which I’m most thankful was the opportunity to visit schools. UNICEF Peru is uniquely positioned in that they collaborate directly with diverse stakeholders, including civil society, local and national government bodies, and other international development agencies. During my internship, I was fortunate to interact with representatives from each of these groups; however, the conversations that remain the most memorable and meaningful for me were those I had with teachers and students. While the vast majority of my time was spent in the office, I had the chance to visit a child-friendly bilingual school in the Amazon, as well as a preschool and a school for children with disabilities in the district of Callao. These visits brought back the unique sense of familiarity, comfort, excitement, and motivation that I feel when I enter schools, and reaffirmed my decision to return to the classroom as an educator.

During my time in Peru, I worked on two main projects, the first aiming to promote access to Intercultural Bilingual Education (IBE) resources and the second to raise awareness about inclusive educational policies and practices. In the final weeks of my internship, I had the opportunity to formally present my work to the UNICEF education team in Lima and create a framework to make the materials I had developed accessible to regional UNICEF staff, policymakers, researchers, and educators. You can check out the presentation of the inventory I made here.

Before coming to Peru, I was relatively unfamiliar with the principles, policies, and practices surrounding inclusive education in Latin America. As I worked to craft a report on this topic and an accompanying resource guide for the Ministry of Education, the research I conducted prompted me to reflect more critically on my own practices as an educator, particularly the ways in which I have either intentionally or subconsciously situated barriers to learning. (The principles of Inclusive Education urge educators to identify and eliminate barriers to learning within the educational environment, rather than situating learning difficulties within students). I’m grateful that, as I begin teaching middle school Spanish this fall, I’ll be able to draw upon these resources to foster an inclusive environment in both my classroom and my school.

Like teaching, dance has been a passion of mine that has helped me find comfort and community wherever I go. Whether I’m practicing a familiar dance form or trying a new one for the first time, dancing has always served as both a reflection of my past and a means of connecting to new people and cultures. I was fortunate that Lima has an established Lindy Hop community, as well as a thriving salsa scene. Having the opportunity to become a part of the swing dance community in Peru not only helped me feel at home, but also pushed me to step outside of the “Miraflores bubble” (as my friends referred to my district of residency) and get to know other areas of Lima.

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A religious parade in downtown Lima – one of the many unforgettable sights we came across as a friend of mine gave some fellow Lindy Hoppers and I a tour of Lima’s historic center. Photo credit: Elsa Ugarte

And, of course, I’m most grateful for the many colleagues, family, and friends who extended ample generosity and support to me this summer. To my readers in Lima – que la próxima sea pronto. 🙂

– Lauren

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