Alumni Spotlight: Justin Langlois


Justin is an architecture graduate from La Cité Collégiale in Ottawa Canada who plans on directing his background towards that of the development sector. On his spare time, he enjoys traveling and playing guitar in a rock group called ‘Crooked Pines’.

Why did you choose this program?

I always had this lingering idea that I would some day take on the adventure of volunteering in a construction organization. Since college, I did small bouts of research on different volunteer opportunities and eventually found Build Abroad. Because their organization is driven by architects and specialized in construction volunteering, I knew they were the team I wanted to join.

I chose Peru for many reasons but one in particular was that after researching their economy and what their poverty is like, I understood that the money gained from the massive influx of tourism is mainly spent in making the environment cleaner and safer for the tourists. This said, this financial growth Peru has seen over the year does not necessarily go towards the poorer less frequented communities.

By joining the volunteer crew, I knew my efforts and money, would at least go directly towards a cause that truly needed support.

And, well... of course there’s also the more general reasons I chose Peru such as: the endless adventures within their coastal and mountainous regions, the astonishing historical aspects of their architecture and culture, the extreme sports (surfing, mountain biking, hiking), etc. And finally, I knew that I could kill two birds with one stone by accomplishing a second dream of mine - learning how to surf.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Build Abroad assisted with most of the necessities such as airport pickup, home-stay, construction project coordination, etc. Really, the only planning I needed to do was determining how to visit all the sites in the Sacred Valley and all other leisure activities (though they were glad to answer any questions or help plan these trips as well).

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to join this program is - don’t feel like you need to know the first thing about construction or have a background in any trade to be able to help.

With the slightest open mind and a nonchalance in getting your hands dirty, you’ll learn from the professionals on site exactly what you need to do and how to do it. There’s never any pressure to do anything, and if you need a break, well, no one will say otherwise. Any help is good help. Everyone’s there to have fun and to learn a skill or two that they can bring back home.

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

An average day looks as follows:

  • Wake up around 6:30am with a few sore muscles from the day prior and have a delicious Peruvian breakfast with a fresh cup of java.
  • Catch the bus and head to your job site sometime around 8:00am (in Peruvian time, it means an acceptable 15 minutes late.)
  • Work on site doing a variety of tasks until noon. Examples of what I did: dug trenches, painted, plastered, sanded, built a stone walkway, etc.
  • After work, head back into town and have lunch with your volunteer friends.
  • From lunch on, kick around the city doing whatever you’ve planned until diner comes by around 5:00pm.
  • After dinner, go out for a drink or a random adventure until you decide to hit the bed. Repeat. Until the weekend comes and new adventures start!

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

I guess my biggest fear was the original transition of living with a Peruvian family and adapting to a new culture while not speaking much Spanish.

After a few days, I ended up getting quite comfortable with my surroundings and eventually lost my fear of trying to speak Spanish. The more I spoke, the more people were happy to correct me and were patient to try and understand.

Overall, this was a fear that I shouldn’t of worried about all that much. Ideally, I should of took a class or two prior to the trip or sunk my mind into Duolingo for a handful of months prior to my arrival.

Do you have a favorite story you'd like to share?

One of my favorite stories happened on a Friday after work. The Peruvian site coordinator invited my Australian volunteer buddy and me to his small town to have a couple midday beers “el peruano” style.

I had never seen this before - we sat on the curb in front of a small corner store, asked the clerk for a small cup, bought a two liter bottle of Coke and a handful of one liter bottles of beer. While having lunch, a few of our site coordinator’s buddies and his son happened to be perusing by and sat down to join us. We were then five people sitting in a small circle.

How this works (not to promote drinking!): one person has the cup, pours in a bottom of coke and passes the coke bottle to his right; he then tops off the cup with beer and passes the beer to his right; he then takes the shot of beer & coke mix, whips the foam out on the street and passes the cup to the right.

This cup and bottle exchange went on for 8 to 10 beers over an hour and a half or so. Meanwhile, random locals were passing by and joining for a few turns, leaving, and so on. It was the most casual way of drinking, in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day.

Literally no one cared, and rather joined. We had joked with the Peruvians how we would be thrown in a cop car if we did this back home. He couldn’t believe it. Nor could we believe what we were doing.