Lauren Dirvonas

Lauren Dirvonas is currently a junior in high school at Vail Mountain School in Vail, Colorado. Lauren's interests include telemark skiing, riding horses, golfing, hiking, spending time with family and friends, learning new things in school, and traveling abroad to learn more about different cultures.


Why did you choose this program?

I chose to work with the Lama Pack Project through Student Shoulder to Shoulder last summer in the Sacred Valley of Peru. Student Shoulder to Shoulder is a global travel organization that works out of my school; many of my peers and teachers had recommended that I take a program with SStS and that is what initially inspired me to look into their programs.

I chose this particular program because I primarily had always wanted to go to Peru since I was very young. Something had always drawn me to the country. In addition, working with animals (horses) and spending time with the environment have been passions of mine for a long time so I was interested in working with the lamas and the environment in Peru. I also chose this program because I am very passionate about Spanish and therefore I was excited to have the opportunity to practice my Spanish and learn more about the language abroad.

What did your program provider assist you with?

While in Peru, my group was in charge of creating a lesson plan when we taught the children of Urubumba about the environment. We had assistance during this process and it was a rather enjoyable experience to create a lesson plan in a different language for the children. Aside from organizing the lesson plan, Student Shoulder to Shoulder and the Lama Pack Project assisted us with all of out other travel and trip logistics.

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

One piece of advice I would give to someone working with the Lama Pack Project would be to do some primary research about the culture of Peru prior to your travels. While I did learn a lot about the Peruvian culture during my trip, I found it very helpful to do some research about the government, economy, environment, class system, and general culture of Peru before I left the states. This research was guided by Student Shoulder to Shoulder and I found that having a context for much of what I saw in Peru helped my better understand what I was experiencing in Peru.

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

As a participant of this program, an average day changed slightly depending on where we were during the program. The first week, we would wake up to breakfast in the Lama Pack house and take a van to the school. We would review our lesson plan that we made the previous night. Then, we would teach the children about the environment during the morning before lunch. We also had a little bit of time to play and bond with the children during the morning.

After lunch, we would begin to work on the playground fixing equipment, painting tires and murals, pulling out overgrown grass, and cleaning the classrooms. Then, we would return to the Lama Pack House for free time and, some nights, time to walk into town. We would have nightly reflections and dinner before retiring for the evening.

During the second week when we were in Cancha Cancha, the average day would look a little different. We would wake up in the morning from our tents and sleeping bags (the nights were a little chilly) and we would eat breakfast in the home of one of the community members who was gracious enough to host us. Then, we would spend the day working on the tree nursery whether it was moving rocks, tilling the earth, removing grass roots, building a rock wall, cutting the saplings from trees up in the forest, or planting the saplings in the beds.

We paused midday to return to the house for lunch and an hour break. After our work during the day, we had free time before dinner which a few other students and I used to hike the valley and explore our surroundings. Then, we would have a warm dinner in the house before reflections and going to bed underneath the stars. On the weekends, we visited the ruins around the Sacred Valley.

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

Going into my experience abroad my biggest fear was the language barrier that I might experience. Before arriving in Peru, I was fairly uncomfortable with my ability to speak Spanish to the locals. I was afraid that I would not have the courage to spark up a conversation in a different language than my own. I wanted to get the most out of my experience and did not want to regret being limited by my fear.

I overcame this fear by embracing the mentality that I had traveled a long distance for this experience and that I didn't want to have regrets. I began speaking to the Peruvians we met in Spanish and came to found that they were excited that we were making an effort to speak their language. I learned from this experience that even if one makes errors trying to speak another's language, others are simply excited and receptive to those who try to speak their language. This has given me more confidence to try to speak Spanish or other languages wherever I go, even if I am not entirely fluent as trying is a worthwhile experience.

Write and answer your own question.

What is your favorite memory on this trip?

My favorite story from my experience in Peru was when I met Urpi. When we were teaching the children about the environment in Urubumba, I was still a little weary about speaking Spanish. There was one Peruvian girl who was very shy and never liked to share her drawing from the lessons. Every time I made an effort to talk to her she got very shy and looked away from me.

However, one day, I sat down next to her and began to ask her question about her family and herself. She quickly opened up to me and began to tell me about her life. At this moment I gained both confidence in speaking the language and a genuine relationship with a little girl from another country. I was so happy to form this connection. The next few days I spent a lot of time with Urpi and her friend Estella in the classroom and playing tag outside.

One morning, I entered the school and Urpi and a few of her friends jumped out at me and gave me a giant hug. I will always remember this experience and the bond that I formed with Urpi. This experience has inspired my to seek out connections with people from different backgrounds and cultures wherever I go.