Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Chaikof

Why did you decide to study abroad with Greenheart Travel in Cusco, Peru?

Rachel: One summer during my undergraduate studies at Savannah College of Art and Design, I was completely free and wanted to use the time broaden my horizons by traveling to a country where I have not yet visited and learning a new language. When learning a new language, it is best to be immersed in a place where I could speak the new language 24 hours, 7 days a week. Thus, living with a host family is the key to having access to language immersion.

I participated in Greenheart Travel's Homestay program, a program that provides people with host families in foreign countries, in the past and was very impressed by the quality of host families they have provided me. So, I chose Greenheart Travel again because I knew that they would provide me a wonderful host family and also an incredible experience.

Moreover, Greenheart Travel has a wide selection of Language School programs in various countries and so, I was provided with a variety of choices. I could have chosen to learn Spanish in Argentina, Spain, Ecuador, or Costa Rica or German in Germany or Italian in Italy. I chose Peru because I already have seen so much of Europe and have never seen South America, and I was fascinated by the history of Incas and the culture, in particular the textiles.

Rachel hanging out in Cusco, Peru

What made studying in Costa Rica a unique and special experience?

Rachel: I rarely experience cultural shocks, and I think it's because all the other countries I visited prior to my trip to Peru are developed countries. Peru was my first developing country and therefore, I experienced major cultural shocks that I did not expect. On the very first day of my arrival, I remember clearly when I stepped outside of the airport and was looking out the window from the taxi, I said to myself, "Oh my god! What have I done to myself?"

The city of Cusco looked like it had just gone through a natural disaster. Everyone looked so different from me and for the first time in my life, I was a minority. I said to myself, "Ok. I can overcome the cultural shock and learn to appreciate the new strange land." As time went by, I became more and more comfortable with Cusco and by the end of the end of the month, Cusco became my home. This experience was so unique because I learned that in spite of very different cultures and lifestyle, I could still learn to fit myself comfortably in a new environment.

A beautiful day to explore Peru

How has this experience impacted your future?

Rachel: While having learned some Spanish in Peru is benefiting me professionally in some way as I am currently searching for a job relating to international cultures, more importantly, my trip taught me to become more independent, overcome challenges, and have a positive attitude. Because Peru is a developing country, the lifestyle was not easy as the city of Cusco looks like as if an earthquake had just rocked the area.

The city is also located on top of the Andes mountains and thus, the altitude is very high. Therefore, everyday, I felt like I was on a treacherous hike, but as days went by, I became stronger and by the end of the trip, I no longer felt like I was on a torturous hike. Navigating the city was very hard at the beginning of the trip as the road signs were lacking, and not to mention I even got lost on the first day of trying to find my host family's home.

Trying to find someone who could communicate in English was very hard, and I had to be persistent in finding someone who could communicate in the language I could speak. This experience motivated me to learn Spanish as quickly as possible so that I could speak with the locals should if I get caught in troubles again. Because the sanitary of water was not good, I had to learn to remember to boil water on regular basis and use boiled water to brush my teeth and drink. Learning to eat food I have never tasted in my home country was also part of my routine on the trip. All in all, I learned to be flexible and experiencing changes is a very exciting time of life.