On Top of the World

Napaykullaki! That’s Quechua for hello.  Twenty-two students, my colleague, Maria, and I are about to embark on the first-ever Senior Project to Peru. Westtown has partnered with World Leadership School to provide students with what I am sure will be an extraordinary experience. WLS was chosen because its mission aligns so well with Westtown’s. They specialize in offering hands-on experience in leadership, service and cultural immersion.

We will complete a service project (building a retaining wall at a school), spend time within the school interacting with students, engage in leadership training, meet with local leaders and see many historic sites, not the least of which is Machu Picchu.

During our time there we will live host families who live an agrarian life still much the same as their descendants, the Inca, did.  The home stay aspect of this project is what I’m most looking forward to. While all of our experiences are bound to have a ‘wow’ factor in one way or another, I expect that it will be the personal contact with Peruvians that will be most significant for the students – for all of us.

While most of the locals speak Spanish (as do some of our students), the native language of our hosts is Quechua. Quechua is the indigenous language of the Andean people, derived from the ancestral language of the Inca.  We’ve learned and taught the students a few phrases enough to be polite, but not enough to have elaborate conversations. How will we all navigate social situations without a common tongue? My hope is that we depart with many more words and phrases in Quechua in our word banks  – and perhaps advanced skills in charades.

The students will be participating in the unplugged challenge. They are not permitted to bring laptops, cell phones, or even e-readers. This is designed to keep them fully present for the entirety of the trip. It might be one of their greatest challenges to give up the devices that connect them to friends, family and the rest of the world. I suspect that it will also be one of their greatest rewards.

Our project will take place in and around the village of Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley. It is an Incan archaeological site in southern Peru, some 60 kilometers northwest of the city of Cusco. It is perched high in the Andes, having an elevation of more than 9,000 feet above sea level. The air will be oh-so-thin and we expect to need at least a few days to adjust to the altitude. Once we adjust, we will go higher still as we hike up into the altiplano (high plane, high plateau) to spend a night camping in the Andes. We will be on top of the world!

I hope you enjoy reading along as we learn about the Sacred Valley, the people of Peru and ourselves.


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