I met Valerie when I was living in Peru. There, I interviewed her about an amazing adventure of inheriting an English school in Lima. Today I asked her to update us about her professional and personal life in Peru. Thanks a lot, Valerie!
So much has happened in the last 6 years! I can’t believe the time has gone so quickly, I have been here for almost 8 years now! I still love Peru of course, my relationship with this culture has gone through many changes over the years but the love remains strong.
My English school in Lima has grown enormously. That first year we did well, but mostly with private students, a few teachers and one assistant. Today we work mostly with large companies, have 10 employees and around 25 teachers. We are also in bigger premises and have lots of plans for the future!
On a personal front I am now in a stable loving relationship with a wonderful Argentinian and living in beautiful Barranco with a charming garden overlooking the sea!
Happiness in my job is wrapped up in my continued happiness in Lima. Generally I am still very happy here but my life has had its ups and downs over the years.
Some of my biggest challenges – as all expats know only too well – have been saying goodbye to very good friends as their time in Peru comes to an end. This is by far the hardest part of living overseas. I think as we grow older we realize more and more the only really important thing in life is people and it gets harder and harder to part from loved ones. Sometimes I wish I was the kind of person who could grow up, buy a house down the road from my parents and never leave the village hence keeping those loved ones close but for better or worse I am cursed with the need for the unfamiliar!!
I continue to love the challenge of my job with my English school in Lima, there is always something new and it’s never boring! Growth is exciting and happily my enthusiasm has not waned yet. We have many plans for the school, in terms of how we are going to diversify and what we are going to offer in the future.
Personally I am planning to study various short courses this year. The first one is Corporate Social Responsibility as we want to start ‘giving back’ and are looking for opportunities to contribute in a meaningful way using the resources at our disposal – perhaps starting a volunteering program for the teachers?
After that I plan to study some Educational Management courses to develop my personal profile for any future possible positions in other countries should I leave Peru in a few years’ time. I’m not sure running your own business gives you any concrete skills on paper (plenty of skills in practice!) so I am going for the pieces of paper – just in case! These courses will also be invaluable in the present in the running and general improvement of the school.
Future plans? I’ll be here for a while yet but I am also preparing for any moment when I decide – for whatever reason – to leave Peru. But where to? Perhaps I’ll go back to my roots and head back to the UK or perhaps I’ll go to another country and start a whole new adventure there? Peru is becoming a little familiar these days.
Original interview (August 2008)
Valerie is a Scottish girl who went through one very rare experience: whilst living in Peru, she inherited an English school in Lima! Claudiaexpat has interviewed her.
You have a long story of traveling around the globe and especially in Asia. What took you around the world?
I’ve always had an unquenchable thirst for experience and exploration. When I was younger I couldn’t bear the thought of there being a corner of the world that I hadn’t seen, really it has been the single most important driving force of my life. South America was the first continent that I traveled through when I finally managed to escape from the UK at age 24, but I have traveled mostly in Asia. What took me to Asia? I followed a love interest of course… a relationship that lasted for 2 years but that started a love affair with Asia itself that lasted 7 long and wonderful years.
Which of the countries you have visited before arriving to Peru has marked you the most and why?
I would have to say India first, such an intensely spiritual place. I have never seen people with so little be so happy. I would challenge anyone to spend time in India and not be deeply affected by the experience. I was also extremely moved by Japan. Such a country of serene beauty – the landscape itself is breathtaking, but more than that the Japanese aesthetic in terms of their art and architecture is so subtle, tasteful and calming, it really is something to behold. In total contrast I also loved Brazil for its crazy energy and exhausting party spirit!
You came to Peru from England and I remember you telling me how much you had enjoyed spending time with your family there and sort of “feeling at home”. What brought you “on the road again”?
Yes, I was very happy at home in the UK at that time, loving being near family and friends again after so much time spent living in other countries. I really only came to Peru for 6 months; it was a career move. I had gone back to the UK to do a degree in Anthropology and Development Studies with the aim of working for a humanitarian organization. When I finished I was looking for an internship abroad, preferably in South America, and through a good friend of mine I managed to secure a placement with the International Federation of the Red Cross here in Lima. The plan was to return to the UK when I finished.
Tell me about Peru: you reminded me the other day that when you arrived you were not so enthusiastic, but that after a while you really felt happy here. And now you have just celebrated your two years in this country. What is it that makes you (and people in general) feel so good in this place?
I found the first 6 months here incredibly hard. It was a combination of factors… not least the fact that I arrived at the end of summer so it was the long grey winter, which all of us who live in Lima know is not the most cheerful part of the year! Added to that was the fact that I really knew no-one and found meeting people quite difficult at first… this combined with a stressful work situation, lack of Spanish, and an unsettled home environment conspired to make the first few months quite challenging!! But with the spring and summer came resolution on many fronts… change of work, home, friends… combined with a total transformation of Lima into a sunny and happy city… finally made me fall in love with it and my life here.
I extended my trip to one year, and then continued to extend it up to over two years now! Time has flown and I feel very content here. What makes me feel good in this place? It’s a very good question. It has a lot to do with the fabulous food and restaurants of course, as I love food but more importantly I am delighted to find a strong connection with the Peruvian people whom I find for the most part warm and friendly. I have experienced such kindness and generosity among the people, especially with their time. It really is possible to feel fully integrated here – something I never felt was possible when I was living in Asia for example. Another thing that is very important for me is the feeling of growth and opportunity there is here, it really feels like anything is possible, a feeling that is sadly lacking in the UK these days.
Tell us about the English school in Lima you are managing now: how did it all come about and what is it about?
Well, life is very strange isn’t it? You just never know what’s around the corner! After my internship at the Red Cross finished I started volunteering in various NGOs and to pay the bills I had returned to teaching English (something I had done previously in Hong Kong and Japan). I love teaching English – not because I am so attached to grammar and pronunciation – but because of the contact with people that it brings. Most of my old students are still close friends now. After just over a year of teaching for other institutes one of my students asked me if I had thought about running my own English school in Lima as there was one up for sale… I replied no I had not, as I was still hoping to join an international humanitarian organization at that point. He managed to persuade me however to go and see the school and meet the owner – an Englishman who was returning to the UK imminently and was looking for someone to take over his small institute – and one week later I found myself running my own school in Lima!
What are the “good” and the “bad” aspects of inheriting an English school in Lima?
I was plagued with doubt at first, it’s a lot of responsibility for someone who was apparently living here temporarily… I had to make a big decision about my future for what would conceivably be the next few years of my life. That decision made, I have to say I have not looked back once. It is wonderful to be your own boss and be in charge of your own time and resources. Even though I work far more hours now than I ever done in my life, it really feels like I don’t work at all! And to finally be putting all my energy, ideas and enthusiasm into something that benefits me and my future is an incredible feeling. I have been very fortunate indeed to have been given this ‘gift’, and best of all it has allowed me to continue living in a country I have grown to love.
How do you see your future?
Another good question! Living here for the next few years I believe. I want to explore the full potential of my business, maybe moving to larger premises in the next 6 months, perhaps combining home and school. The business is set up as an NGO therefore I have the option, at some later stage, of starting some small community projects in order to help with the many social challenges that Peru faces. I might study again, a master’s programme in social project management or something related to help me with this idea. Or I may go back to my original plan of working with an international NGO in order to have some more transferable skills should I decide to move to another country. A lot depends on work, but a lot also depends on what fate has in store for me in terms of falling in love and starting a family… who knows where I might end up next?
Valerie’s school FB page: https://www.facebook.com/EnglishLifePeru