I’m so lucky in so many ways… love, career, family, travel, …

A silly stroke of luck again came my way last week. At ICPNA Cusco, where I teach English part time, the teachers are not supposed to wear jeans or sneakers. My boss has devoted ample time to this, but I keep flaunting that particular rule anyway.

The other day as I walked up to the main office my boss looked at me up and down, clearly not approving of my jeans and sneakers, when one of the academic coordinators sort of barged in among a bunch of teachers who were there and said…

“… Ward, I just have to tell you, one of my former students is now in your class and she just told me how happy the entire class is to have you, and what a great teacher you are…”

A few of the teachers and I sort of played it down “you sure they were talking about me?” but I know my boss took notice. Thank you Rosanna !!!!

ESL students and me, in jeans and sneakers

ESL students and me, in jeans and sneakers

Now I don’t wear jeans and sneakers to be difficult, but because:

  • At age 35 I’m now officially a middle age white guy and my old suits don’t fit very well any more 😦
  • I try to teach all my students to be rebels

Although I love Peru there are a lot of issues here, such as poverty, corruption, prejudice, environmental protections, protection of land for indigenous people, etc. I tell all my students to be rebels, stop accepting the status quo, if they want a better Peru they are the ones to make it better.

So I am a rebel, I try to lead by example, I wear jeans and sneakers to let my boss know there are more important issues to address than the kind of clothes people are wearing.

Thanks Rosanna, and thanks Silvana!!

Goals and dreams – of a 12 year old

I gave my ESL students a writing exercise, write about “your goals and dreams”. This is from a 12 year old girl, unedited:

“When I was 6 years old my goals was be the president of Peru to change Peru, because Peru in the past was horrible and destroyed by other presidents…”

And a few other excerpts:

“Now I’m 12 years old… I plan to collect a lot of money to construct a big house … I plan to buy other house to give to my parents, because they did anything to me.”

Maybe I’m being sentimental because we’re getting ready to have our own baby soon, but I thought that was worth sharing.

The worst workshop ever

I’ve sat through my share of corporate workshops and training, in the US as well as here in Peru. Some I found valuable, others less so, but at the school where I teach we had a workshop this weekend that took the cake in a bad, bad way.

It was long – 8 hours with no more than 1 hour of interaction, the remaining 7 hours you sat and listened. It was in Spanish – knowing full well there were several gringos in the audience (including me) whose Spanish ranges from mediocre to non-existent. It was boring – by the end of the day even the Directors of the school looked exasperated. No schedule – There’s never a schedule for our academic meetings, you just sit and wait for whatever comes next.

A friend of mine said “It’s like a D-version of Dr. Phil.”

It was offensive and demeaning. The parts I did understand were about psycho-analyzing yourself, but in a very “in-your-face, you’re life is all bad, let me tell you how to live” kind of way. The facilitator yelled at grown adults like they were kindergartners.

To top it all of this workshop was held at the Royal Inca Hotel in Pisaq, an absolutely beautiful place with outdoor recreation facilities and a spa. The weather was beautiful… yet we spent the better part of the day inside listening to a condescending fool.

I usually skip the mandatory -yet unpaid – monthly academic meetings, but I thought I’d sign up for this one since it was supposed to be a fun weekend to get to know each other. The only fun part was when we took a break after lunch to check out the pool, although swimming an olympic size pool after drinking rum and coke was a bit tricky. That’s how bad it was… I resorted to drinking hard liquor in the middle of the day.

And this is going to help me how?

And this is going to help me how?

Even the Directors on the far end look bored

Even the Directors on the far end look bored

Unfortunately I don’t deal well with situations such as these, and I said some choice words as the day went on. I didn’t want to play the gringo card and leave, because I’m getting really disappointed at how our Peruvian teachers are treated, they don’t enjoy the same liberties us gringos do. Even though the school receives US taxpayer money, I would bet no US lawmaker would want their son or daughter to be treated like a Peruvian teacher here.

The plan was to stay overnight and “have fun” the next day, but I decided to skip out and head back to Cusco at night. I might have said things I would regret if I had stuck around to get drunk with the rest of the teachers and the Directors.

Last day of class

The school where I teach English (ESL) is on a monthly schedule, like many of the private institutes here in Cusco. Last day of class is typically quite an experience and yesterday was no exception. This month my schedule was in the afternoon, when most students are teenagers, and here’s how it all went down:

  • I arrive about five minutes before class starts, when the students are feverishly copying each other’s workbooks. In true Peruvian fashion, they generally ignore my daily reminders not to wait until the last minute.
  • We get in the class and all the 15 year old girls pretend to really like me, tell me I’m the best teacher ever.
  • I go over everything that’s on the final exam. Most students ignore me entirely and instead make a feeble last-minute attempt at studying for the exam.
  • I hand out the exams and someone promptly asks me to explain the very same question that I was giving them the answers to about 30 seconds earlier… At that point I can’t help them because I’m busy tracking down the one student who tried to steal an extra copy of the test so he can sell it at Molino later.
C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

C.C. Molino, a place full of pirated CDs, movies and ESL tests...

I wish I hadn’t said that…

After I snatched the exam back from the kid who tried to make a profit of extra exam copies, one girl gave me a mean look because I wouldn’t explain to her the very same thing I was talking about a few minutes earlier… and that’s when I told her exactly how I felt. In no uncertain terms I explained to her this is my “fun job”, that I get paid as much to teach the class for an entire month as I used to make in 3 hours and that she better not give me any grief because it’s not worth it to me.

Shame on me 😦

Then I went home, graded the exams and saved the grades on a diskette. You read that right, a diskette. Some fool in IT conned the “Directors” into believing diskettes are somehow safer than email.

Teacher… I have to have a really good grade or else my family will…

When some kid fails class, it’s often a huge problem in their families. I wish someone would explain to parents here that it makes no sense to send their kid to the next class – where they won’t learn a thing – if they haven’t mastered the fundamentals in the class before. The point isn’t to get some arbitrary grade, but to be able to express your ideas in a new language.

“It’s not what you know, it’s what you do with your knowledge that matters.”

My best friend, Bert, used to tell me that, and he did more to bring an end to the Cold War than Pope John Paul II. It took me years before I actually started to believe him.

Here in Cusco kids study a lot of things, but they often don’t apply what they know. Many families want their kids to bring home good grades and fancy certificates from institutes all over Cusco, but none of that matters unless you actually apply what you’ve learned.

Overall I really enjoy teaching English. Most students like me because I’m a gringo, and for that same reason I can get away with flaunting all the petty rules our “Directors” make. Instead of teaching my kids good old fashioned values like the Directors want, I play loud rock ‘n roll music in class and tell them all to be rebels, not to accept the status quo in Peru but to fight against poverty, prejudice and the injustice of “haves vs. have nots” in society.

Then I walk out, smile at the old ladies who run the place and say “hola chicas”. Bert would be proud.

IPCNA Cusco ESL teachers blog

I finally got around to putting some content on the new ICPNA teachers’ blog. Since I’ve had good luck using this blog in my classes our academic director and I decided to start a blog for use by the ICPNA teachers as a group. Here are the links:

ESL teaching is my “fun job” here in Peru, I’m by no means an expert in the field. So please, visit the blog and contribute your ideas!


My ESL students at ICPNA in front of the Qoricancha in Cusco, Peru

My ESL students at ICPNA in front of the Qoricancha in Cusco, Peru

Always a rebel – My take on corporate culture in Peru

This weekend during our staff meeting at ICPNA my boss had to devote an entire slide in her presentation to the various rules and policies I tend to play fast and loose with, such as no jeans or sneakers allowed, no food in the classrooms, etc. While she was very kind not to mention me by name, the fact that I’m the only teacher who wears jeans and sneakers 4 days a week made it rather obvious who the culprit was…

To be fair, ICPNA, which is associated with the US embassy in Lima, is an excellent place to work. There’s a friendly atmosphere, a great group of teachers and my boss is always receptive of our ideas and suggestions.

I love all things Peruvian and I’m sure there are many great leaders and great places to work in Peru. However, I’m not naive to the poverty and needs of many people here, and I believe Peruvian corporate culture is a major reason why many in Peru live in poverty or have a miserable work experience:

  • Employees are not regarded as a valuable asset to the business and leadership in many places is totalitarian. As a result, employee participation and individual accountability is very limited, as is innovation and entrepreneurship.
  • Discrimination on the basis of age or sex is commonplace, as is lack of opportunity for people with disabilities. Just look through any employment classifieds.
  • Lack of employee development. Many of my students are not allowed a flexible work schedule to attend class, even though they are learning a skill which is absolutely vital to any business here in Cusco.
  • Lack of environmental awareness and occupational safety in some industries. Read Corey Laplante’s blog about the La Oroya case.
  • Old fashioned and petty rules, such as dress codes, which don’t add any value to the business. Even GE and IBM, some of the most conservative companies in the US, did away with dress codes 30 years ago. Their thinking was employees should have something more productive to do than look at the pants or shoes their coworkers are wearing.
  • No long term vision or leadership. While India became the global IT hub and Asia became the world’s manufacturing base Peruvian middle managers were mired in bureaucracy – not to mention, busy worrying about their employees jeans or sneakers! Read this blog entry about out-of-touch leadership.

Class exercise for ICPNA I-12:

So what do you think, agree or disagree? What are the high-level values businesses in Peru should have today to be successful and improve the way of life in Peru? Read about the culture and values at some successful companies such as SAS, Southwest Airlines or GE – where I spent nearly 5 years.

Speak your mind, what are your thoughts or comments?

Stories and traditions in Cusco – ICPNA AV2 writing exercise.

This is the writing exercise for AV2 9:05 at Icpna Cusco.

The Cusco area has a rich history with many great traditions, myths and legends. In the comments to this post, write a story about any of the legends or traditions in our area or Peru in general. This can be a well known story (e.g. origin of Cusco, Señor de Huanca, etc) or a story only you know (e.g. someone in your family who believes they saw a ghost). I especially like the less well known stories, the kind that a typical tourist would not hear about.

Make it interesting and entertaining. Above all, use your own words!!! Everyone in the class writes one story, but you get extra points for commenting on your classmates entries (or any other entries on this blog).


Starting a business in Cusco, Peru (ICPNA I-12)

Since I’m teaching about business in my current class at ICPNA, I decided to start a class project to open a coffee shop on the Plaza de Armas in Cusco. We already have a McDonalds in Cusco and will soon have a Starbucks, so let’s give them some competition.

Our fictional business will be a fancy coffee shop with yummie breakfast, snacks, etc. We will have wireless internet, friendly service and a hip atmosphere.

Here’s what I need from my team, that is, the class:

  • Ideas for names.
  • Ideas on how to set the place up (decorations, themes, uniforms, ….)
  • What kind of things we will sell.
  • Legal stuff: how to set up a legal entity (EIRL, SA).
  • Financial plan and accounting policies. Let’s not get in trouble with SUNAT or my uncle Alan Garcia.
  • Marketing plan.
  • A good location in anywhere in beautiful downtown Cusco Peru.
  • Employees, employee manuals, policies, procedures, …
  • Ideas on how to reward our employees.
  • Policies / ideas to prevent theft from customers and employees.
  • Suppliers: where to get good food, coffee, drinks, ice cream,…. Also furnishings and furniture to open our place.
  • Lobbyist to have lunch with the mayor and governor of Cusco once a month.
  • Business plan.
  • Exit strategy, meaning, what to do if our business doesn’t work out.
  • Any other advice or items I’ve overlooked.

Write at least 2 or 3 comments before the end of our class next Friday 9/26!!!! Any thoughts and ideas are welcome, explain/justify your ideas.


My I-12 class at ICPNA

My I-12 class at ICPNA