Come to Cusco...the ancient Incan capital and gateway to Machu Picchu!

This unique program has been developed to build an ongoing commitment to the Cusco community through a variety of service-learning placements in partnership with local NGOs. Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL) and have forged a strong partnership that builds on 30 years of international service-learning experience and USIL's broad experience in volunteering, which results from School of Social Responsibility and ASU–Alianza Social Universitaria (University Social Alliance) work performed on sustainable social responsibility projects. USIL's commitment is to promote responsible stewardship of our planet and to build a lifelong commitment to responding to the needs of others through hands-on service.

This program includes substantive social and/or environmental service-learning placement, Spanish classes according to a student's level and a variety of other courses. The Spanish classes emphasize a communicative methodology where students learn about Peruvian cultures and lifestyles.

Cusco is one of the most important cultural and tourist destinations in the world and is the capital of the Inca Empire. Situated at the base of the Andes, it is the entryway to Machu Picchu, and the city of Cusco was declared a Cultural Heritage of Humanity site by UNESCO in 1983. Cusco boasts charming cobblestone streets, stone buildings made by the Incas and exciting nightlife and cafes. Excursions may include a city tour, the Sacred Valley of the Incas and Machu Picchu. Students arrive in Lima and spend several days visiting this important Latin American capital" the "City of Kings".


Students will live in a homestay with a middle-class Peruvian  family who provide full board (breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days per week) and introduce you to Peruvian family life. An integral part of the program, the homestay offers you the opportunity to make life-long friends, reinforce language skills, and experience the culture from "the inside." All host families are carefully selected and experienced with hosting students.  Living with local residents is part of the immersion experience. Instead of being a tourist, a student gets to know what it's like to be a "Cusqueño." Living with a family also means that students' Spanish proficiency improves dramatically!

Program Director(s): Gonzalo Villena Villar, Cristian López, Franko Febres


The program welcomes students of any nation who have a high school diploma or equivalent credential. TOEFL equivalent 550. Academic studies are taught in Spanish and/or English. (See individual course descriptions.) There is no minimum Spanish prerequisite. The program can accommodate novice to advance Spanish language abilities.



Your program is both academic and service-learning oriented. Universidad San Ignacio de Loyola (USIL), offers students up to 18 semester credits, some of which are taught in English (Biodiversity of Peru, Contemporary Society and Culture of Peru, History of the Inca Civilization, Inca Architecture, Photography, and Art & Design), while others are offered in Spanish (Latin American Literature). There are also Spanish language courses (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced), for which students take a placement test. The Cusco program is ideal for students with any proficiency level in Spanish. The program takes place at USIL International Center, which is a gracious XV century building with Inca and colonial architecture.

Below, you will find some of the classes that are taught at the USIL campus in Cusco. As on your home campus, class schedules and availability may change. Unless otherwise noted, courses are at the 300 level except for any foreign language course that will vary.

Required courses

Institutions in Peruvian Society

This course provides the basis for the concepts related to poverty, population, social structure of developing countries, growth and development, governance, inequality and distribution, and socio-economic mobility in a historical-comparative perspective. The focus is on understanding the social change needed for development to happen – including the dynamics of population change, accumulation of wealth, and social development. This focus on social change provides the foundation for understanding the nature of the services being delivered by the agencies in and around Cusco and the role of social institutions in Peru, in general, including the politics of exclusive or inclusive public action. This is the Service-Learning course.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Spanish Language (Beginning, Intermediate, and Advanced)

This course enables students to develop communicative skills of the language in order to express ideas and understand everyday needs. Your Spanish language skills can improve tremendously with the integration of classroom instruction PLUS the service placement in a community agency.

Contact Hours: 60
Recommended U.S. Credits: 4

Reflections / SL Practicum Seminar (ONLINE)

This course is delivered virtually and begins before departure and completes after returning. The content includes both pre-departure and post departure information, discussion and reflection and serves to compliment the Institutions in Society Course. The course explores the theories and practical realities of intercultural service-learning to help make sense of the international experience and to develop intercultural competence. One credit will be awarded for 15 hours of academic relections work and 2 credits for the  hands-on service-learning volunteering.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3


Quechua, the language of the Incas

This language course is at basic level and it will allow students learn words and phrases and get the beautiful sense of this multisyllabic language. Even many words in Spanish have included words in Quechua and people in the streets of Cusco still speak the language. Many universities in the USA and Europe are already teaching Quechua and it would be amazing to learn the language of such an important culture of humankind!

Contact Hours: 60
Recommended U.S. Credits: 4

Business in Peru and Latin America

Since Peru and Latin America are in a time where their economy is in constant growth, many investors from all over the world are turning to see what is going on. Peru is one of the most stable countries in the region. It will be a useful insight for students to live in an Andean city and learn about the economy.

Contact Hours: 60
Recommended U.S. Credits: 4

History of the Inca Civilization

It provides knowledge and information of the prehistory of civilizations in the Central Andean Region with critical and updated opinion about the studied historical periods and the great Inca Civilization. Benefit from studying the Inca culture in the most appropriate city and complement your studies by taking a walk to ruins around Cusco! You can travel to archaeological ruins or visit Machu Picchu to understand what you are being taught.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Contemporary Society and Culture of Peru

Peruvian society has undergone a series of historical transformations enriched by Andean, Occidental and Amazonian traditions. These transformations will be addressed from a historical, anthropological, and sociological perspective. Cusco is the best meeting point to discover and understand the changes the country is undergoing.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Biodiversity of Peru

Since Peru has a mega biodiversity which enables it to be among the “Top 12” most biodiverse countries in the world, this theoretical course will mainly focus on developing skills to analyze and value the components of biodiversity, identifying its potentials and the tools to make this sustainable use and conservation possible. Take your time and visit the National Reserve of Manu to see what your teacher means by biodiversity!

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Latin American Literature

This theoretical-practical-oriented course develops students´ skills in order to read critically and value Latin American Literature textbooks through detailed analysis of poetry and novels. This course is for those students who have an advanced Spanish level. Enjoy reading the best Latin American novels and authors, and improve your Spanish by reading the most delicious stories in our language.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Inca Architecture

This amazing course develops students’ knowledge of, as well as their interest in, the concepts, techniques, and architectonic and urban management of Andean society represented by the Inca culture. Since Inca agrarian architecture until colonial architecture will be covered in classrooms made of Inca stones and colonial styles.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Art & Design in Cusco

The course is aimed at critical analysis of the history of Cusco’s art from a visual perspective, creating new spaces for reflection.  Artistic expressions from the different periods of its cultural development are studied and interpreted, within the framework of their particular contexts of time and space. In addition, the history of Cusco’s architecture, painting and sculpture are covered through analysis of the most significant works.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3


While in Cusco, you will take hundreds of photographs. In order to have the best shots, students will learn the photographic production process, including the study of visual treatment, lighting and mastery of digital photography resources. You will take the best photos of Machu Picchu, rivers, churches, archaeological sites, markets, people, using the appropriate composition and measures.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Andean Nutrition

The purpose of this theory and application course is to familiarize students with the nutritional wealth of Andean crops and their significance in the population's nutrition, comparing them with other crops and their influence and importance regarding the world food supply. Healthy recipes will be developed using these products as ingredients. Lastly, we will review the type of Andean crops being exported to the USA, Europe, etc.

Contact Hours: 45
Recommended U.S. Credits: 3

Communications Psychology

This theoretical course based on social psychology with the main emphasis on media communication manifestations. The course is oriented mainly towards the analysis of mass media, critical observation of media contents, and the different approaches that messages have, with a particular focus on the public as individuals and groups.

Contact Hours: 60
Recommended U.S. Credits: 4



As an service-learning participant in Cusco, Peru, you will have the opportunity to do volunteer work in one of several local agencies. We do our best to match your skills and interests to the placement, but please remember that the notion of service is, first and foremost, to respond to the needs of others. You will play a role not only by actively participating with a determined role among the team members, but also by enriching the projects and programs with your knowledge, experience, and hard work.  Therefore, each project or program is improved and enriched with your participation. Your impact on other people's lives will be powerful and sustainable, even if you don't see the results right away.

The service-learning program in Cusco, Peru offers students the opportunity to experience service in a city where, despite significant economic consolidation in recent years, needs in the areas of economic development, human services, and the environment continue to be felt. Students in Cusco can make a contribution that benefits the environment, disabled children, micro-business owners, artisans, and other social groups. Participants in the program will work 12 - 20 hours per week at shelters, at educational institutions, in high Andean communities, in natural reserves and for other organizations that dedicate their efforts to the development of the least advantaged.

Types of volunteer service in Cusco

Following are examples of agencies where students have served in the past or may be able to serve. Other service placements may be available. Your placement will be determined by community and agency needs, logistics, as well as your interests, goals, and skills.

Volunteering at shelters for orphaned children

The work of volunteers participating in this activity is related to entertaining children with field trips and activities geared toward learning and having fun.  Volunteers will play with children and help them with their homework.  They can also be teaching assistants.  Students will be monitored by experts on education and childcare, which will enable them to carry out their activities satisfactorily. In addition, volunteers will be free to develop and execute a small project to improve the shelter’s infrastructure or facilities.

Volunteering at natural reserves

Program volunteers will be included in the activities that take place at natural reserves in Cusco and get a firsthand look at some of Peru’s main species of flora and fauna.  In addition, they will be able to participate in the conservation of the ecosystem, help clean rivers and streams, care for trees and gardens, provide support in the design and implementation of a site museum, work as guides at the reserve and raise public awareness of the importance of the preservation of species in danger of extinction, such as the Peruvian condor.

Volunteering in benefit of children with disabilities

Volunteers who participate in this activity will have very important assignments.  They will learn about caring for children with disabilities regarding their nutrition, education, grooming and entertainment.  Patience and tenderness are required of participants in this program, as the children are physically and emotionally sensitive due to their limitations.  The reward for volunteers may be boundless love and tenderness that will facilitate interaction with them.

Volunteering with children to provide support in educational reinforcement and skill development
Volunteers participating in this activity will transmit their knowledge in order to provide academic reinforcement and help children from different shelters to develop artistic skills and express themselves through educational games, music, painting and other activities, seeking to relate art to the children’s education.  Guitars, flutes, tambourines and other musical instruments will be part of this process. 

Volunteering in support of public schools

Education is a fundamental human right: Every child is entitled to it. It is critical to our development as individuals and as societies, and it helps pave the way to a successful and productive future.  Education enhances lives. It ends generational cycles of poverty and disease and provides a foundation for sustainable development. Volunteers have the opportunity to participate in different educational activities and initiatives with disadvantaged children of different ages to contribute to child development and education. We are committed to ensuring that all children realize their right to a quality basic education. To that end, we focus on the most excluded and vulnerable children. Volunteer activities at Cusco public schools may be varied, including helping with educational activities, preserving internal green areas, developing small-scale projects to improve the school’s areas for studying, and teaching English, crafts, painting or other activities.

Volunteering to support artisans in Cusco communities

This program is mainly directed toward youth and women with low incomes.  It is aimed at strengthening the innate, enterprising attitude found among most Peruvians, as well as awakening an entrepreneurial perspective for the purpose of orienting their small businesses toward optimum profitability, thereby turning them into real tools for transformation, development and inclusion for our citizens. Volunteers will go to production areas and provide support with the artisan work that the different inhabitants and micro-business owners do.  Wood, clay and woven fabrics are some of the materials they will learn to handle while helping with daily tasks in the fields and production areas. Volunteers will have the opportunity to help communities to improve their products and suggest new designs, presentations and packaging to improve their commercialization and competitiveness.

Past volunteer service placements have included:


The Center for Nutritional Wellness and Early Stimulation “Madre Teresa de Calcuta” helps children at risk of malnutrition and malnourished children between the ages of 6 months to 3 years. At the moment 25 children are being helped, 15 boys and 10 girls.Volunteers help children and their mothers to complete everyday chores such as feeding, grooming, teaching and early stimulation. Volunteers collaborate on activities  to develop in the receiving center such as feeding, clothing changing, helping nurses, helping in the kitchen, exercises and games, etc. Other projects that students may develop are redecorating the dining room by painting or developing the design of the playground area.

The center is located 4 blocks from the USIL International Center and 2 blocks from Cusco Main Square. The Center is located 5 minutes walking distance from USIL housing or from USIL school facilities.


Huillcapata School is a public school that provides primary education to 70 children with limited financial resources, whose ages range from 3 to 14 years. In the rural community of Huilcapata, international volunteers have been supporting the majority of the community’s infrastructural improvement. Volunteers have conducted repairs, painted, cleaned, and upgraded the kitchen and the library, as well as improved the greenhouse and facilitated the donation of compost. Furthermore, the volunteers have helped to organize the children’s activities for Christmas. Volunteers teach a basic English coursefor both  students and their parents, along with more cultural and recreational programming.These activities are done every Friday from 8am to 1pm and any volunteer can choose between this placement or the clinic San Juan de Dios. Volunteering at the Huillcapata School requires a great playful spirit, humor, creativity and a large room for love in your heart. It is located in a rural area 40 minutes from the city of Cusco.

Possible Volunteer work may include:

PHYSICAL OR MENTAL HEALTH PROMOTION AREA: Hygiene instruction - hand washing and tooth brushing program
Greenhouse implementation (for including vegetables on their diet)
Nutritional education sessions (Healthy food preparation)
Healthy habits awareness
Life skills
Art therapy

The three “Rs” awareness (reducing, reusing and recycling)
Teaching the difference between organic and inorganic waste
Compost production
Forestation projects

Teaching English or other topics
Training the teachers

Each volunteer will be trained at USIL University to evaluate and decide what could be the best option for addiitoanl projects according to their experience or education.

Juvenile Home Maria Salome Ferro

The Salome Ferro Juvenile Home welcomes children between the ages of 5 to 12 years old, who are in state of material and moral neglect, usually referred by the courts for minors, for reasons of orphan hood, alcoholic families, social risk, family or sexual violence, providing comprehensive care. Volunteers will provide help on school work; collaborate through teaching English, helping organizing leisure and recreational activities, social reintegration workshops and support occupational training workshops. Activities to be done are helping in different workshops dedicated to make shoes and wood work, in their production and sale; as well as helping in the kitchen and laundry.

Volunteers can help cleaning, cooking, working in the workshops or teaching English to the kids.

Volunteers are able to think, plan and implement other projects after the training process with USIL. For example: Life skills for the kids or girls, improving infrastructure, etc.

This institution is located 10 minutes walking distance from the center of Cusco. Volunteers may work from Monday to Friday from 2pm to 7pm.

Center of Special Education and Rehab for Blind Children 'Our Lady of Carmen'

This is a public school, dedicated to the rehabilitation of deaf and blind children or hearing and visual impairment with multiple sensory disabilities. Currently the Center is home of 76 children, between the ages of 3 and 11 years old, run by teachers and the Nuns of the Congregation of the Franciscans. Volunteers help children in educational work, gaining mobility, early stimulation and collaborating in the classrooms. Volunteering at this center requires patience and willingness to learn while working with children with special conditions.

The Center is located 15 to 20 minutes using public transportation or 10 minutes by taxi from USIL facilities.

Residential Care Center for Teen Mothers- Mantay

MANTAY Center is the home of 13 adolescent mothers between the ages of 12 and 18, with their children (ages among newly born to 7 years old). The Center has 17 people working as a permanent staff, they are divided in educational areas, nursing, cleaning and trainers of occupational workshops for mothers who want to learn sewing techniques. The volunteers will provide help to the staff in charge of the children´s care while their mothers are working.

The Center is located 15 to 20 minutes using public transportation or 10 minutes by taxi from USIL facilities.

St. John of God Clinic

Charity Institution directed by the Brothers of the Hospital Order of St. John of God and a staff of health workers, dedicated to the service of children and adults with disabilities. Volunteers are involved in supporting children who are learning to eat, accompanying hospitalized children, taking them to school, celebrating with children at parties, helping with food preparation and helping with laundry services. Volunteers need to have a big heart to share with the children.  San Juan de Dios there are a variety of duties supported by international volunteers, including, care taking and recreational work with children, infrastructure improvement, as well as cooking, washing and cleaning duties. Volunteers who participate in this activity will have very important assignments.  They will learn about caring for children with disabilities regarding their nutrition, education, grooming and entertainment.  Patience and tenderness are required of participants in this program, as the children are physically and emotionally sensitive due to their limitations.  The reward for volunteers may be boundless love and tenderness that will facilitate interaction with them.

Cleaning the kids, feeding them or playing with them.

We had volunteers organizing different type of activities for the kids, for example, art and music therapy

These activities are done every Friday from 8am to 1pm and then from 3pm to 5pm and any volunteer can choose between this placement or the Huillcapata School. This clinic has had different sites in several cities in Peru since 1606.

The “Hogar Clínica San Juan de Dios” is located 10 minutes by taxi or 15 minutes by bus from USIL facilities.

Mental Healthcare Institute John Paul II

This institution is dedicated to the care of 40 patients with problems of alcohol, drug addiction, gambling and mental disorders of different natures, of which 27 are males and 10 are females. The institution has poor facilities, but has the support of qualified physicians and staff. Volunteers become active members of the patient care staff, motivating their recovery, helping in educational programs, drawing therapy workshops, reading workshops, etc. Volunteers should have strong personality and complete commitment and physical and mental strength to work in difficult situations.

Flowers growing over a wall

Things to do

The location of Cusco - high in the Andes - makes this program attractive to any student who is interested in the geology, geography, cultures, languages, foods, and history of South America. Students on the Cusco program live in the Andean highlands, but also have access to the Amazon cloud forest and basin, the Pacific coast, and the vibrant political and culinary capital of Lima (population 10 million). In addition, Cusco is the starting point of the train that takes you to Machu Picchu - one of the most visually stunning places on earth, and a memorable UNESCO World Heritage Sites. While excursions vary according to the term and weather conditions, students on the Cusco program usually visit Incan ruins in and around Cusco, travel to the outskirts of Cusco to remote villages, visit Lima, visit Machu Picchu and the Inca Trail, and venture into the Amazon region.

The Cusco program normally includes a city tour of Cusco: "Cusco and the Surrounding Ruins" where students visit the Cathedral, located next to the main plaza, then stop by the famous Koricancha or Temple of the Sun.  It includes a visit to the four main ruins in the outskirts of the city, Sacsayhuaman, Puca Pucara, Q’enqo, which means “zigzag” in Quechua and Tambomachay, commonly referred as the “Baños del inka” or Inka Baths.

Students have the opportunity to visit  the "Valle Sagrado"  - The Sacred Valley of the Incas or Urubamba Valley is a valley in the Andes of Peru, close to the Inca capital of Cusco and near the ancient sacred city of Machu Picchu. The valley is generally understood to include everything between Písac and Ollantaytambo, parallel to the Urubamba River, or Vilcanota River or Wilcamayu, as this Sacred river is called when passing through the valley. It is fed by numerous rivers which descend through adjoining valleys and gorges, and contains numerous archaeological remains and villages. The valley was appreciated by the Incas due to its special geographical and climatic qualities. It was one of the empire's main points for the extraction of natural wealth, and the best place for maize production in Peru. On route through the valley; stop at the Awanakancha where you can watch Andean Artisans demonstrate weavings and dyeing techniques. Different South American camelid species can also be seen here, including llamas, guanacos, vicuñas, and alpacas. After that visit the stupendous ruins of Pisaq, a fortress that is still an enigma to archaeologist. It is a classic Inka Pucara, a huge defended area into which the entire population of a wide area could retreat during a military threat. Pisaq is also particularly well known for the Inka terracing that sweeps around the mountain spurn which the ruin is perched. Finally, explore the major temple fortress of Ollantaytambo and the classic village below it, set out on a river cliff at the lower edge of a canyon.

For an overnight excursion to Machu Picchu and the thermal springs in the village of Agua Caliente students ride the Expedition train from Poroy Station, taking a spectacular journey through changing landscapes. Upon arrival in the town of Aguas Calientes at the foot of Machupicchu, students are guided on  a three to four hour private excursion thought the ruins, and surrounding area to experience the energy and atmosphere of the most significant and spectacular archaeological sites on the planet.

Students in Cusco may also work with program staff in Cusco and on the main USIL campus in Lima to arrange for independent travel to Lima and other regions of Perú.

As with all travel, weather and other travel hindrances can affect the exact destinations of excursions. In such cases, program staff make every effort to find suitable replacement itineraries. Machu Picchu
AFSNext seal of approval

This program is implemented by a trusted organization within the AFSNext partnership community and has our full endorsement. While not managed or operated by AFS, it maintains the same exceptional quality standards, which are set by a network of experienced international non-profits operating within the international education field.