Breaking the Language Barrier with Google (Part 4): Finding a Job

When I first started looking for a volunteer job in Peru, I did what everyone does: I browsed the web. I was looking for a job that would utilize my retail consulting background in a Spanish-speaking environment. Ideally, I was looking for an NGO or microfinance organization that helped small-scale entrepreneurs, like street vendors, craftspeople, weavers or artisans. The question that worried me was: how was I going to find a job when I haven’t spoken Spanish in 4 years?

A web search pretty quickly came up with several organizations who arranged volunteer stints like building stoves, working with disadvantaged kids, teaching English to peasants and helping out in hospitals and orphanages. Unfortunately, they all charged $500-$1,000 per week; their fee for acting as go-between and linguistic intermediary. I also spent time Googling non-profit professionals to get their advice and had luck networking and getting leads from NGO executives in Mali, Guatemala, Canada, El Salvador, and Tanzania. Using Google translate, I sent unsolicited Spanish-language e-mails to non-profit executives in South America, as well. With one notable exception, my responses were overwhelmingly positive. The exception was a German who, when I mistakenly referred to my family as American instead of a North American, launched into a very long e-mail lecture on my ethnocentrism, “First of all just a comment to what you write, just that you learn not to make that kind of comments in Peru, because the people there don't like this kind of statements… the big, big majority of America speaks Spanish as their mother tongue, for Latin Americans, America is NOT USA, it’s the whole (double-)continent that goes from Alaska to Argentina.”

After taking my tongue-lashing, I continued my search. While perusing the entries on, I came across a near-perfect match in Ayacucho. An NGO was looking for a volunteer to help small-scale artisans and weavers. I had a Skype call with the lead coordinator and 20 minutes into the interview, he not only offered me the job he said I could write my own job description. I was initially excited about this opportunity, but the more my wife and I thought about Ayacucho, the more we become concerned that our teenage son and pre-teen daughter might be bored in a smaller town. Because of this, we decided against Ayacucho and opted to target Cusco as the place for our family.

Feeling emboldened by my Ayacucho experience, I felt more confident about finding similar jobs in Cusco. About this same time, I was talking to Spanish-language schools in Cusco about enrolling our family to improve our Spanish. While talking with a few, I learned that many of them offered volunteer projects that complemented the Spanish coursework. I broadened my Google search to include the words “Spanish schools” and “list of volunteer projects” and voilà, quite a few new possibilities presented themselves. One of the more interesting ones was listed in a pdf document buried deep into a Spanish school's web site…buried so deep that I could not find it when drilling down from the home page.

The job I liked – the one I have now – was a volunteer project for one of the Spanish Schools I was talking to. The Centro de Textiles Traditionales de Cusco, an NGO supporting weavers in Andean communities, needed someone to help them sell their textiles and to plan and budget a large conference the following year. They asked me for a Spanish-language resume. I cut and pasted my entire resume into Google Translate, smoothed out the rough edges, e-mailed it and within a week they accepted me. After 2 months of web research and many Google-assisted translations, I had landed my perfect volunteer job without ever having to speak a word of Spanish.

1 comment:

  1. In a similar vein, we rented an apartment in Lyon via back and forth emails in French.

    I think she must have been surprised at how my French had suffered between the time we corresponded by email and when we arrived to take over the apartment...

    Thank you Google Translate.