Why did you pick this program?
Learning to speak passable Spanish seems like a survival skill for the coming years. Immersion is the fast track. The Mountain School is a non-profit member of a fairly remote community and offers natural beauty, good work, and experienced teachers for a very reasonable price.
What do you tell your friends who are thinking about going abroad?
Living amongst some of the poorer people in the Western Hemisphere and learning that they can be happy and curious about life despite the challenges they face can be a great motivator for those of us in the USA. It is a much different kind of trip than lying on a beach and eating rich food (which, don't get me wrong, also makes for a great trip). This school provides work for Guatemalans and creates scholarship opportunities for children who would otherwise have to stop going to school after the 6th grade.
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
Spend a couple of weeks at the school and arrange to go on some field trips with your teacher to have more than just classroom learning.
What's your favorite story to tell about your time abroad?
I injured my leg during the trip and experienced some swelling in it. I conspired with my teacher to go into Quetzeltenango (about 2 hours each way), to go to a doctor's office to have it looked at. My leg turned out fine and the medical experience was impressive: not expensive, clean, and very professional. My teacher's family lived in the city and after our short visit to the clinic, we went to her house as surprise. I met her whole family and was on hand when her brothers, sisters, and cousins came in for lunch from school. All the while, we are practicing our Spanish and I am meeting incredibly gracious and kind people, laughing and enjoying life. It was a snapshot of life in Guatemala.
Darryl's Suggestions for the Program:
Ask about volunteering opportunities. Teaching English, for example, is a gift, if you have a knack for it. Work on projects that you find in the school or community. Shared work is a great way to develop a sense of community. The students come from all over the world and tend to be bright and interesting.