Alumni Spotlight: Asuka Sugiyama


Asuka was born and raised in Osaka, Japan. A one-year exchange in Switzerland changed her life and perspectives about the world. Currently she lives in Toronto, and is about to enter her final year at Glendon College, York University specializing in international studies.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose the internship program at Maximo Nivel for two reasons: I wanted to do an internship during the summer break to gain experiences; and I wanted to visit Guatemala.

I chose hospitality and tourism because, even though they are not 100% related to international studies, they have interested me for a long time. I also found that this field would improve my communication skills and Spanish a lot.

What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Maximo sought my placement and housing, set up one-hour private Spanish lessons every day, and gave me pieces of advice during my program. They also prepared me well for my new life in La Antigua, Guatemala.

The only things I had to organize by myself were my flights from Toronto to Guatemala City, and some weekend trips outside the program.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

I'd suggest them to join events/activities at Maximo as much as possible. Because not a lot of participants were in the internship program, it was hard for me to make friends with people outside of my housing.

In general, if you go to Latin American countries, it's a good idea to know some everyday expressions and numbers in Spanish. Even though La Antigua was a touristy place and many people were able to speak English, it's better to know some Spanish just in case.

Also, don't set too high of expectations as to what your life is going to be! Go into your new country with a fresh mindset because that will make you less homesick and you'll likely experience less culture shock.

Lastly, go explore your new country! Enjoy your new adventure!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

I had my Spanish class for an hour from Monday to Friday. Because my placement was a tour in the avocado farm (, my schedule was very flexible. Sometimes there were tours and I participated in them, even on weekends. Otherwise, I was working for between 3 and 6 hours a day, depending on the tasks I wanted to complete.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it and/or how did your views on the issue change?

Going abroad is not new for me - I am a foreigner/international student in Canada, and I'm used to "being a foreigner." I adopt myself to new environment pretty well and fast to begin with, but I'm aware that this comes from my experiences in the last 6 years.

My biggest concern is language ability. Not being able to express myself in new language(s) is very terrifying. Even if you've learned that language enough in your home, it doesn't pop up easily. But practice makes perfect. I always try to use the local language and expose myself to locals as much as possible. Once my ears are used to the sound and I practice the language enough, I gain more confidence in speaking it.

What is your favorite thing to do in a new country?

GO TO LOCAL MARKETS! It's the best place to practice your language and know local cultures. It's also the best place to get CHEAP and delicious food.