Why did you choose this program?
I chose this program specifically because of the diversity of experiences it provided for me. In addition to cultural exploration of a new country, it allowed me to pursue my passion of working with children in an open, accepting environment with other students who shared the same passions. GLA as a whole also offered great safety features that my parents really enjoyed!
What did your program provider assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?
The staff at GLA helped with so much before I left for the trip, it was amazing! As soon as I signed up for the trip I began receiving emails from the staff at the GLA headquarters on the next steps to prepare for traveling.
They helped me organize a pay plan that worked well with when I was available to pay for my trip and when the deadlines would be. They give you a very concrete list of what you will need for the trip, and it is very accurate. I followed the packing list and was fully prepared for everything on my trip.
They also can help you with flight information, as along with the staff available for help, there is a spreadsheet available for viewing of the other students on your trip and their flight information, which allowed me to travel with someone else that lived nearby. This allowed us the luxury of not having to travel 2,000 miles by ourselves, but with someone else.
They also helped with me getting my passport, as this was a heavy project since we only had a limited time to get it before my trip. All you really have to do by yourself is pack up all your stuff and go!
What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?
The one piece of advice that I can give to someone going on this program is to not take yourself too seriously. Let yourself try new things, new foods, and meet new people.
Allow yourself to enjoy this new place and new experience without worrying about how you look, or if the people don't like you (which they always do). Open yourself up to new experiences and try everything!
What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?
Most days you begin the day at around 7 o'clock with a delicious breakfast made by the staff at the home base. You leave home base at around 8 to head over the school to start service for the day. The group then splits off into three groups (you get to choose which one you want to be a part of) whether that is constructing a new classroom, painting a mural, and teaching 4th and 5th graders English.
You work in your groups for about an hour and half until the kids break into recess. You then join the kids for their hour recess to play with them. They love playing with you! Depending on the age group of kids you play with you can play soccer with them, play tag, give piggy back rides, and just get to know the kids.
They are so welcoming, and even for a person like myself who doesn't know Spanish, they still embrace you with open arms.
After recess you finish up the service project for another 45 minutes then head back to the home base for lunch. We usually had some free time after lunch to relax and shower if we needed, but we were out and about usually by 2 o'clock.
In the afternoons, we would do cultural activities in the local area of Xela, and in surrounding areas. We visited a chocolate plantation, hiked up a volcano, took a salsa dancing class, learned to play the marimba, and even had a Mayan wedding ceremony! We got to experience a variety of different aspects of Guatemala and Guatemalan culture, in a way that makes you fall head over heels in love with the culture.
On our last weekend there, we took a drive to Panajachel and Lake Atitlan, a gorgeous lake surrounded by three large (inactive) volcanoes. We took a boat ride across the lake to a small market to begin a weekend of shopping. We got full panoramic views of one of the most beautiful sights I've ever seen.
After taking our boat ride we went around a small market on the opposite side of the lake from Panajachel before returning to Panajachel to explore the larger market in the area near our hotel. The next day, we traveled a little more to the largest market in Central America, Chichicastenango.
This market was absolutely filled with color and life as there were so many different sellers all with different products, many handmade and beautifully representative of Guatemala. Every single day was full of new adventures and fun at every turn!
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?
My biggest fear was that I wasn't going to get anything out of it. Going into the trip, I had such high expectations, that I would see the world differently and see myself differently. I was scared I wouldn't gain anything from it and nothing would change.
However, even from the first day in Guatemala everything changed. The whole experience of traveling and just arriving in this new country opened my eyes and helped me realize what the world outside my bubble of a suburban privileged life looked like.
The program itself also helped me advance in this through the extensive cultural experiences and insights I gained throughout the program.