Alumni Spotlight: Jessica Liou


Service has always been a large part of Jessica's life, from volunteering as a lacrosse coach to tutoring students in low-income communities. Now Jessica is looking to take her fervor for service to organizations abroad.

Why did you choose this program?

In my junior year in high school, I participated in a Support Team with my school to work with Safe Passage for a week. During our time there, we spoke with the executive director and several program coordinators and gained incredible insight into the organization and its objectives. Inspired by the message and the laughter and resilience of the students, I returned after graduating from high school for 6 months as part of my gap year.

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

I received a pamphlet and a handbook prior to my arrival, and the volunteer director aided with finding a homestay. However, all the expenses were from my own savings, as I was not going in affiliation with any school or college. It helped that I had prior experience with the country and the program from my visit with the support team, but the volunteer director was incredibly helpful with any questions I had.

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

Try to come in with an open mind and be adaptable to any changes in scheduling or roles at the organization. Safe Passage is constantly growing according to the different needs of its students and the community, so be flexible to whatever adjustments that might be made during your time there. Also, patience is an incredible asset, especially when working with kids.

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

On an average day, a volunteer wakes up at around 6 am to get ready for the 7 am bus for work. Depending on which age group the volunteer works with, they will go to their respective buildings and work from 9 am arrival to 4 pm, with lunch sometime between 11:30 am to 1 pm.

In terms of the work itself, it depends on the age of the children. In the Jardin, volunteers assist teachers with taking care of the 3-6 year olds. In the Colegio, volunteers assist teachers in their classroom with maintaining order and helping students with their work. In the CRE, volunteers tutor/teach students in a variety of subjects from English to Chemistry. Then, at 4 pm, volunteers all return to Antigua from the capital on the volunteer bus.

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

My biggest fear before going abroad was living on my own, especially as I was only 18-year old when I first arrived in Guatemala. I had experience with living away from my parents because I had attended a boarding school; however, I had never been in a situation where I had to shop for groceries, cook for myself every day, pay rent, and fix shower heads on my own. After breaking a blender and eating hardboiled eggs everyday for a month, I adapted to the situation and learned how to do many things for myself, mainly cooking unburnt, flavorful food.