Alumni Spotlight: Mareika Phillips

Mareika is a professional designer with expertise in accessible design and a volunteer community organizer.

Why did you choose this program?

I chose La Escuela de la Montaña because of their unique mission of helping revitalize a rural Guatemalan community, because of the great reputation of their sister school PLQE, and because it looked so beautiful in the pictures! I was definitely pleasantly surprised by how clean the dormitories and kitchen were and also how beautiful the school grounds were.

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

The program provider organized our meals with host families, or morning snacks, and our other daily programmings, like trips and cooking lessons. The only thing we had to organize on our own was transportation from Xela to the village of Nuevo San José/Fatima — and we had to go to the store on our own to get snacks if we wanted them.

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

I would advise you to bring bug spray and calamine lotion and to treat your clothes with permethrin before coming! The bugs are vicious and I got about 15 bites on one leg the one day I didn’t soak myself in bug spray! It reminded me of when I used to go to summer camp and come back with hundreds of bug bites. If you’re one of those sensitive people, make sure to prepare.

This is really my only complaint and for most people, it won’t be an issue!

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

Every day you wake up and walk to the family home that makes your meals all week. Breakfast is at 7:30. After breakfast you walk back to the school, grab water or coffee, and start studying with your teacher.

The teachers are extremely knowledgeable, patient and experienced, and looking to discuss complex topics if you’re up for it! There is a break at 10-10:20 when they provide fruit for a snack in the kitchen. You then study again until 12, then head back to your host family’s home for lunch at 12:30.

Most days there is an activity in the afternoon, whether that be a caminata (walk) to an interesting nearby place or a charla (chat) with an interesting local person. Or you can just chill on your own and read a book from the library! Then dinner is at 5:15 with your family, and often you’ll have homework to complete in the evening.

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

I was terrified of getting sick! I am prone to illness and so I had convinced myself I would get

a) a bad cold,
b) traveler’s diarrhea or
c) dengue fever.

I went to the travelers' clinic and got all my vaccines and hoped for the best. I also prepped all my clothes with permethrin and made sure to get bug repellent with DEET. I didn’t get sick at all! I felt great the whole time. The families are EXTREMELY well trained in hygiene and nutrition, so it was always totally safe to eat their food.

Why should I study here versus the many other Spanish schools in Guatemala?

In order to be a knowledgeable global citizen, it’s vital to hear the stories of people in developing countries directly from their mouths.

The people of Guatemala have been abused and traumatized for generations by their government and by foreign corporate entities. Both the Mountain School and its sister school, Proyecto Lingüístico Quetzalteco (PLQ), teach your not only amazing Spanish skills but the history and context of Guatemala.