If you ask me what I miss most about College, it was studying abroad. Specifically, study abroad in Guatemala. I have never been outside of the outside of the US and I have always wanted to travel to central and South America.
Initially, I wanted to go to Japan or one of the other major study abroad choices that our program offered year round. However they quickly filled and our program opened up three more choices: Guatemala, Morocco, and Portugal.
I decided on Guatemala considering my passion for wanting to learn more about the history and culture of Central and South America.
I came with so many preconceived ideas and was on my toes during the beginning of the trip. However, that all quickly changed after attending the Maximo Nivel Orientation. The staff there made us feel welcome and gave us a thorough rundown of the city. Wally (our Maximo volunteer lead) and his colleagues provided guidance to our volunteer locations and ensured us that if we ever needed anything they would be there- and they were.
I specifically volunteered with special needs children so that I could utilize my background skills and knowledge as a Kinesiology: Pre-PT major. The location was about 45 minutes away via chicken bus (fairly cheap fare) and the ride was exhilarating- roads filled with potholes and at times, the chicken buses were filled over capacity.
The kids at "Los Gozoso" orphanage were so fun to work with. At first, the staff and children were hesitant to open up, but after observing that we were really there to help, they eventually warmed up to my friend and me. We usually began our day helping the children with arts and crafts activities and then got to play soccer before lunch. I was able to perform stretches on a child who was spastic and work with a sweet autistic child.
I think what made my experience unique is that it allowed me to positively alter my views in life. After leaving the airport and driving to Antigua, Guatemala, you get to observe the busy city as well as the rural areas and see what life is like. I had several instances where I was able to interact with the people of Guatemala despite the language barrier. This is especially true in the orphanage where my little knowledge of Spanish was just enough to help me communicate with the teachers. When I played soccer with the kids, I noticed that the ones who could walk and run included their friends who were differently-abled. With what little these kids had, they utilized to the fullest. I truly enjoyed making them feel loved and leaving them with smiles on their faces.
Overall, I wouldn't trade my experience volunteering in Guatemala for anything. Wally and his staff made our experience comfortable and memorable. This was totally out of my comfort zone but I conquered and enjoyed it. I encourage you all looking to volunteer abroad to do the same! To the people of Guatemala, I will see you soon!