Traveling to Latin America, particularly if you already know Spanish, can be an unforgettable experience, especially if it is your first time there. Just imagine getting a study abroad opportunity, being able to teach English, soaking in the scenery, and that was my week in Quetzaltenango. After a 3 hour plane ride from Atlanta to Guatemala, a 1 hour taxi ride from the airport to the bus station, and a 3 hour bus ride from Guatemala City to Quetzaltenango, my week officially began.
I start the week with meeting my host family. They are warm, hospitable people that demonstrate a lot of interest in making me feel at home. My mouth was watering as I was treated to my first meal, which consisted of rice, tortillas, and frijoles (beans). It was so delicious, but the excitement didn’t stop there. I had a delicious homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner waiting for me every day of my trip. It was like a buffet of gourmet goodness, as I chowed down on soup, potatoes, soy, guacamole, and more.
This was an ideal week for anybody that wanted to test their ability to speak a foreign language in a setting where you are surrounded by people of limited English proficiency. From the taxi ride to the bus station, and eventually at my host family’s house, I had to get out of my comfort zone of speaking English, and adjust myself to the new environment that I was in.
The city of Quetzaltenango is filled with breath-taking natural scenery and life. Exploring the hills and trees across the city simply left me speechless. Cows and horses were everywhere. The rooms, including the Nahual Community Center where I was teaching English, were filled with plants.
Walking through the local markets in the city will make anyone want to stop and check out all the marvelous products being sold. Guatemala has a large textile industry, and the fresh produce is abundant. Looking at all those fresh from the farm and probably organic juicy strawberries, peaches, and raspberries, left me drooling.
I kept strolling through toy stores, hospitals, car shops, and so much more. There were too many stores I wanted to see that it was difficult to see all of them.
Teaching English was the most difficult part of the trip. Imagine being in front of a group of students who know very little English, and having to help them learn the language. But instead of giving up when things got tough, I endured the rigorous task of working to develop lesson plans for the students. What made the experience a lot easier was working with a group of other volunteers from all over the world, including Indiana, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland.
Did I say study abroad? The Nahual Community Center also provided Spanish classes for me and other volunteers. Imagine taking 4 hours of Spanish every day, for five days,
and compare it to 3 hours a week of Spanish training, and you can have an idea of how much more prepared I needed to be to keep up with the material. But my Spanish classes focused on more than just learning the language, but also on learning about the local economy of Guatemala.
Did you know that many people in Guatemala enjoy listening to American music, particularly songs from the 80s? During my taxi ride from the airport to the bus station, I was bopping my head as I listened to “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Also, at the school I heard the staff listening to “Party All The Time.” Looking back at the trip, I am glad that I went and I recommend people reading this blog to try it out. This trip makes me want to visit other countries in Latin America.
~ By Gaurav Bhatia, a philanthropist who wants to advocate for the rights of all people around the world to get a good education. Check out his website at www.seedsofsharing.org.