Alivia is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Studying abroad was not something that I had thought much about before coming to CSB/SJU. When I discovered upperclassmen that I held in high esteem who did not ask "Are you studying abroad" but rather "Where are you studying abroad?" I began to consider going abroad myself. However, it was not until I heard about the Guatemala program that there became no doubt in my mind that I would go abroad and no doubt about where I would be applying. Initially, I learned about Guatemala through my Writing Center tutor who talked to me about her host family, the way of living, her improved Spanish, the Celas Maya program, and the other adventures in between. It wasn't just that she talked to me about these things, but that she shared her stories with enthusiasm, energy, and a sense of longing to go back. When it came time to apply abroad, I explored other programs but in my heart I knew that Guatemala was for me because of the language, the host family, the beautiful country, the adventures, the differences, but ultimately because of the feeling that "it just felt right."
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
Living in Guatemala for four months came with its uncomfortable, beautiful moments. One in particular took place at a cousin's birthday party featuring a clown, a piñata, and about 30 strangers speaking another language. Within my first week, I found myself at a table with my host mom, host sister, and people that were not only unfamiliar, but were also talking in unfamiliar words. During this experience, I did not only gain some weight from stuffing my face to avoid the sense of quiet awkwardness from having so much to say but not being able to say any of it, but I also gained a sense of acceptance. I had to accept the fact that I could not communicate with the joyful people around me, could not share in the celebration as much as the others nor understand the clown's jokes. I had to accept that I could still smile, I could still participate, and be involved in a different way than at other two-year-old birthday parties I have attended in the United States. Once I accepted these things, I realized that the birthday party goers around me had already accepted that and were excited for me to be there as well. I tell myself that I lost the weight on volcano hikes and more importantly that I lost the fear of being the "different" person in the room and embraced it.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Somewhere between 5 hours of classes, 3 meals a day with my family, and many Dramamines, Guatemala became a place called home. For me, home is a place to share not just meals but pieces of life; to create lasting friends and family and to create mistakes as well; to learn from those around you and to let others learn from you. The worst part about homes is that they are the hardest to leave, but the best part is that they will have lasting impact throughout life, days, and decisions into the future. Ultimately, Guatemala was a dance that led me to discover a new part of myself, others, and the world. Its rhythms are not over, but continue to beat throughout my days now. When I walk down the street, when someone shares a genuine smile with me, when I begin something that is unknown and it scares me in a beautiful way, there is Guatemala. For me, Guatemala is dinner with my host family, friendships made with teachers that were patient enough to listen to my Spanish 5 hours each day, playing basketball with my host sister, sharing a "Buenos dias" with the same vendors each day on the way to school, the place where tortillas are made around the corner, the salt of the ocean, the treks to the tops of volcanoes, the paddling of a kayak around Lago Atitlan, and the jungles that have held so much life throughout history. My study abroad experience can be described in one word - home.
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
Studying abroad is reaching with your palms up and letting the world take you by the hand. The benefits of this experience include but are not limited to: a new sense of education that is literally hands on, a chance to learn from different people who share with you a new friendship; understanding new things that lead you to a new understanding of the world and yourself; and a group of people that share something over the hands of time. For me, study abroad has guided my path and has helped me make decisions that are right for me. Since Guatemala, I have refined my major; thought deeper about the spending of time, made enriching relationships, and can apply new skills to my future - such as Spanish language. I don't know where I'll be next year, but I do know that the study abroad experience will have shaped whatever comes with the next step.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
As far as advice goes, it is okay to be scared. The unknown is not always the most comfortable thought, and that scared feeling is one of the feelings that I miss the most. Not knowing what's going to happen next and unanswered questions are scary things. It is with those things that most challenge us that we are most able to grow. To your left, to your right, and all the way around, you will find others going through the same feelings who will most likely soon become your friends, best friends, family. Study abroad is full of adventure, and my advice to you is to be full of the understanding that studying abroad is a blessing, to live it out, and show thankfulness throughout the time. The excitement that is before you is a whirlwind of emotions and there are new faces, places, and experiences around you to share it with. It does not get much better than that!
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