Natalie is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Major: Hispanic Studies and Education
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
One of the reasons, I choose to attend CSB/SJU was because of the study abroad program. I knew before even attending CSB/SJU that I wanted to study abroad.
I decided to study abroad in Guatemala because of the one-on-one program. This part of the program allows each student to work with one teacher allowing them to work on what the student really needs to improve. Instead of being in a traditional classroom, the one-on-one allows for more participation and input of the student and more spontaneous learning. For example, I was allowed to focus and study certain topics that I found interesting. I also chose the Guatemala program because of the service learning aspect. Every student was required to volunteer at a site once a week. I wanted to be part of a program that had a service learning aspect because I loving giving back and volunteering.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
There were so many different cultural experiences that I had in Guatemala but one that made a lasting impression was my experience at service learning. I did my service learning at a government run orphanage in Xela, where I was a caretaker of the "babies," children days old to about 8 years old. While I was at the orphanage, I held the babies, fed them, changed diapers while at the same time tried to entertain the toddlers. Volunteering at the orphanage challenged me in many ways and I saw and heard many things that were very difficult. I quickly learned, heard and saw first hand the realities of Guatemala and how poverty and lack of education can affect a country and culture. But I had to keep reminding myself that there were different cultural norms at the orphanage and in Guatemala than in the United States. There were times where I wanted to change things at the orphanage but being an "outsider" made it inappropriate. I realized that there are different ways to do something and that my cultures way may not always be the right way. But at the same time I developed a greater appreciation for some aspects of my culture.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
My overall study abroad experience was life changing. I learned so much about Guatemala, the past, present and future; I learned about the Mayans; I improved my Spanish in all areas; I built close relationships with my host family, the teachers, and other group participants; I became a more culturally accepting person. I also experienced the beauty that Guatemala has to offer: the view from the highest peak in Central America, the three volcanoes that surround Lake Atitlan, the ancient Mayan ruins of Tikal, the relaxing boat rides on the Caribbean coast, the black sandy beaches with the ocean in a distance, the colorful alfombras in Antigua during Holy Week, and the hilly cobblestone streets in Xela. Overall, Guatemala became my 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?
There were so many benefits to spending a semester abroad. Not only did I improve my Spanish, I developed close relationships with my host family, teachers, and other group members, friendships and memories that I will carry with me forever. It is not often that you can call a third world country your home. I personally benefited from my study abroad experience because I grew as a person and did many things that I never would have done. For example, I traveled all around Guatemala and climbed the highest volcano in Central America. Study abroad challenged me in many ways - socially, spiritually and academically. The classes challenged me and I benefited from them all because I learned more Spanish, was able to practice my Spanish language skills, I learned about Guatemala's history and about the Mayans. My study abroad experience reinforced my desire to volunteer and work in another country.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
If you are considering studying abroad, just do it. It is an amazing opportunity to learn about another way of life, to meet other CSB/SJU students who become very close friends, and to learn about yourself.
If you are planning to study abroad, take advantage of all of the opportunities there are in the country. It goes by very fast so try new things from the start. If you fully immerse yourself in the culture, you will get so much more out of your experience.
Do you have questions about studying in Guatemala or want to have access to my blog? Email Natalie at [email protected]