Katie Scepaniak is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
As weird as this may sound I'd have to say food. With all the people selling food on the street late at night and during Semana Santa it felt like one was at the county fair. The open air markets promised fresh vegetables everyday. My host mom's cooking and the cooking classes at Celas Maya introduced new ingredients and different cooking techniques. I admired all the fresh recipes using whole foods. I have come to really appreciate the value of a limón, always the secret ingredient. Another observation I had was the difference in food options in different regions. The Pacific and Atlantic coast had seafood and fresh fruit galore; while inland it was more chicken related dishes and a high rate of mayonnaise usage.
Why did you choose the program in which you participated?
I wanted to study abroad because I have a passion for the Spanish language and have always been curious about Latin America. I chose Guatemala because I wanted to live among poverty, take the opportunity to have one to one tutoring, and to have outdoor adventure. I wanted to be in a place where I could live with a host family, be in a Catholic community, and have an exchange rate in my favor.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Definitely an adventure. It is no lie when they say you will be fully immersed. I had a lot of frustration in the first few weeks to try and express my thoughts in a 2nd language, but it got easier. I was able to try many new things (food, dance, bartering, public transportation) and also to try things in new ways.
How has the trip affected you? How are you different for having completed the experience?
I have confidence in my ability to communicate in Spanish. I have made lasting friendships and a second home where I know I will always be welcome. I am constantly aware of how the decisions of the U.S. affect other countries economically. I am now even more avid to promote responsible use of our resources, especially water and the importance of trees.
What advice do you have for future Study Abroad Students?
Climb as many volcanoes as possible, the sunrises are something you'll never forget. Always speak Spanish, even if it is difficult and not always grammatically correct. Do something unique apart from the group and make positive relationships with people from the local community. Never be afraid to ask questions.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Guatemala? Email Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org.