Last year my New Year’s resolution was to put myself in uncomfortable situations. Situations which required me to face my fears, to be brave, to be bold, to see what I was made of. The best solution I came up with was to travel alone. I had always thought about myself as an independent person – here was my chance to prove it.
I had never traveled alone and never even considered an international trip alone. After a significant amount of research, I found Volunteer HQ who sets up volunteers with projects and host families in a variety of countries world-wide. As I have an interest in practicing medicine and wanting to improve my Spanish, Guatemala was the perfect decision. As this was a big decision to test my independence, I chose to take a short trip during my spring break.
I was connected with Maximo Nivel, a program which offers multiple volunteer projects and Spanish language classes in the gorgeous city of La Antigua, Guatemala. I was placed with a wonderful host father along the edge of the city. The architecture of La Antigua was otherworldly – untouched by modern architecture. The city was nested in between several volcanoes which made the air seem a bit more thick and ashy. Cobblestone streets linked paved the city; each with brightly-colored Chicken Buses driving past.
During the day, I would spend my time assisting the CNAs at Casa Maria, one of the few Geriatric Centers in the area. Geriatric facilities are very uncommon in Guatemala. Traditionally, families take care of their elderly. Residents of this facility either have no family or severe illness which made it impossible for their families to care for them. Though they had minimal supplies, staff at Casa Maria worked tirelessly to care for the residents and to keep the facility clean. I feel very honored to have met some of the wonderful residents and staff at this facility. To those who took the time to listen to my broken Spanish, thank you. Thank you for the guidance and patience you showed me. You never laughed at me and you always gave me a chance to try. I will only ever be grateful for your hospitality and kindness.
Each afternoon, I enjoyed sitting in one of the multiple parks or in the coffee shops. Guatemalan coffee is incredible! I made sure to purchase multiple bags of coffee as gifts for my friends at home. There were many open-air markets spread throughout the city with a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, textiles and souvenirs all available for sale.
I would return to my host father’s home in the evening so that I could sit in the hammock and read before our authentic Guatemalan dinner. Surprisingly, I loved the disconnection. My host father had TV and he had WiFi however I did not feel the need to check any social media or to see what was going on back home. Life was slower – in the best way possible. The day felt so long. I was able to volunteer, explore the city, read and relax in a hammock, have dinner and socialize with my housemates and go out on the town without feeling exhausted and run down at the end of the day. I wish every day could be as wonderful as the days I spent in Guatemala.
I highly recommend taking the chance to travel by yourself. Every day was a struggle. Every day there was a new challenge. Ordering food, exchanging money, asking for directions, making a purchase, negotiating a price … everything was difficult. But I did it. There were a few tears from sheer frustration. But the most important thing is that I was able to persevere. I was able to prove to myself that I can do anything. I can fight through my frustrations and come out brighter on the other side. I also empathize with those who relocate to different countries and do not speak the native language. To you, I promise to be patient, and kind, and to make an effort to help you to the best of my ability.
Be kind to one another. Always.
Volunteer internationally with Volunteer HQ