During the summer of 2019, I studied Spanish abroad in the city of Antigua, Guatemala, with an organization called InterExchange. Going into this trip, I desired to attain a higher level of Spanish fluency by building on the knowledge of the language that I gained during my courses in high school. While there are many fantastic organizations and opportunities that could have helped me achieve this goal, InterExchange caught my eye for three significant reasons. Firstly, the chance to be wholly immersed in a language and to learn from individuals who aim to help me make the most progress possible in my language acquisition made this experience not only memorable but also one where I grew in my Spanish speaking abilities. Besides the four hours of Spanish classes a day, I was placed with a local host family who spoke no English. Due to this arrangement, I was pushed to apply the concepts I had learned in class and practice speaking and thinking in Spanish. Secondly, the relatively low cost of the experience, when compared to other programs, also minimized this opportunity’s economic impact. This perk allowed me to take full advantage of my time in Guatemala and learn as much as I possibly could, including chances to explore outside the classroom. Finally, the ability to travel around Guatemala and visit many of its culturally, historically, and environmentally unique locations during my trip really helped me to grow in my knowledge of this nation and made this experience one I will never forget.
One of these places included my base in the city of Antigua. During my brief two months in Guatemala, I was able to fully explore the city which, as Guatemala’s first capital, possess a large amount of historically significant ruins and museums that provided me with knowledge about Guatemala’s past and how it has impacted the nation’s present state. From jade museums detailing the history of the Mayan people to ancient churches that were first built by conquistadores, Antigua provided me with the unique opportunity to truly learn how a nation’s past can impact its present and future. The city’s touristic appeal also enabled me to meet people not only from Guatemala but also from around the world. This diversity, in turn, expanded my knowledge of the customs and cultures of places that I one day hope to visit.
more, I was able to visit more remote destinations such as Monterrico’s black sand beaches on the Pacific Ocean (which are known breeding ground for three species of sea turtle), Semuc Champey’s amazing natural swimming pools and cave systems, and the Acatenango and Pacaya volcanoes. At these locations, I learned more about the natural and environmental wonders of Guatemala and how they have impacted the people and the country’s development. Furthermore, many of these wonders are unique to Guatemala and offered experiences that I would not have encountered elsewhere. For example, I was able to hike the Acatenango volcano over the course of two days and watch the active Fuego Volcano, which had its last major eruption only two years ago, erupt and spew magma from less than two miles away.
Finally, the cultural experiences and interactions I had in Antigua, Lake Atitlan’ pueblos, and Chichicastenango’s famous market taught me about the traditions and daily lives of the people from this beautiful country and sometimes even provided me with the opportunity to participate in these ancient practices. One example of this was my visit to a weaving collective, based in a pueblo around Lake Atitlan, where local Mayan women still practiced the art of weaving that their ancestors had been doing for hundreds of years and sold their wares. During this trip, I was not only able to see how these amazing women turn cotton into string, dye their yarn, and weave their textiles, but also offered the opportunity to participate in these practices.
While there were definitely difficult moments during the eight weeks I spent in Guatemala, it was completely worth it. From the leaps and bound I made in my Spanish language abilities to the many new international friends I made, I know that this trip will be one that stands out in my memory even as I go to remember it years into the future.
Rebecca Messer is majoring in Early Childhood and Family Studies and spent the Summer 2019 semester studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala through InterExchange.
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