Updated: Sep 7, 2019

Isabella Leon

At almost exactly 11 pm last Sunday, my uncle was putting me in an Uber to JFK. I had said bye to my parents, little brother, and grandma after dinner and spent the rest of the night shopping with my cousins in New York City while I waited to make my way to the airport. I remember being freaked out by the silence inside the Uber and immediately texting my best friend. Once in JFK, it shocked me that everyone working with the airline I was flying with was speaking to me in Spanish. Several people, when they found out I was going to Guatemala, asked me excitedly “Eres Chapina?” I disappointedly answered “No, pero soy Colombiana”. This is the moment where this experience became real to me.

Roughly 12 hours, 4 countries, and one sunrise later; I was in Guatemala City. I explored the city and some of its different zones on my first day, but never unpacked because the next afternoon I had to go back to the airport to meet up with the rest of the team to get to the school we will be living and teaching at for the next two months.

Most of the people here quickly figure out I am Colombian after hearing me speak, which is strangely flattering because I didn’t realize I had a Colombian accent. So far, I’ve learned that “chavo/chava” means guy or girl, “va” is used in place of “listo” to mean “sounds good”, and that “chevere” is not the Guatemalan word for “cool” (though I don’t think I’m ready to give up saying “chevere” just yet).

Arriving at the school at night was a very surreal experience; we were all tired and nervous and not being able to see well only made things worse. Once we were let into the school and shown to our room it became clear to me that the three of us make a great time. We all have very different styles, but instead of bumping heads we actually complement each other. When I am too shy to speak up and use my Spanish they push and encourage me, when things need to get done we all split the work up based on our strengths and always try to be honest with each other. We are all so different that, even though on paper were having the same experience, we’re all going to get extremely different things out of these next 8 weeks.

In our first week in Guatemala we have already had to change our teaching schedule around, scheduled focus groups with students and teachers, begun conducting surveys, solidified the first week of our Flashlight Empowerment curriculums, and come up with our schedule for delivering the rest of the lessons as well as the research component of our project to 79 girls. Being in-country has been such a unique experience and while all our preparation was obviously very important; we have all learned to be flexible and open to change both with the school, our curriculum, budget, and our travel plans.

The girls had off the first three days that we were at the school because of the school’s 25th anniversary, which gave us time to prepare and organize our plans for the next two months more concretely and allowed us to get to know the girls in a more informal context before becoming their teachers. We used the 3-day weekend to go into Panajachel, a town along Lake Atitlan, and get to know the lake a little better. We swam in the lake, went to Santa Catalina, San Antonio, and the nature reserve, had freshly ground coffee, pupusa, and, of course, hamburgers. Overall, it was an exciting, exhausting, exhilarating first week filled with ups and downs, and I don’t think we’d have it any other way.


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