Volunteering abroad in Guatemala often proves to be an exceedingly-rewarding experience. And while helping others remains the highlight of any volunteer effort, don’t overlook the thrill of experiencing a new culture.
Especially one that’s as rich as the one found in Guatemala. If you’re thinking of taking advantage of volunteer abroad opportunities, such as A Broader View’s program in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, keep the following information in mind.
With ample personal time available for our volunteers, you’ll have time to experience the rich culture of the local area. With this in mind, let’s take a look at ten of the top things you should know before arriving in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
Top Ten Things to Know Before Arriving in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala
If you’ve never been to Latin America, you’re in for a shock when arriving in Guatemala. Despite having a high percentage of the population currently in need, Guatemala is home to one of the most unique cultures in the world.
But what makes Guatemala such a popular tourist destination? Consider the information below!
Dress for Modesty—Not the Weather
Guatemala may be known for having warm weather—but that doesn’t mean that you should start dressing for it. In fact, if you pack your short shorts and summer clothes, you may find that you get more than just a few odd looks from the locals.
That’s right—if you’re planning to have a good time in Guatemala, you’re going to have to reign in your dress. And the truth of the matter is that much of what is acceptable wear in the West simply isn’t here.
So what should you wear instead?
Consider wearing longer dresses or jeans—clothes that you might not typically want to wear in warmer weather. Don’t worry about being too uncomfortable, either. It won’t take long before you adjust to the weather and to the dress—and you’ll be much better received for it.
You’ll notice that women and men both tend to dress a bit more modestly in Guatemala, so you want to set the right impression and fit in. By keeping this in mind, you’ll be better able to leave your impact and help out those in need.
Be Prepared for a Poverty Shock
But while you should try to minimize the locals’ shock regarding your wardrobe, you will certainly be in for a few shocks of your own.
And, unfortunately, most of this comes in the form of just how poor the country really is. With much of the population now living under the poverty lines, Guatemala has a standard of living that’s surprisingly low by developed standards.
To illustrate just how bad the poverty in Guatemala is, think of this: since September of 2018, more than 1% of the entire population of Guatemala has emigrated to the United States.
In other words, the poverty rate as of 2014 sat at nearly 60%. With this in mind, it’s obvious that there’s much work to be done within this beleaguered nation.
The good news is, however, that you’ll be able to enjoy a rewarding experience giving back to Volunteer in Guatemalathose in need. Because of the country’s poverty, you can be sure that your services will always be needed—and that you can start making a lasting difference in the lives of the locals.
Take this opportunity to make a lasting impression on a community in need.
Learn to Haggle
When in Guatemala, you’ll need to learn to haggle.
Because you’ll likely find yourself paying more than you have to if you don’t. That’s right—haggling is a time-honored practice in this nation, and you’ll find locals debating about price throughout a variety of markets.
In light of this, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re offered a special discount on some of your purchases. Because merchants have to compete with each other, they’ll quite often find a special price to make their goods seem more attractive.
Even better, you may be able to haggle the price down to get more bang for your buck. However, because the price of goods in Guatemala is relatively cheap—especially by Western standards—you may not feel the need to bargain or haggle after all.
Still, if you do, and you can speak a bit of Spanish, you may be able to come out with a price that leaves you feeling better.
It May Rain More Than It Shines
One of the more unfortunate aspects of volunteering in Guatemala is that it rains … quite a lot.
In fact, depending on when you choose to volunteer, it may rain more than it shines. While this may sound like a bummer, once in Guatemala, you’ll be able to appreciate the country’s climate for what it is.
Still, however, you’re going to want to check the weather before you make your trip. This will allow you to better prepare in advance for what you’re going to need. Because it simply rains so much, you don’t want to get caught unawares and be left with nothing in one of the country’s many rainstorms.
If you’re a rain lover, this may be joyous news for you. However, for everyone else, it can appear to be a bit dampening to know that your trip may include more raindrops than sunshine.
The good news, however, is that no matter the weather, you’ll be able to assist others and help make a difference in their lives. What’s more, there are plenty of activities that you’ll be able to do—come rain or come shine.
By coming in prepared and with the right attitude, you can ensure that you’ll have a rewarding experience in Guatemala no matter what.
You’re Going to Fall in Love
The weather aside, we’re sure of one thing: you’re going to fall in love.
No, we don’t mean that you’re going to find the man or woman of your dreams (though that would be cool, too). Instead, we’re talking about how impossibly-difficult it is to visit Guatemala and not fall in love with its culture and people.
Guatemala has a thriving local culture that’s rich in tradition. With much of the population coming from the Mayan Empire, you’ll be able to see centuries-old traditions that have been passed down from one generation to the next.
From the delicious local diet to the warmth and hospitality shown by the locals, you’ll be overwhelmed by generosity during your stay in Guatemala. We’re sure that you’ll come to love this country, and the community that you’re in.
And in the end, this will make your experience that much more rewarding. By giving back to the communities and the people you love, you’ll be able to get an even better feeling of personal fulfillment.
So make sure that you don’t put your guard up. Let yourself experience everything that Guatemala has to offer.
Trust us: you won’t regret it.
Cultural Expectations Are Different
We’ve seen how cultural expectations are different when it comes to dress. However, there are some other cultural differences that you should be aware of if you’re looking to avoid major social faux pas.
For example, if you’re from a traditional Western country, you may feel that punctuality is an important virtue. And for one, we would agree that it is.
Good luck trying to get the locals to believe in that, however. You’ll find that during your stay in Guatemala, arriving on time is more of a Western value than something treasured in the local culture.
For this reason, don’t be afraid to slow down and really take your time during your trip. Make sure that you’re really getting to know the people and the communities that you’re helping. And, during your time off, make sure that you’re allowing yourself to see everything that the country has to offer.
By taking a more relaxed pace, you’ll feel much more at ease in the local environment. Not only that, but you won’t get as easily frustrated if you make appointments with someone—and they show up late.
In this way, you can better adapt to the local culture and enjoy your experience in this incredible country.
You’ll Meet People of Many Different Cultural Backgrounds
One of the aspects that makes Volunteering in Guatemala so unique is that it has a rich cultural heritage. In many ways, the country is its own melting pot of sorts.
For starters, as much as 40% of the population comes directly from the Mayans—and they’ve splintered into several different groups over the years.
Because of this, you’ll hear a number of different languages and see many different cultural practices during your time in Guatemala. This makes for an interesting cultural experience, as you learn to take in the sights and sounds of various groups of people.
Truly, this makes Guatemala one of the most interesting countries to visit and volunteer in. During your time volunteering in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, you can expect to meet many different individuals from various different cultural backgrounds—giving you an experience unlike any other.
The Scenery Is Worth Exploring
Remember when we said that those working with A Broader View would have plenty of personal time?
That’s still true. And if you’re looking to fill this time up with some unique experiences, you’ll simply love visiting the country’s wonderful natural scenery.
With much of its natural landscape left untouched, Guatemala is a nature-lover’s paradise. You’ll find a number of different species of wildlife, as well as unmarked scenery that is truly a sight to behold.
This makes Guatemala one of the most mesmerizing volunteer locations in the world. And it opens limitless opportunities. After doing your volunteer work for the day, for instance, you may choose to go out and soak in the unaltered natural landscape. This great stress-relieving activity can help you relax and even put more perspective into your life.
Spanish Is Beneficial, But Optional
We know what you may be thinking. You can’t volunteer in Guatemala without knowing Spanish … can you?
Actually, yes, you can! What’s more, at A Broader View, we don’t require that our volunteers be fluent in Spanish. We’re thankful for any help that we get, and we work to make an inclusive environment for all of our volunteers.
Besides—remember when we said that up to 40% of the population comes directly from Mayans? This has led to the development of tens of different dialects and languages within the small nation. So while being fluent in Spanish may help, you still won’t be able to connect with everyone.
If you want to improve your experience by learning Spanish, however, you may be able to increase the number of activities that you can do. Just remember that Spanish language ability is not required to join A Broader View in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.
Don’t Be Afraid to Experience a New Culture
Finally, make sure that you come into the country with an open mind. As noted, it can be shocking for those from developed nations to come into a country as poor as Guatemala.
This aside, make sure that you’re not letting this cloud your judgment. The people of Guatemala are among the friendliest and most hospitable in the world—not to mention that the country has one of the richest cultures in the surrounding region.
By coming into the experience with an open mind, you’ll be able to better experience Guatemala for what it is. This will allow you to better enjoy your trip and focus on things that are more important—like helping the locals gain the tools and knowledge needed to help raise their country out of poverty.
The Bottom Line
At A Broader View, we work to restore hope and confidence into poverty-stricken communities across the world. Our program in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala offers an incredible opportunity for you to start giving back to those in need.
Not sure where to begin volunteering abroad? Consider the ten must-know tips above to make your transition into volunteering in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala as seamless as possible.