Volunteer Name: Roger Lin
Project Location: Xela, Guatemala
Volunteered at: Pre-Med Program, Rural Clinic
1- How was the local ABV Coordinator and the support provided in-country? Superb. Prices for trips were a bit steep but regarding the volunteer program itself and punctuality of responses: fantastic. Questions via text were answered within a few hours and phone calls are always available too. Excellent deal on borrowing a phone!
2- What was the most surprising thing you experienced?
The lack of insects, spiders, birds, and the abundance of stray dogs, even in the countryside! Dogs are not well loved here and often eat scraps so I would sometimes bring leftover tortillas outside and feed the dogs. Also, I was surprised how welcoming everyone was to the foreigners and how overpricing/scams were basically nonexistent towards me and most other foreigners (I am used to more clear scams, having lived in big cities in Asia).
3- What was most difficult to experience? This was actually my first truly solo trip abroad and first time having to organize every move I take so the pressure from only having 3 weeks to immerse myself was somewhat constant, but once I became comfortable among the locals and using only Spanish (within the first few days, as they are very friendly) that difficulty disappeared!
4- Any tips for future volunteers… (clothing, travel, personal items, donations) Mosquito repellent and sunscreen was left completely unused so I would not recommend bringing those and weighing yourself down unless you plan to head to the cities (attractions at lower elevations than Xela (eg. Tilapa beach/Tikal)--- but then I also went during the Winter season here! Definitely bring a good water bottle with a reliable filter and comfortable shoes for dance classes and hiking if you enjoy that (Salsa is superb here). Budget your money and time, but don’t rush, transition into “mañana time!” Some gyms offer free salsa classes as well and there are free classes almost every day of the week--- use city brochures!
5.1-Other things volunteers should know:
a. Everything closes early or is not open on Sundays.
b. Limit your use of tour websites like TripAdvisor--- just ask the locals.
c. If you are used to eating a lot like me, be prepared to cut down to maybe 1500 calories/day or (usually) less.
d. Don’t rely on a dictionary unless absolutely necessary! Actual, regional uses of the words are much more important.
6- Personal Paragraph (ABV Program Testimonial):
I, without a doubt, fell in deeply in love with the Guatemalan people, the culture, the art, the dance--- I had fallen in love with the Spanish language long before I got to Guatemala but my trip here has only strengthened my desire to eventually live in Latin America! The only the I can possibly even think of complaining about is the amount of clearly visibly exhaust billowing out of cars here, but that is something that can only improve in the future! Just about everyone uses facebook here, whether it be at internet cafes or at their homes, so it is easy to make and keep these new friends!
7- How would you describe your accommodation, meals, security (e: host family, on-site, shared) Fantastic! No problems with host family. Even when the light or water went out in the city the host family would find a way to provide candles and meals. I felt very safe in and out of the house, even late night/early morning. The host family itself was fantastically welcoming and the informal atmosphere was fantastic for practicing Spanish and learning about bits of the culture you cannot learn in class.
8- What was your favorite memory of this trip?
Salsa and Bachata lessons and the late nights with good company are memories that will keep forever. The social lifestyle here is very informal and it is easy to make friends with everyone from babies and their mothers at the clinic to older Mayan shopkeepers who are equally as curious about your past and culture as you are about theirs! My deepest memories here always relate to the easily-made friendships from completely random people around the city!
9- How was the ABV USA support prior traveling? Absolutely excellent. Replies within hours, 7 days/week. Very clear instructions, no complaints what so ever.
10 – Are you willing to speak to other potential ABV volunteers? Definitely, ask away.