My Internship with Fundabiem

This summer, I am in Guatemala with a Social Work program from North Carolina State University. As part of our program requirements, each of us participates in an internship working with the population of our choice. I have been interested in learning more about the special needs population. Therefore, with the help of my professor, I have chosen to intern with an organization named Fundabiem in Panajachel, Guatemala. My professor has previously spent a significant amount of time in Guatemala researching social work-oriented organizations around the area and has established good connections with several professionals. She has matched us with those which would provide the most experience.Clinica Fundabiem

Fundabiem is a unique organization because it works in partnership with Teleton, a non-governmental organization started to provide services for all special needs patients regardless of their economic means. There are about 25 Fundabiem locations in all of Guatemala. Each year, beginning in 1986 volunteers of Teleton have organized multiple fundraisers to supply the costs of therapy. At the location in Panajachel where I work, it offers occupational, physical, and speech therapy to approximately 150 patients. The clinic is not very large, but the employees utilize every inch of the building. There are seven employees at the clinic: a social worker, receptionist, bus driver, doctor, occupational, physical, and speech therapist. It is the only clinic for special needs therapy in the area and many people come from all over, as far as 1 hour and a half away, to receive therapy. It may not seem like a considerably long time for Americans with cars, but the majority of the people in Guatemala are indigenous and must use the public transportation system (aka “Chicken buses”, which are simply older school buses painted over).

My internship has exceeded my expectations because I have not only been fortunate enough to gain professional growth working with a speech therapist on a daily basis, but have had the privilege of listening to the stories of local, indigenous Guatemalans. Part of social work is learning to attend to the needs of others, which often times requires simply listening to what they have to say. One caretaker was the grandmother of a severely developmentally-delayed child named Norman. I inquired about the child’s mother and their relationship now, but the grandmother said that they did not speak anymore because together, she and her daughter would always fight. She told me that her daughter had made poor choices with a man from the streets and that she did not approve of that Araca 1kind of behavior, especially after she had more children since Norman. She wanted her granddaughter to grow up with better instruction and care and knew that her daughter would not be able to provide that at the time. It was difficult to hear this story and comprehend it in another language, but it shows the strength of Guatemalan families in times of need. The grandmother is the sole care-taker of the family and now has even more responsibility with Norman.

Daily, I see children with a variety of diagnostics ranging from paralysis to hearing loss and down syndrome. Some children only have trouble with pronouncing words in Spanish. Before I came to intern at Fundabiem, I had no prior knowledge of what kind of work speech therapy incorporated. Since it is a clinic for the special needs population, there is a much wider range of goals to achieve with each child. To help children without strong facial muscles move their lips and mouth better, we use blowing techniques such as bubbles through a straw or with soap and also blowing feathers. Marvin, the speech therapist, will spend time massaging their mouths to stimulate mobility. To encourage movement of the tongue, we use tongue depressors with honey or suckers to have the children practice using their tongues more. Next, we typically learn or review more vocabulary and practice recalling familiar nouns or verbs. To do this, we have many activities ranging from flashcards to puzzles and drawing pictures. We continue with more speech therapy activities until the 30-minute appointment has passed. It did not seem like much time to me at first because Marvin usually has two or sometimes three patients in the room at a time. There is usually not much individual attention given to each patient. However, he does a great job dividing his time among the patients and asking me to perform many activities and therapy with them as well.

Since working in a speech therapy office, I have thought more about assisting others with rehabilitation in the future. It is an important job and very rewarding to see even the smallest progress. Personally, I have been fortunate to work with a very compassionate, concerned, and joyous therapist while here who has impacted me greatly due to his passion for helping others. He attended college in Guatemala City and received his degree, but he still remains poorly paid because of the corruption of the government and the lack of finances here. Regardless, Marvin performs his job with great vigilance and passion. I still have two years left of my undergraduate career and I would like to investigate more about the educational requirements of speech therapy in the United States and how many positions are available currently. I do know that I would like to remain in contact with this agency because it has strong values and functions to achieve its grand vision of uniting the people together by assisting one another. In the future, I would like to network more with NGOs located in the United States in order to provide more outside connections with Fundabiem and Teleton.

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by | August 28, 2014 · 4:14 pm

What I learned in Morocco


Sunset falling on the Atlas Mountains.

Sunset falling on the Atlas Mountains.

I sat in my kitchen table in two different occasions and waited– nothing. In my hand, a pen, in front of me, my journal with only the date, the time and a title, “What I learned in Morocco.”

The page remained blank. Both times.

I sat there and thought, what did I really learn in Morocco? I had to have learned something! But in front of me, the naked pages revealed nothing.

I didn’t worry though. I knew that what I had learned was still pouring through my consciousness, taking root deep inside my mind.

I knew…but my mind and pages were blank. What did Moroccans and Islam teach me in the last five months? Where were all my deep realizations? Where was my profound understanding of the self?

Perhaps, more than I can share with you right now. As I said, the lessons learned are still being processed and just because I left Morocco, doesn’t mean Morocco has left me.

And so without further delay, I will share with you just a few things I learned in Morocco.


Morocco is at a crossroads.

I learned that Morocco is a country that is not quite African, not yet European and not fully integrated with Middle East.

It is a country that has as much history as it has struggles. It is a country that is a hybrid of its past conflicts and recent conquests. Morocco has been so profoundly influenced by its past – its future is almost unreadable.

Morocco is still developing. Violence and sexual harassment against women is a problem that the country has failed to address. The king of Morocco lives in abundance in any of his five palaces while thousands of homeless Moroccans endure the elements outside. Corruption, wealth accumulation and inequality are unaddressed issues that have slowly been gaining light.

But Morocco is a country rich in opportunities. Its affluence doesn’t come from its GDP or its natural resources; its wealth comes from the Moroccan people – the people who wake up hoping today will be better than yesterday. Its people that have joys and pains and dreams and defeats – just like we all do.

Islam means peace.

Labeling all Muslims as terrorists is as ignorant and dangerous as when Hitler blamed the entire Jewish population for being the cause of Germany’s problems.

There is no difference.

When people use religion to justify violence, for any reason, they are no longer following the principles of their own belief system. Since peace and justice are at the core of every religion that claims that God is their source of knowledge.

Traveling light is a gift.

During my last few days in Morocco, I was traveling with my brother with just our backpacks and duffel bags. By no means were we traveling light, since we each carried about fifty pounds.

I had given away my larger suitcase and most of my belongings to my roommate and friends. I needed to travel with what I considered the bare minimum – and it was still too much.

As we traveled through Morocco, I realized how comforting it is to not have any additional weight on my shoulders. How refreshing it is to not be tied down to anything. How liberating it can be to have nothing but the clothes on my back.

As we moved from city to city, we realized we should have left more behind. Very much like in life, the less baggage we carry, the more free we are to move around.


It is not where you are, it is who you are with.

Bus, taxi and train rides would had been much more uncomfortable had I not had a friend’s shoulder to sleep on.

Hungry nights on top of Mount Toubkal would had been lonely had my soul not been filled with laughter.

The stars wouldn’t have shone as brightly had I not had someone to share my dreams with.

My tagine or couscous wouldn’t have been finished had I eaten alone.

The cities I walked through would have been empty, had I not had someone to see them with.

In my time in Morocco, I learned that it doesn’t matter where you are, it matters who you are with. You can be sleeping in a train station in Meknes, or staying in a luxurious hostel in Barcelona, or rocking on a hammock at home, and none of it would matter.

The place, the location, the time – that is all arbitrary. The people we share it with is what makes the difference.


But never forget the people at home.

Sure, it is nice to travel to distant lands and explore new cultures, but having that little piece of home with you always makes the road seem less dangerous.

I guess what I am trying to say is this:

Leave home, but come back to see how much you have grown. Learn about yourself so that you can teach others about themselves. Keep your loved ones close to your heart, because when the world gets cold, that is the one place where your memories will always keep you warm.


I am still learning who I am.

Perhaps the most insightful reflection that I have acquired is this: I am still figuring out who I am, and honestly, I might never find out – and the best part – that is okay, I have an entire lifetime to do so.

Life is a journey. Our purpose? I will let the dead philosophers argue with each other over the answer.

There comes a turning point, I believe, in every person’s life where we must decide: continue living the life we are living, or take a leap of faith into the unknown, venture into the realm where nothing is certain and everything is a mystery.

In “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” by Joseph Campbell, he calls it, “the hero’s call to adventure.” This is the point where the protagonist, you and I and everyone else, is faced with a challenge, with a quest they must embark on in order to attain completeness.

It is a journey from childhood innocence to adulthood understanding; it is the quest from ignorant prince to enlightened Buddha; it is the merging of two worlds– the unknown and the known, the yin and yang, the light and the darkness– into one ecstatic whole.

Our hero is rewarded with a deeper, more mature and holistic view of their role in the universe.

Going to Morocco was my call to adventure, but as I learned in my time there, the call of duty rings more than once. At any point, life can decide to interfere and once again ask our hero if they would like to embark on a detour from the main narrative.

It is during these detours that I have learned the most about myself. It is during these detours that the deepest parts of ourselves are revealed.


The Journey continues.

I learned that the journey is never over.

I am also learning that just because I am back home, doesn’t mean that the same Kevin has returned.

And now I must wait: for Life, for Fate and Destiny to knock at my door with another quest. A new journey.

The universe knows that I will answer.

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Home Sweet Home?

When I first got on the plane to get home, I was excited to see my old friends and family again, despite having to say goodbye to everyone I had met in Spain. Yet, when I landed back in the States, I felt like a stranger. I listened to everyone speaking English and it sounded so foreign to me. It lacked that fluid, spicy sound that I’d come to adore hearing from the Spaniards. In the airport, I kept slipping into Spanish and was frustrated when almost no one understood me and kept giving me strange looks. I truly felt like a stranger in my country.

Upon getting home, my dad insisted he make me dinner, consisting of chicken, salad, some beans, and pasta. I remember tasting the salad and laying my head down on the table. My dad was confused at first, but when I explained my feeling, he understood: It wasn’t Spanish salad. It wasn’t the cuisine I was used to. The chicken tasted incredibly greasy to me, and my stomach certainly didn’t like it either. Even now, there are still certain foods I won’t eat, just because I don’t like them much now. Everything is sweeter to me now, as well. Coke tastes so syrupy and strange. It was definitely an experience adjusting back to everything. The eating schedule here in America was odd to me at first as well. I was so used to eating at 9pm for dinner, instead of 5pm. I couldn’t take a siesta (nap) every day anymore; it’s not a scheduled part of daily life here in the States, like it is in Spain. That’s definitely something I miss most. The Spanish used siesta to relax and take a break from the business of work. They see American’s work ethic as formidable, but far too exhausting and stressful, and I can’t help but agree with them now; I think Americans need to relax and learn to slow sometimes, and just enjoy the little things in life.

Presently, I feel like most of the reverse culture shock has subsided, but I know that from now on, I will have a home in Spain. There are things there that I can only experience there, things that I will always miss, and things that give me a reason to return someday.

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Life’s What You Make It

“I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.”

― John GreenThe Fault in Our Stars

This quote is the most accurate way I can think of to describe my feelings for this country. During my first few weeks, I was happy to be in a new country discovering another culture, but I was by no means head over heels in love with life here. A week or so ago, as I sat with some of my American and Kyrgyz friends on top of a hill overlooking Bishkek and watched the sun go down over the city, I realized something had changed. Somehow I had fallen in love with this country without noticing it, and I had fallen hard.

Watching the Sunshine

Watching the Sunset

During my orientation at school before departing for Bishkek, we were shown a graph of the stages that people go through when they study abroad. Culture ShockI’m not going to lie, the graph made me pretty nervous. Although I had never traveled abroad before, I had traveled throughout the US and I go to school pretty far from home, so I’ve experienced being separated from my family and friends for long periods of time. The thing is, home-sickness was something that had never been a problem for me, so I really had no experience dealing with it. Looking at this graph and listening to a presenter tell us that we would all at some point feel depressed and helpless was definitely intimidating. It also just didn’t sound like me. I think the presenter could see the doubt on my face, because she was quick to assure me that she hadn’t thought she would feel those things either, but she had experienced every single stage on the graph.

During those first few weeks in Bishkek, that graph was always in the back of my mind. I kept wondering when the frustration with the culture, the homesickness, and the helplessness would hit. Then, as I sat on that hill and looked out over the city I had come to love, I realized something. This graph wasn’t written in stone, I wasn’t obligated to feel things the same way someone else did. I’m not saying that there haven’t been times when I felt out-of-place or when I missed my friends, but, for me, these feelings never resulted in me wanting to leave or feeling extremely sad. I don’t think there is any model that can accurately predict how every single person will react to a situation and I think people experience different stages of this graph at different intensities and some may skip certain stages entirely. It doesn’t mean that some people are stronger or weaker than others; it just means we’ve all led different lives and react differently to situations. For me, I think I skipped the first stage, or “honeymoon stage” as its sometimes called, and just grew steadily more comfortable in this country until I realized that it was starting to feel like home. Perhaps, the fact that I didn’t have this period of overwhelming infatuation with Kyrgyzstan when I first got here helped me to not have a lot of negative or frustrated feelings down the road. I think what all of this comes down to, is that how we react to situations is completely up to us. I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I’m pretty sure that every single student in the history of students who have studied abroad has had some sort of inconvenient, frustrating, or scary thing happen to them on their trip. Of course, some things have more of an effect on us than others and are harder to get over, but for the most part, how you choose to react to these things will define how you feel about your experience and determine how much you learn and get out of your trip when it’s over. It’s an empowering, but also slightly scary feeling to realize that we have so much power over our lives. I’ve gained so much from my experience in Kyrgyzstan, but I think the biggest thing so far would be this realization that I define my life and that I don’t have to fit it into anyone else’s mold, no matter how tried and true this mold is said to be.

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Friendly adventures with a cup of culture shock

Shanghai has a way of making many foreigners feel very special. Everywhere you go people always want to take a picture with you, buy you drinks when you’re out, or attempt to snap a picture of you when you’re not looking. When I’m waiting in a metro stop or an elevator, people always want to practice and develop their English skills as well, sometimes even their Spanish! After a week, stage two of culture shock sneaks up out of nowhere. People keep asking for the same thing over and over, you start to become a bit irritated. Next thing you know, the only thing to do at this point is to blend in with everyone by popping in ear buds and walk with the beat.


A few day of ignoring people as you walk around the city definitely causes a case of homesickness and stage three of culture shock hits you hard. At this point I begin to remember the comforts of home and how I really needed them now. I kept questioning myself as to why can’t I navigate the metro station yet, why can’t you speak Chinese yet, and every other negative thought.

Having more of a positive outlook a few days later, I found a solid group of friends that are from the US, France, Singapore, China and a few other place around the globe. We have done so many things together; without them there would be no way I would have done such crazy things. Busy days are always the best, especially with others. Culture shock becomes a thing of the past, and you finally begin to feel at home.

I think the hardest part of being abroad for me is when one of your friends you have made abroad end up leaving the city for good. With mixed emotions and uncertainty of when you will see them again, this part always puts me back a step within the culture shock. As for now, I will enjoy every moment I have with them and not worry about anything else.


Alex Montoya

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My Future Plans

Even before going abroad, I knew what I wanted to as a professional career: I want to become an international interpreter. My experience abroad will no doubt be invaluable to me as I continue to pursue that goal. They say that learning a language is easiest when you’re completely immersed in it. I lived with a Spanish family, who knew very little English, and had a Spanish class Monday to Friday from 9am to 1:30pm. This left me very little room to lose the idea of immersion. When I first arrived in Spain, I was incredibly shy and was afraid to make an error in my speaking ability, so I spoke very little. However, by the time I left Spain, I spoke fluidly, confidently, and happily. Sure, I was still slightly afraid of making an error, but that’s a fear that I’m going to have to overcome, if I’m going to achieve my goal of becoming an international interpreter.

While abroad, I also traveled to other countries via plane, bus, and train, often times going completely alone. Initially, I was also afraid of traveling alone. What if I got mugged? Could I navigate airport security on my own? Can I carry my luggage on my own? All of these questions buzzed through my head when I decided that I would be traveling. But, I’d promised myself that I’d take risks and put myself out there and try new things. My first trip traveling completely alone (from Zaragoza to London to Chester and back) was a complete success. I did my best to blend in and not act like a tourist, and it seemed to do the trick. After that, I had a lot more self-confidence and trusted myself to not get lost, or to find my way out of a difficult situation if necessary. I had a couple of close calls (getting on my train to London as the doors closed), but I made it to each place safe and sound. A tour group I met up while on Semana Santa (Spanish Easter holiday) even expressed their surprise and astonishment as I told them I’d been traveling alone for a few days before meeting the group. I don’t think I’d ever be able to acquire the skills and confidence necessary to travel alone if I hadn’t decided to study abroad in the first place.

Academically, the Spanish course I was enrolled in was definitely challenging! My professor had high expectations and would settle for nothing less. At first, it was incredibly overwhelming for me, and I thought that the professor was being especially hard on me. However, in hindsight, I realize that she was doing that because she knew my potential, and she knew that if I truly applied myself, I would be extremely successful. Now that the course is over, I’m very happy that I had her as my professor; I don’t think I would have learned as much as I did, had it not been for her. When it came time for the final exam, she spoke with me afterwards to offer any final comments and give me my grade. She gave me a 9/10 and said that I was a rare case because I actually speak Spanish better than I write it, and she offered me a few words of advice to help me in the future. Thanks to her, I now know what I need to focus on when I return to school in the fall in order to make myself successful, both academically and professionally.

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Meet Gilman Video Blogger – Karly

Meet U.S. Department of State sponsored Gilman Scholarship recipient Karly Kahl-Placek. Karly was a Gilman Global Experience Correspondent for the Spring 2013 semester in Jaipur, India.  The Gilman Global Experience allows Gilman Scholarship recipients the opportunity to record videos around academic and cultural themes to share with other students interested in studying or interning abroad in the featured country. For more videos please visit the Gilman Scholarship’s Official YouTube page.

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