I have been planning for this day all semester. I dreamt up many imaginations about Guatemala as a place where I could escape my everyday life and learn to truly live in the moment and trust God to help me navigate my way around. That has been true to some extent. Some things are easier than I imagined and others are more difficult. I knew before I came that I wanted to prepare myself for the culture by brushing up on my Spanish and practicing a little each day. However, life did not go as I planned and eventually all my time had slipped away with work and travel.
I have realized how crucial preparation is. As soon as I got off of the plane at the airport, I knew that I needed to hurry outside because my program had arranged for a shuttle to pick me up immediately. I rushed off and thought I should exchange some money first, in case I needed to tip the driver or buy something on the way (honestly, I thought, that I would be taken advantage of otherwise). Then I had to collect my bags, which felt like it took an eternity. Several English-speaking people and others from my plane were waiting to pick up their bags, however, the place they told us to wait was not the right one. I finally decided to search further away and found my bags on another conveyor belt. I was a little frustrated at this point because I had wasted so much time waiting and not knowing exactly where to look or how to ask. Then, I rushed outside to look for my name as I was told by my advisor.
Outside, it felt like I was on a stage and everyone was watching me pace back and forth looking for my name on a piece of paper. Honestly, I felt rather silly squinting at people and carting all my bags around. In my mind, I thought the shuttle would never leave without all of their passengers, especially since I had paid for my ticket in advance. Unfortunately, I was wrong! A Guatemalan gentleman speaking English asked if I wanted to call the shuttle agency, so I gave him the number and he made the phone call. He spoke to the person on the phone but muffled my name and did not let me talk. Afterwards, the man said that they would be there shortly and then wanted me to tip him for the service. I told him I had no money and thought that it was rude of him to expect payment for a service that I would have gladly offered to do for free in America. He sulked and walked away.
I anticipated the driver arriving at any time. The more I waited, the more anxious I grew. I had faith that I would be okay, however panic situations will make you forget that truth. I silently said a few short prayers in my head as I waited and finally asked an airport employee to let me make a phone call to the company myself. Thankfully they spoke English, otherwise I would have been in trouble and the call would have been useless. They told me that the driver did not see me at 11:00 am and left shortly after. At this point it was 1:00 pm in Guatemala. I finally became assertive and requested that a shuttle pick me up immediately because I was outside around 11:30 am. He agreed and said the next one would come at 2:30 pm and told me where to stand.
All in all, I spent the whole first day in a confused state, mainly because I was not prepared. I realize that one is never going to be prepared for everything that happens in life, and for me this strengthens my faith. However, I do know that I had ample opportunity to work on my Spanish and to read more about the culture. If I could give any advice to someone preparing to embark on a journey it would be this:
1. Please buy a book about the country you are traveling to. As much as you hope to discover it all on your own, knowledge is essential to pointing you in the right direction.
2. Learn the language. Sounds simple enough right? I found that by preparing for some conversations, writing down questions you may want to ask helps make those awkward silences go much smoother.
3. Have a purpose and a goal in mind. For me personally, my purpose here revolves around my faith and beliefs and I hope to help others around me, including: the family I stay with, the group that I am a part of, and the community who I live among. It is surprising how easily one can be diverted in an unfamiliar place. The purpose and goals do not have to be faith-related of course, as not everyone shares the same religious beliefs, but having a goal for your time abroad and reflecting on how the experience may help you reach goals, develop talents, and broaden your horizons is essential.
On my long shuttle ride to Guatemala, I was fortunate enough to ride with two other English-speaking students. Both were here independently, but one came on a whim and told me many stories about how he had traveled and did not make many arrangements ahead of time. All of them concluded with him being miserable and only vaguely enjoying where he went. This is so common for those with no prior arrangements and it can make for a frustrating time. Now, I am spending my evenings planning out my next day and asking many locals about good places to see. So with a little preparation, let the adventure begin!
My weekend in Antigua in front of La Merced.