Tag Archives: latin america

Ben Franklin, We’re Not In Pennsylvania Anymore

Antigua Collage

Hi! Thanks for coming! Please, take a seat! Let me say that I’m just happy you came to hear about my summer study abroad in Guatemala. This origin story will only take a few minutes, I promise.

The only way I might’ve guessed two years ago B.C. (~before college~) that I’d study abroad in Antigua, Guatemala, this summer is if I had run my hand along a spinning globe until the bumps under my fingers slowed down and by chance I landed on it. Let’s be real, folks. I’m from a small Pennsylvania town outside of Valley Forge and Philadelphia, and I study English and Secondary Education–you wouldn’t have guessed Guatemala as my summer study spot either.

So then why, right?

Serendipity is the shortest answer. The Spark Notes summary might say that I signed up for a Latin American history class on a whim during my first semester in college, which sent me in a different academic direction than I had planned. In one semester, I felt my stomach drop in surprise like it was dropping down a canyon. My brain clouded with dust as everything I thought I had known about the United States’ interactions with Latin America swept away and new information settled. I know my professors got a kick out of how frequently my eyebrows shot up and I went, “Really? That happened?” To them, I was late to the proverbial party like a kid shouting the obvious, ‘Smoking is Bad For You,’ at today’s doctors. The history of Guatemala struck my heart more than any other, and I can’t express how much I really, really mean that.

Penn State Schreyer

My thesis at the Penn State Schreyer Honors College focuses on the U.S. involvement in the 1954 coup of the Guatemalan government and the subsequent thirty-six year civil war and half-century of corruption, violence, and economic inequality. Didn’t know that happened? Yeah, me either. [If you did: 10 points. Count your points at the end of the summer for a maybe-theoretical prize.] Turns out we’re not alone–most Americans have no idea about the coup or even where Guatemala is on a map. (It’s right here.)

Guatemala Map

Because of my thesis, I searched all over my friendly, neighborhood interweb for a study abroad program in Guatemala. In a way, all of my research and coursework over the past two years has been preparation for my summer abroad. I’m as “prepared” as one can be to step into a new world. I’ve got my multiple canisters of bug spray (you have to wear it all the time, from when you shower in the morning to when you get ready for bed). I’ve got my versatile clothing ready for hot sun, cool rain, or hot rain. I’ve read all the travel notifications, reviewed my verb conjugations, and packed my vitamins.

But man, oh man, you can bet that I’m anxious. I’ll miss my family and friends. I’ll miss French toast with maple syrup and knowing the best places to go running. Most of all, I’ll miss my sense of secure comfort. Ben Franklin, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Pennsylvania any more. In Guatemala I don’t have home field advantage and I know I’m going to need a generous learning curve. Guatemala also represents my “Big Plans.” It’s the essence of everything I’ve said I’m going to do for two years, so you can bet that now that the someday is tomorrow, there’s a small voice in me that can’t sleep that wants to whimper “just kidding” and curl up in my hometown. But it’s a small voice–nothing a little bit of humming and crossing my fingers can’t fix.

Tomorrow I go to Antigua, Guatemala, to study through the University of Arizona a whole new language, history, and culture until August 8th. I’m excited and terrified to finally step into the world I’ve read about for two years, and I know my time’s sparser than chips in a complimentary bag of Lays. I’ve got exactly fifty-six days and nights in Guatemala, and every week I’ll post my stories. Wish me luck as I head out. Like I said, I’m just happy you stopped by to hear what I have to say.


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Filed under Abby in Guatemala, Central America

An International Ambition

sunHistory has thrived upon an ability to dream.  I have never received the comprehensive road map, or tutorial for direction in my life.  What I have had is inspiration that grows from wisdom and stories by sometimes seemingly insignificant interactions.  My dreams are composed of ideas that I have built based upon these interactions.  A benefit of taking on the world without following any given example is that I have been able to explore several influences rather than rely on a select few.  Many aspirations have been absorbed from my experiences, and Costa Rica has allowed me to find pieces of my professional ambitions that I had not previously pondered.

While abroad, I studied the culture and climate of Costa Rica, the Spanish language, and the literature of Latin America.  I attend Elon University, which is a liberal arts university in North Carolina that requires one to take a variety of courses outside of one’s selected major.  This practice brings depth and breadth to an already extraordinary institution of learning.  By encouraging this type of study, students can look to fulfill several of the requirements abroad, which is essentially what I accomplished.

In addition to classes, however, I found inspiration in the adventures that were had within Costa Rica.  The biggest shock in the short time frame that I have been home in is the scheduled nature of society.  Expectations for an individual at nearly any age are abundant and unwritten.  In order to acquire the common concept of success, one must plan his or her life years in advance, and always be looking for something more.  Our schedules and lives are mechanized, and however important this far-sighted requirement is – a person can easily forget the benefit of adventure.  To not be retained by the circulation and commonality of routine is where true success lies.  Costa Rica has shown me that there is so much more to life than the brand of getting rich quickly that many seem it idolize.

gilmanWhen I think of the leaders that I would like to see in the future, they are individuals that have explored outside their comfort zone.   The greatest professional ambition that I have gained was a greater idea of the leader that I will be.  To settle in one area, and to base ideas from within the confines of one’s own four walls is constraining not only to the individual, but to those who admire that person as well.  Not traveling, but rather experiencing diversity is absolutely essential in order to gain creative and intellectual perspectives that would otherwise be absent.  The leaders of this upcoming generation will be culturally intelligent and able to talk across difference in order to innovatively engender success.  A global motivation is now hard-wired into my system, and it forever will be one of the several ideas that guide the direction of my dreams.

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Filed under Central America, Dan in Costa Rica