Tag Archives: study abroad

Auer-Welsbach-Park

The entrance itself isn’t magnificent, but it has a way of making you feel larger than life. You aren’t quite sure which path to take or where they may take you. There’s the trail in the right corner, hidden by rows of trees. In your view is a small shack, but you can’t make out the graffiti painting on it.

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How mysterious, maybe I’ll take that way some other time, you think to yourself.

You gaze at the trail in the left corner where picnics are taking place. There’s even a swinging hammock tied between two large trees. Wow, some friends and I could definitely chill here for the day, you think to yourself. Then there’s the middle trail, and it appears to be the road that’s taken most frequently. It reveals every angle of the park. It leads directly to the children’s laughter, the quiet whispers of happy couples, and the quick pants of a restless dog. There’s a lot of temptation to follow that path. It almost draws you in and gives you no choice. I wonder where it leads to, you think to yourself. So you proceed.

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This is Auer-Welsbach-Park. There hasn’t been a time where I skipped running through this park during a run. I remember my first and last run through this park. The first time, I remember wondering where the path I was running on would lead to the entire time. Who would’ve known that it would wrap around and bring you in close proximity of Schönbrunn Palace? I was in for a pleasant surprise that day and actually ran past the palace gates to stop for a quick glance. It’s always beautiful and always busy.

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There’s also a daycare right in the middle of the park. There’s something about hearing children laughing and playing early in the morning that gives me life. It was the kick I needed to get back to the pace I started my run at. Although everything is vague after entering the park due to the tree leaves overshadowing many areas and the sky, there isn’t a time when you feel unsafe. From time to time, a police car drives along the middle path. It’s great to know that people put great effort into spending their leisure time at a park and to also know that their leisure time is being protected. It just makes the place more special. The last time I ran through the park, it started sprinkling but I could barely feel the raindrops because of the leaves. I didn’t get soaked until I ran out of the park, and I was tempted to turn around and take another lap.

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I think I appreciate this park just as much, if not more, than the locals that live in the area. It’s special because it doesn’t get as much tourist traffic as other places in Vienna. It’s only those who enter that understand its uniqueness.

 

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Filed under Elizabeth in Vienna, Western Europe

Apathy is Not an Option

Hello there, my name is Bioreoluwasheto Sarah Odimayo and I am an International Studies major from Texas who is currently studying the German language and political science in the beautiful city of Lüneburg, Germany. I have been in Lüneburg for a little over a week, so my initial thoughts and feelings about my program are still very fresh in my mind.

I was not very anxious about leaving the United States. This is simply because I had spent an enormous amount of time the past school year organizing and preparing myself for my summer semester in Germany. I was actually extremely excited because I saw my trip as the culmination of a year’s work; the culmination of juggling a job and school work to pay initial deposits, of obsessing over scholarship/grant applications and of conditioning myself to get into the mindset of being open to a new educational experience.

So, when it was time for me to leave and when I arrived, I felt ready to take on Germany and to have the best study experience possible. And then I stepped out of the airport terminal and realized that everything (as it should be) was almost entirely in German.

The one thing I had failed to register in my mind was the fact that I, as an intermediate German speaker, would find it extremely difficult to speak to anyone who is above the age of 8 years old. Fortunately, this initial fear slowly but surely subsided as I found my group in the airport and realized that I am in the best place and best situation possible for learning the language. Then I studied my surroundings and came to the conclusion that, besides the obvious language and maybe some ideological differences, everyday life in Germany will not be immensely different from life in the United States because the U.S and Germany are both western and modern nations. Luckily, this initial perception was mostly right.

Although it looks nothing like the big cities in Texas that I alternate between, I felt extremely “at home” as we all arrived in Lüneburg from Hamburg. This town is extremely beautiful, quirky and quaint. I had not prepared myself for the fact that I would be in awe of the medieval structures and story-book cottages that regular, non-fantasy people actually live in. I had always been sort of skeptical when people talk about “love at first sight” but now I know that it’s possible.

 

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As the epitome of an amateur photographer, I am genuinely surprised that my first picture of Luneburg turned out to be one that captures its essence.

 

A week has passed and I am still very much in love with Lüneburg and with my life here. From about the second day, my fellow classmates and I have expressed the fact that we feel like we have been in Lüneburg for a very long time. This city embraced us and has made it easy for us to fully immerse ourselves into learning more about the language and German way of life. And because I feel at home here, I know that I can focus on the goals that I set for myself when I was preparing for this experience.

The obvious reason for me being here is to improve on my German language skills and earn some political science credits on the side. But I am also here to test myself. I truly believe that complacency and monotony in one’s life is extremely detrimental because it leads to apathy. And as someone who is pursuing a career in international relations and conflict resolution, apathy is not an option. My goal is to use my study abroad experience to train myself to be open-minded about differing ideological perspectives, ways of life and points-of-view. I am going to do this by simply being open to talking to anyone on any subject.

I have a feeling that even the shortest conversation with someone I would have otherwise overlooked or not been exposed to has the potential to lead to a deeper understanding of the human experience. This is what excites me the most about my study abroad program here in Germany.

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Filed under Bioreoluwasheto in Germany, Western Europe

Miss You Greece, Be Back Soon!

I’m home. It feels strange to call any place other than my little apartment in Athens home now, but this is it. Coming back home has been difficult, more so than adjusting to my home abroad was. Little things like going to the store and not bagging my own groceries, the severe lack of Greek food, and inability to walk anywhere I need to go serve as a constant reminder of how different my life was abroad. I miss walking to Kekko’s each morning to get my coffee, stumbling upon ruins throughout the city and speaking Greek to anyone and everyone in my general area. I didn’t realize how much I had come to love the culture and people I’d come to know until this point. Needless to say, I’m experiencing a heavy dose of reverse culture shock that for some reason I didn’t think would affect me. I think what makes leaving more difficult though is the uncertainty of it all. Here, back home with my family and friends I’ve known for years, I was sure to return. Leaving Greece though, a country that I’d come to love and appreciate immeasurably, I can’t be sure that I will go back. In a sense that makes it far more special that I had been able to experience such a way of life at all, but also far more heart breaking.

When I first got back, readjusting was overwhelming. As time goes on though, I’m incorporating some of the things I enjoyed in Greece into my daily routine. The last time I went out to eat with my family, we dined together taverna style, sharing different appetizers and main courses among the table, and they really enjoyed it. They, like I had, realized that eating in that way allows you to taste a variety of foods rather than just one, wastes less food (someone will want to finish what you won’t) and is noticeably cheaper. I’ve continued my Greek lessons on my own and hope to make it my third language so that when I do return, which I plan on doing in the next year, I can speak in entire conversations with everyone I come across. For now, I’ll be working as the student coordinator of an organization that I love, the Democracy Project, and returning to tutoring my students. I know I’ll continue to miss Greece and the many friends I made there, but I’m also very grateful to be home with my family and friends from home. Senior year is sure to fly by between two senior theses, law school applications, and working, and before long hopefully I’ll be visiting my favorite city again. Until then, I feel incredibly blessed to have had this experience, and grateful to Gilman for making it possible. Until next time, Θα είμαι πίσω σύντομα, Ελλάδα

 

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Filed under Destiny in Greece, Western Europe

Study Abroad Leads to Inspiration

Studying abroad in Costa Rica has completely changed my life. As a Gilman scholar, I have been given the enriching opportunity to grow academically and professionally through new language skills and cultural integration. My time in Costa Rica has enhanced my ability to dream passionately and to keep striving toward my vision of becoming a bilingual health professional who can make a difference in the community.

The Gilman Scholarship has truly helped me believe in myself and helped me realize all things are possible. The challenges I’ve faced during my international educational experience have ranged from language frustrations to learning to cope with the stages of culture shock while being abroad. All of my experiences have helped me mature and have allowed me to develop as a more flexible and open individual who can take on all obstacles with integrity. With the new language skills I have acquired from my language intensive program with the University Studies Abroad Contortion, the Gilman Scholarship Program has opened the doors of opportunity for me to apply to the Peace Corps as a community health aid for South America. (I’ll know about my acceptance within the next month!) After my two years of service with the Peace Corps, I hope to continue my education with a pre-medicine program designed for career-changers in order to pursue my lifelong dream of studying medicine. The Gilman Scholarship Program supporting my dream has had an invaluable impact on my life as my Spanish speaking skills will help me serve my community, while also helping me grow.

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That’s me in front of Universidad Nacional on the first day of my last semester of undergraduate. I’m so thankful to the Gilman Scholarship Program for supporting my study abroad experience in Costa Rica. It’s been such a dream come true, and I can’t think of any other way I would rather complete my Bachelor’s degree. Estoy muy feliz y agradecida que se puede aprender sobre la cultura costarricense como estudiante de intercambio de la Universidad Nacional. Ahh, ya ha aperandi mucho. Here’s to dreaming passionately, curiously, and being a change-maker of the future. Thanks Gilman!

The Gilman Scholarship Program has made me more passionate about recognizing full human potential in myself and in others. When I realized I wanted to study abroad my senior year to learn Spanish, I faced confusion from people who doubted that I could reach this lofty goal. With the support from Gilman, I’ve been able to thrive in completing my last goal as an undergraduate which was to be conversationally fluent in Spanish. I’m hoping to inspire more people from my community to study abroad with the Gilman Scholarship Program because it will open doors for them and help them build confidence. I think a common barrier students face when dreaming to study abroad is their misconception that they’re “not good enough” or “not smart enough.” As a student who has overcome these doubts, I can now serve as a stronger role model and bring more encouragement to others with similar goals which will help make a stronger community as a whole.

With three months remaining in my program (and in my entire undergraduate career), I have been driven to make the most of my educational opportunity and find ways that my skills can help me help others. I am pleased that my sentences are flowing, and my grammar skills are beginning to solidify. I’m finally able to serve as a translator, and to formulate fluid thoughts and opinions of my own. I can even explain to my local friends my goals for the future, and them understand me! I know the language skills I’ve developed in Costa Rica will serve me for life. The Gilman Scholarship Program has enhanced my confidence to believe in myself and my ability to become a bilingual health worker of the future.

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Filed under Alexandria in Costa Rica, Central America

The Blur of City Life: Rebuilding My Past, Present, and Future

I landed in Australia on the 21st of August. Today is the 11th of November, nearly three months after my Virgin Australia international flight touched down in Brisbane International Airport. Everyday has been a new experience. On one day, I am riding my bike precariously close to cars driving on high speed lanes, and another day I am studying in a cubicle at one of three libraries I regularly go to on the University of Queensland (UQ) campus, taking part in an act that tens of thousands of students here at UQ participate in.

Life in Brisbane comes by in a blur. Waiting for the bus at one of the central transit centers is a hair-raising experience. The process is like this:

1) Look up on the timetable and remember when your bus is coming.

2) Look up at the electronic arrivals board and see if your bus is on time or late (which is often enough).

3) Concentrate on recognizing that your bus with the correct number is coming into the station.

4) Flag the bus down to stop at the station immediately. If you have not done so, then you missed your bus already because it has already driven off.

I have missed my bus twice. Once during rush hour when I was not paying attention and it sped off towards the next station. And another when my bus went past me and I caught up to it as it waited in the bus queue, but the door closed on me just as I ran up to it. The bus driver was not keen on opening that door.

At my homestay, I struggle to come home early because much of my time is spent at a UQ library doing homework on a library computer as a result of a my personal laptop suffering from water damage. I have to cope with being without technology since I have broken my iPhone and Macbook laptop, and I miss the ease of carrying these around to stay connected to others through the Internet. Additionally, my back-up Razor flip-phone has recently lost its ability to project my voice to callers on the other side. Loss of a majority of technology? That was modern culture shock.

Living with a host family has been a departure from my two years living in college dorm housing at my home university in the U.S.. My host family really helped with my process of adjusting to Australia by providing a physical home with people I consider my extended family now. I have not had any bad bouts of homesickness, but I did experience a bit of depression from forfeiting control that I possess in my own country when arriving in Australia. Here, I am a guest, and sometimes the only way to learn my way around is by making mistakes, which requires more patience than I’m used to. When I look back at my study abroad experience in Australia, I will see it as a time when I made the most mistakes I have ever made and have taken the most risks ever!

On the 9th of November, the day after we returned from a class excursion to Heron Island, our lecture in class was not on any of the subjects that we have studied this semester, but it was about culture shock and reverse culture shock! Amazing and coincidental that it was exactly what I was going to write about for this blog post!

From the time I decided I was going to do this unknown and alien thing called study abroad, I was already preparing myself in many ways: Figuring out international cell phone plans, travel plans, “what are you going to bring there” plans, and most importantly, my plane ticket plan. It was a LOT of preparation going in. I had numerous documents for my study abroad program to sign and complete by strict deadlines, all while I was still taking classes at college. But now that all of that prep work is finished, I can focus on the question: How am I going to remember this? And how am I going to go back to the United States after spending a quarter of a year in a foreign country– 1.2% of my current life?

The lecturer warned us that people and things will have moved on without us, whether we like it or not. People back home have started moving in a direction where they have either completely forgotten about you or replaced you with new friends. After all, study abroad makes it hard to stay in touch with everyone you know back home.

Another thing the lecturer shared is that our peers might shrug us off if we start getting too yappy about what a great time we had studying abroad. This is because everyone I talk to about my experience will not be as emotionally invested in my experience as I am, and they might even be a bit annoyed listening to me babble on about what a great time I had. This lesson from the lecture really perked my ears. I imagined myself back on my home campus, speaking with a friend at a football game, sharing about what a great time I had at the Great Barrier Reef on Heron Island. The person will likely not be interested in this story, because they have most likely never been to Australia or to the Great Barrier Reef themselves, or spent as much time and energy studying the ecosystem and culture as I have this semester. Australia is a distant place for most of my American peers. There is no string of experiences that allows them to connect to my story and say “Yeah, I can relate to that.”

I imagine the adjustment of returning home will be similar to adjusting to my first year of college, but on a grander scale of adjusting from the Australian culture that I have grown so used to. I am even imagining how much the playground across the street from my home in New York has changed since I’ve been gone. Last fall semester of my sophomore year, the park was completely torn down and in shambles, but by the following summer the playground equipment was just being put up. And by the time I return, the park will be complete with no more orange construction fences, and perhaps snow will cover the playground where the kids will play in the spring. To understand and talk about what it is to study abroad and return home is one of the most interesting challenges that I have encountered in my life. Despite the personal challenges that I faced, I can confidently say that this experience as a whole has changed me for the better.

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Filed under Oceania, Raymond in Australia

Dear Prague, How you have inspired me…

Having returned to the United States, the way I function in relation to the rest of the world is completely different.  I would consider myself a homebody who typically leaves the home to go to school or work but not to explore or be part of the community simply for the sake of being part of the community.  I am happy to volunteer for specific events or dedicate time to activities that have set times, but I don’t generally go for walks in unexplored territory or further than a radius beyond a couple blocks of where I live.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to increase my footprint in the world.

As an adult student registered with Students Services for Disabilities, I think having that mark really impacted my view of myself and what I am capable of doing.  I know that I have overcome a lot but due to the amount of time I have spent in hospitals or convalescing I am comfortable being indoors.  Now that I know that I can explore the world, I am empowered to continue to do so.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to empower myself.

This week, for example, I spent time with one of my classmates from our study abroad program.  We are both adjusting to life back in the States, and it was a beautiful connection to meet at home with a friend who lived a similar experience.  It became clear to me that I can travel around the city at my will and that I am not limited to my little corner of the city of Chicago only going to campus to study or to a job site.  Armed with a liter of water, my UPass, and supplies for the day I can spend a day out in the city of Chicago just as I did in Prague.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to live in a more worthwhile way.

My friend and I shared with each other that it was a bit of culture shock to return to the States and encounter common behaviors of Americans.  From O’Hare airport and back to our neighborhoods, we traded stories of how we missed walking down the streets of Prague because the people we encountered had a quieter, more respectful, perhaps, demeanor.  We laughed about how we can look at behaviors of Americans in the Lincoln Park or Lakeview neighborhoods and how those neighborhoods specifically cater to the idea of remedying hangovers.  In Prague, however, Pilsner Urquell is a commonality but the expectation is that people enjoy their beers with friends and won’t require a “Hangover Smoothie” the next day.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to have a beer every once in a while.

My new-found feelings of limitless exploration and self-empowerment are perfectly timed as I extend myself into the professional world looking for full-time work.  I have decreased anxiety about a commute to get to a new location and don’t mind the idea of visiting friends in different neighborhoods.  The confidence I have gained from traveling is something that I will carry with me for the rest of my life.  And because of my travels, I am confident that now my life will be more interesting.  Dear Prague, you have inspired me to test my limits and look for new challenges as I continue to write my story.

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Filed under Culture Shock, Eastern Europe, Lissette in the Czech Republic

Reflecting on Guatemala

Right now I’m taking the train into Philadelphia to a doctor’s appointment. I’ve put off writing this for a while, but I figured that now, when I have nothing else to do, I have to start thinking about the end of my study abroad experience. Part of why I have avoided writing this blog is that I’ve been adjusting and catching up on sleep. I’ve also been meeting with friends from home and preparing my things in this quick turn around between Guatemala and returning to school.

Part of it, I won’t lie, is because I’ve picked up watching The Office and I had to get to the point where Jim and Pam become a couple. But behind all of that is my want to avoid thinking about what just happened. I feel like I’m in sixth grade, adjusting to waking up early for school for the first time, refusing to open my eyes or move my body even though I’m awake just because I know that I have three more minutes until 6:30 a.m. and maybe I’m not ready to face a return to real life yet. For a week I found myself giving vague responses like “it was amazing,” so that I don’t have to start synthesizing my adventures. Once you catch yourself in your own tricks on yourself, how can you let yourself keep playing them?

So now I’m thinking about the question my friend asked me three weeks into my study abroad: “Is it everything you thought it would be??” Wow. Fantastic question, Meg. You really nailed me to the wall on that one, making me stop saying superlatives and start thinking. Geez, I don’t know, I thought. For the most part, before this summer I just knew I would have “experiences” with no real idea of what kind they would be. I decided I would wait to answer that question until I had lived every part of my experience. I kept waiting because I didn’t want to say that it was over.

Well, was it everything I thought it would be? Heck no. Is it too cliché to say to say that it was better and more than I thought it would be? Probably, but that’s the truth. How could I have predicted anything that I did or saw this summer? Disney got one thing spot on when it said, “You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew.” In my last week alone, I found out more tangible examples of what I want to be than in two years at college.

When my last week in Guatemala started, I was on a redeye bus from Tikal to Guatemala City, coming back from the oldest, most expansive, and most impressive site of Mayan ruins in the world. At the same time, my friends, Taylor and Risa, and I realized it was the end.

“We go home next Saturday,” Taylor said.

All I could think of to say back was “yeah.” To be fair, what else can you communicate in a whisper in the middle of a red-eye bus? I sat up and leaned my head against the window while I tried to make out familiar shapes from the unfamiliar shadows on the highway. No, the fact that we were leaving so soon hadn’t sunk in. I couldn’t feel anything. I don’t think it had fully hit any of us. None of us felt like saying things like, “I can’t believe we’re leaving in a week,” or “I know, right?” We felt numb but not so much that we didn’t know it would be cheap to say things we didn’t really understand yet.

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On my last Monday I acted out a skit in Spanish class with my friend Aiza of our first real weekend when we went to the less-than-safe, more-than-fear-inducing-and-dangerous caves in Semuc Champey. I recalled how scared and cold I had been, how I had heard a choir of children singing “Will I Lose My Dignity” from RENT in my head, and how I had said I never wanted to go in those caves again. All I wanted now was to be back in that state of fear with a whole summer of adventure still in front of me. I watched as Nory, my lovable Spanish teacher, for the seven hundredth time encouraged us to learn through laughter and real life, and I thought, “Man, I’d love to be like her.”

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Later we went to a Mayan ceremony that asked for blessings for workers and students, where the priest asked for safety, health, and success for each of us by name. We had a barbecue with one of our professors, Ricardo Lima-Soto, at his house.

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See, the thing is that Ricardo is one of the most intelligent, funniest, and nicest professors I’ve ever had. He’s had more adventures than Leonardo DiCaprio in all of his movies combined. Ricardo could spark incredible debates and conversations about subalternism, post-colonialism, and racism in Guatemala with respect to the scores of different identities and nationalities in Guatemala, but somehow got us to draw just as many parallels about the intricacies and social-racial dynamics in our own country. What left the biggest impression on me was how at peace he seemed to be with himself and the world. It was not that Ricardo underestimates the problems in the world or the problems he faces; instead I think he has a perfect understanding of both and still he has a calmness, happiness, and sense of stability. As malleable, young twenty-somethings who lack this peace and clear sense of direction, my classmates and I marveled at our teacher who could talk about systemic oppression and then Minions without missing a beat or seeming like he didn’t understand the actual level of gravity or levity of the two, respectfully. We all decided at one point or another, “I want to be like him.”

On Tuesday night I had my last night with the teens and young adults in the English class at Los Patojos. I silently admired at how openly determined they were. Even if you’ve thought otherwise, the truth is that I’ve always been a little shy about saying, “this is what I want to do with my life and I am working on it right now.” But these people had the bravery to say, “These are our dreams and we’re putting them in action.” Again, as I talked to the other teachers and the students, “I thought to myself, I want to be like them.”

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On Wednesday afternoon my friends and I went to Earth Lodge on top of a mountain ridge, where we talked about our summer experiences while we watched the sun set over Antigua and the surrounding volcanoes below. Then our professor, Jennifer Casolo, told us her story. Jenn became my hero probably less than two minutes into the story: she had worked for peace in El Salvador in the 1980s, been mistakenly arrested by the military, interrogated and tortured for days despite refusing to lie and name innocents as subversives, and then eventually released thanks to nation-wide support back in the United States. As I sat there, feeling like a preschooler with my hands motionless and my head tilted up to watch her without blinking, I realized I was listening to a hero. Even now on the train, I can still see Jenn, her hair tucked behind her ears, wearing colorful clothes, standing instead of sitting as if she was about to sprint with all of her excess energy, her hands alternating between motions and clasps together, and her eyes trying to reassure us as we listen in panic. Jenn was calm as she told a story more harrowing than our worst nightmares. She told us of how she had felt at the time like she would somehow be okay, and we sat there like cub scouts listening to our first ghost story, in awe and mystification at how she could be so courageous. It grew dark and we all had to go home for dinner (I know, how cute and great is that?), but we begged Jenn to meet us at a café afterwards to continue her story. We sipped our tea by candles and leaned in down the table to listen. There was a room-wide warm-golden-fuzzy-happy feeling as we heard about her adventures. This time I thought to myself, “I wonder if it’s even possible to ever be like her.”

On Thursday I went to Los Patojos and saw part of the Poetry Exposition that they hosted for all of the schools in the area. Fourth graders recited and performed poems written by current Guatemalan poets, some of who attended the event. I felt like the kids were singing songs in front of rock stars. If these kids wanted to go to the moon, I think the teachers at Los Patojos would contact the X Prize competitors and make it happen. Seeing their commitment made me want to be like them.

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On Friday I said goodbye to my teachers, my roommates, and my friends and students at Los Patojos. When I started to realize it would be years before I saw these people again, I felt duped. For two months, I’ve been trying my best to acclimate myself in Guatemala and to feel and learn everything possible. I sewed my heart to this place and these people. And as I left, I felt someone pulling at the seams. I don’t think I write enough to explain how much I love this school or how Juan Pablo is my role model.

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This summer I got to have real adventures, the kind I always watched in movies and assumed that I’d never get enough bravery or coolness to leave my warm couch and blanket to have. I clung to the bars of an open truck bed as we drove through the jungle of Alto Verapáz on our way to climb up waterfalls. I found out that I’m afraid of caving and bats, but I climbed and swam through caves of Semuc Champey and I walked through the Bat Palace of Tikal. I jumped off a rope swing, took a boat to a zoo in the middle of a lake, walked through an ancient Mayan ball court with a little girl in Mixco Viejo, kayaked in a lake surrounded by volcanoes in Panahajel, climbed volcanoes in Pacaya, made new friends and danced on the regular. I got to study in the peace of the most beautiful and expansive social science library in Central America, listen to speakers who have actually changed the world, have some of the best conversations, and joke with my host parents daily. Guys, I got to see a volcano every morning when I woke up. Can’t stress that one enough. But the adventures can’t compare to the people who taught me what I want to be when I grow up. (I’ve still got plenty of time before I cook my own Thanksgiving dinner, and that’s the standard of adulthood that I’m sticking to.)

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So what’s next? Well I’ll go back to school at Penn State and work to earn enough to return to Guatemala as soon as I can. I’ll keep wearing the bracelets my kids gave me. I’ll take small steps as I try to get used to walking down College Ave instead of Segunda Avenida Sur. I won’t even be mad when I have to explain that I went to Guatemala and not Nicaragua, Costa Rica, or even Thailand. I’ll wish my friends back in Guatemala happy birthdays and think of them every time I see them on Facebook. I’ll do my best to not cry as I work on compiling all of the work of the kids at Los Patojos into the final book. I’ll write more of my novel. At the risk of another cliché—but hey, third time’s the charm—I promise I won’t forget this summer in Guatemala. I mean, really, how could I? I might’ve known that I wanted to be a writer and a teacher before this summer, but I never could have known the mindset and personality I wanted to have without Guatemala.

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There’s just one more thing I’d like to clear up. Lucky and José, I wanted to explain to you what I couldn’t before. Whenever I’d ask for a packed lunch, you’d always play a joke on me and pretend to be inconvenienced, and I’d always get worried that you weren’t kidding. We’d laugh about it, José would say “Tranquila,” (Calm down) and then we’d move on to the next joke. Here’s the thing: Ninety-eight percent of me knew that you were kidding. How could you not be kidding? You two are the nicest, funniest, most interesting, and most welcoming host parents I could have asked for. But that two-percent possibility that I was upsetting you made me freeze because the last thing in the world I wanted was upset two of my new favorite people in the world. Man, José, I can hear you teasing me and asking me if I’m going to cry. Pretend you can hear me saying “no” unconvincingly. Lucky, I can hear you laughing. Pretend I’m saying good afternoon after class. Pretend I’m smiling because you just called me your rose or baby (sin pampers, so almost close to an adult but not—I never did acknowledge how true that is). Pretend I’m a minute late after the dinner bell and tease me about it. Anyhow, I just wanted you guys to know that I love you both and that I’ve always wanted to be like you. I promise I’ll be back soon. Jose, help a gringa out and translate this for Lucky.

Forgive me if any/all of this seemed scattered—that’s sort of how I feel. I guess it’s better to say it all like this than to not say anything. I know that there are a bunch of things I’ll wish I had written later on. But the summer’s got to end and I have to pack my dorm furniture, so count up your points, my friends, and maybe you can take away one last thing from all of this. The best I can do is to tell you that I thoroughly loved all of my life-changing fifty-six days in Guatemala, from the unbelievable adventures to the everyday chores. Que te vaya bien, hasta pronto.

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Filed under Abby in Guatemala, Central America