Horns meet World. World meet Natalie. Natalie is a religious studies major here at UT, and studied abroad summer of 2015 in Antigua, Guatemala. In the post below she write about her experience studying the effects of NGOs while becoming better at Spanish.
Over the summer I studied abroad through a UT program at Casa Herrera in Antigua, Guatemala. I was there for 12 weeks with about other 20 students, and we took UT classes about bilingual education and linguistics as well as Spanish or Mayan language classes through a local language school.
I dreaded figuring out what to say when I got back. How do you summarize 3 amazing months of your life when someone asks “how was study abroad?”? I still haven’t really figured it out. My study abroad experiences not only grew me as a student and as a person, but also continue to enrich my life back in the USA. One unique way I benefited from my time in Guatemala is that I have a much more critical eye when looking at the rhetoric, programs, and effects of NGOs (especially international ones). As a student who hopes to have a career in the nonprofit sector, being able to see and articulate the ways in which NGOs can fail to advance true social justice is indispensable. Other benefits include being more plugged into international news, having more friends around campus, being able to relate to other students who have studied abroad, decreasing my mental block about speaking Spanish, and having a more nuanced understanding of the cultures and histories of Central America (though I know I’ve only scratched the surface of what’s there).
A lot of people emphasize the many breath-taking, once-in-a-lifetime moments that come with studying abroad, and those are definitely amazing. (I mean, how many other times in my life will I roast marshmallows with the heat of an active volcano?) But I’ve found that the things I miss most are the things I did routinely: stopping at La Bodegona, the local supermarket, at least twice a week to stock up on candied peanuts and bottles of water; washing my own laundry every week because I only packed 7 shirts; comparing how well I understood the Mass in Spanish from week to week; buying 1-quetzal bags of lime chips at every opportunity; taking pictures of the Santa Clara Arch every day because, like the UT Tower, it always seemed too photogenic to pass up; seeing a giant volcano every day as I walked home from school; visiting the 24-hour adoration Chapel whenever I felt down; talking with my house-mates at night on our upstairs terrace; dusting and cataloging old books and documents several times a week at an archival center; and eating more ice cream cones than I’ve probably had in the rest of my life combined.
Those are the moments that I’m taken back to when I smell a familiar scent or hear marimba music or Enrique Iglesias’ “El Perdón” (it was everywhere) or even just Spanish being spoken. The moments dearest to me are those little ones that really became an integral part of my life for an entire summer.
I definitely had my fair share of homesickness, and at times it was exhausting knowing that I’d have to use Spanish to navigate any situation I found myself in. But it was absolutely worth it. In writing this blog post, my nostalgia has spiked to dangerous levels and I wish I could gush about my experience in caps lock for about 20 pages. But instead, I’ll close with this: one thing that my time in Guatemala re-affirmed for me is the importance of appreciating the little moments in my routine, abroad or at home, that make up my life and give me joy.
If you enjoyed reading about Natalie’s experience in Guatemala, check out the program that got me there and the blog post on introductory Spanish classes in Latin America!