As I sit down to write this blog, I truly cannot believe I have barely been in Guatemala a week. My heart is already swollen with love for the Guatemalan people, culture and beautiful landscape, and it genuinely swells a little more with each passing “buenos dias” or “hola” I exchange while walking down the cobblestone streets. I feel so close, connected and a part of this community already.
My homestay family is more kind and loving than I ever could have imagined. Our mother is not only accommodating of all our needs, but she also genuinely wants us to feel comfortable and at home while we stay with her, and I could not be more grateful. She is an amazing cook, and I even have a difficult time fathoming at times that she is preparing three full meals for us a day, simply so we can have an immersive experience taking part in her culture.
It was only fitting that the first meal I had when I arrived was pepián, the national dish of Guatemala. Pepián is a meat stew prepared with different vegetables such as green beans, potatoes and carrots. Although I was excited to dive into this new cuisine, I already had fears of not liking the food my homestay mother was working so hard to graciously prepare for me.
I loved the pepián, but there have been plenty of meals here I have not liked. I find myself having a hard time balancing how to be polite while still conveying my needs at times. It always seems scary, even rude at times, to tell someone who has gone through all of the trouble and effort to prepare a meal for you that you are still finding the parts of the cuisine you like best. While I cannot speak for all homestay families, my host mother has made clear that she is never upset if I don’t like something. She understands that many of the dishes and ingredients in them are new to me and more than anything, she is happy that I am still eager to try new foods each day!
I have truly enjoyed getting to explore Antigua as I navigate my new terrain. The aesthetic charm of the cobblestone streets provides a wonderful challenge on the days I choose to wear sandals. But, as I look at the ground to ensure I don’t trip, I find myself gazing down in amazement at these roads that were laid down centuries ago.
The history of this city has fascinated me and left me enamored with many of the stories its people have to tell. Being granted the opportunity to walk through the ruins of Mayan villages and churches has given me a new appreciation for the history that builds the cities we live in.
Many of the churches and large-scale buildings that can be seen today in Guatemala follow an octagonal design in the base, windows and roofing because they are more structurally sound against the earthquakes that left so much of the city in ruins centuries before. I have already learned so much not only about the history and culture of this country but also about myself as I cultivate a deeper understanding of the world.
The word Guatemala translates to the “Land of Many Trees” in the Mayan language, and it could not be more true. From the moment I looked down from the airplane window, my eyes were stunned at the beauty of this lush country, and my amazement has only grown since then. In the little time I have been here, I have gotten to see so many new plants and animals, and I even witnessed a volcano erupt!
My eyes have never felt so open as I get to experience things I had only ever seen on television before – I quite literally thought I was looking at the largest parrot I’d ever seen until someone told me it was a blue macaw! It has been truly breathtaking to live life and learn through the lens of the Guatemalan people and I still have so much to take in.
While this is only the beginning of my time here in Guatemala, I already have so much enthusiasm to discover what the next six weeks hold for me. I know my love for nature will only grow with each new flower and tree I come across. And my passion for clothing and cultural garments will only deepen as my knowledge of tribal techniques sparks my desire to learn more about the meaning behind clothes for many of the indigenous villages here.
My hope for my time in this program is to develop a better understanding of people and learn new ways to foster connection, growth and learning between different groups of people, even outside of the classroom!
This post was contributed by Morgan Thompson, a Global Ambassador for Summer 2022. Morgan is a fourth-year public relations major studying abroad in Antigua, Guatemala.