Kirsti Klaverkamp is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
Many people say this, and it's true for me too. I chose to study abroad because I wanted to immerse myself into a new culture. I am originally from St. Cloud and although I am so happy I came to Saint Ben's for college (I wouldn't have it any other way!), I had a desire to throw myself into a completely new environment, meet other people, and gain a different perspective of the world.I also wanted to go abroad to become more efficient in Spanish and complete my Hispanic Studies minor. It is much easier to learn and understand a second language when you are speaking it every day-you make more mistakes, but you learn so much more too!Finally, I craved adventure. I was eager to explore a new country and do things I never thought I could or would do. It was a thrill to think about traveling to a place where around every corner there was something new and exciting!For these reasons, I chose to study abroad in Guatemala. It offered culture-an interesting mixture of Spanish and Mayan heritage. It included the Spanish language-Guatemala is the only CSB/SJU program that has one-on-one language tutoring. And it presented adventure-you can experience city life while in Quetzaltenango, but there are also many outdoor recreational opportunities.
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
The value of time is one of the most memorable cultural experiences I have taken from Guatemala. Upon arriving, we quickly realized that the idea of time-being punctual, prompt, and efficient-doesn't seem to rule the Guatemalans' lives as much as it does to ours in United States. We were used to the hustle and bustle of college life-and of American life in general; however, Guatemalans take their time. When something is scheduled to start at 7pm, you can bet nothing will get rolling until 7:30pm. Class wasn't rushed because of a daily itinerary that needed to be completed accordingly. If discussion got off topic, it didn't matter as much. We were still learning and that's what was important. People stopped on the corners of streets to rest, chat with friends and acquaintances, or just because they felt like it-they were enjoying themselves and their days. All that standing around would be called loitering here!
We joked at the beginning of the semester, "Meet you at 8pm, Guatemalan time," meaning we would see each other around 8:30pm. By the end, Guatemalan time became natural. That's when I realized we really had assimilated ourselves into this new culture.I learned to take my time on things that I enjoy most or that matter most to me, and to appreciate simple things in life more. Life shouldn't be rushed. I am trying to remember that as I am back in "American time".
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
The night we got dropped off at our host families I freaked out a little-to say the least. I couldn't believe I had committed to studying abroad for a whole semester! However, after classes began and we met our teachers, after I got settled in my home, and after I realized all of the exploration and adventure that I awaited me, I was thrilled to be there.The teachers at Celas Maya are amazing. They have a lot of experience and knowledge to share, and you really get to know them during your one-on-one class time. My Spanish improved dramatically. I practiced Spanish everywhere I went (of course, you are forced to when you are living in a Spanish-speaking community), but it was in school when my teachers helped me correct my errors and learn from them. So, I owe a lot of my success to their personal tutoring. Class was also fun because some days you would end up having a conversation for over an hour and not realize that so much time had passed-or that you had done it all in Spanish! You leave Guatemala not only calling them your teachers, but your friends.It was interesting to learn how rich and alive the indigenous Mayan culture is in Guatemala. Many Guatemalans have found an intricate balance of celebrating both of their Mayan and Spanish heritages and customs, and we were able to be a part of this first hand.I also really enjoyed the outdoor adventures in Guatemala. I climbed four volcanoes, including the highest in Central America, Volcan Tajumulco, explored and swam in different caves, kayaked near the Caribbean, zip-lined through the rainforest, biked around Lake Atitlan, hiked up mountains, snorkeled above coral reefs...you name it!
Based on your experiences abroad, what are some of the benefits of spending a semester abroad? How has studying abroad contributed to your personal, academic, and professional development?
After studying abroad, I am a much more self-assured and confident person personally, academically, and professionally.
By getting to know a group of 20 people so well, I learned to love them for all of their quirks-and, I learned to love myself for all of my quirks. By living in a place separate from everything I used to know, I was able to learn more about what and who really matters most to me in life, what I want to do now, and what I hope to accomplish in the future.
When faced with a new challenge academically, I learned to rely on my previous knowledge and experience-and that sometimes I knew or could do more than I thought. However, I also learned that no one can know everything, and that it's okay to be unsure. What's important is that you are always asking questions and seeking to learn.
My academic development goes along with my professional development. By this I mean that I realized that I don't always have to know exactly where I am going or what I am doing. As long as I know my values and goals, I will find the right place (career) for me to succeed professionally.
All of the above are benefits of studying abroad, and I believe they all come from being immersed in a new culture. It is when you are in a new culture that you are forced to think about who you are in relation to the world, think about what that means, and think about what you want to do about it in the future. That's an incredibly unique experience.
Finally, let's be honest. Traveling and adventure are fun!
These are all benefits to studying abroad. Take advantage of the opportunity while you have it.
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
If you are considering studying abroad, consider no longer. Just do it! You will not regret it.
When you are planning to study abroad, my advice is to do everything you can. Enjoy your time there when you have it; it goes by SO quickly. After you get situated in your host country, make a mental list of some of the things you want to do and places you want to visit, but also leave room for spontaneity. Many wonderful new people and experiences appear out of nowhere. Let them present themselves to you; they can become the best memories of them all.
Do you have questions about studying abroad in Guatemala? Email Kirsti email@example.com.