Hannah is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Major: Public Health: Community Advocacy
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I had been looking at the CSBSJU Study Abroad programs since I was a junior in high school. The programs offered at CSBSJU played an influential role in my college decision-making process. I knew I wanted to challenge myself by living outside of the US while I was a student and while I had a support system of classmates and friends both abroad and back home. Upon entering CSB I was interested in a few programs in Europe, however, I quickly realized that my study abroad goals would be best attained in a non-traditional program. I was deciding between South Africa and Guatemala up until the application deadline. I reached out to seniors who had recently returned from both programs and also reached out to Roy Ketchum who was a program director in Guatemala. Everyone I talked to tried to convince that their program was the best, however, I realized that Guatemala would be best for me based on the language immersion program, service learning opportunity, outdoorsy excursions, and host family stay!
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
I was greatly intimidated by my first language teacher at our school. I came to class each morning feeling very inadequate in my Spanish speaking abilities and frustrated that I hadn’t become fluent by week one *cue eye roll at my naivety*. I wished that my maestro would give me worksheets and verb charts and lists of new vocab so that I could learn the language quickly in similar ways to how I learned Spanish prior. Instead, he frequently went off on tangents and told me stories of his home, his family, his hopes, his childhood, and his cute little puppy. We also took “field trips” to the nearby market where he attentively introduced me to new sights, smells, and sayings that I would hear often in the streets. He also waited patiently while I struggled to barter with vendors and gave me grace when I ate almost all the delicious fruits he bought for my classmates and me to try. By the end of our three weeks together, I had to come to realize that he wasn’t “wasting” my class time nor was I missing out on advancing in my Spanish proficiency. Instead, I was getting practice in comprehension, conversational language, and became quicker in my responses and questions. Our last class together was spent discussing our opinions, fears, and ideas within community health, education, and immigration policy. Of course, I still struggled to relay the right words for my thoughts and emotion, but I had learned that I can feel comfortable in the unknown of a language I will probably stumble with forever. In our weeks together, we also had the special opportunity to learn about the traditional clothing of Guatemala and gave presentations dressed in hand-woven skirts and blouses with intricate details representing the landscape, flora and fauna, blood, and pride of Guatemaltecos. It was truly an honor to partake in such a grand gesture of hospitality and to feel the pride that my teacher had in sharing his home with us!
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
It is hard to describe how significant the experience was for me. Beyond sustaining the knee injury and Guatemala is a country of extremes and my experience was nothing short of this! One week I found myself in the bathroom for a few days thanks to food poisoning. (Host family meals are great! However, the street food warnings aren’t kidding around.) Nonetheless, the following weekend I was climbing to the highest peak in Central America to watch the sunrise on the morning of my 21st birthday! As great as these peaks and valleys were in my time in Guatemala, some of my fondest memories were the simpler moments of hospitality, connection, and finding tranquility in the chaos of a new world around me.
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?
As an individualized Public Health major, I was able to complete public health readings that focused on communities in Guatemala which counted as credits towards my major. In addition, the History course fulfilled my Humanities common core requirement! Although I am not a Hispanic Studies major or minor, learning a new language and having the personal experience of being an outsider in regards to language and cultural customs is invaluable as I hope to work with marginalized populations in the US in the future. In addition, having experience learning and speaking Spanish will be very beneficial for possible translation needs working within healthcare! There are many challenges that come with living four months with a new family, in a new country while speaking a new language! However, the skills and support system that is developed during this time built my resilience, empathy, and community which I believe will only be used for the better in my academic, professional and personal life!
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Don’t pick the program that most of your friends are going to and don’t pick the program that seems the easiest to integrate into! Know your goals for studying abroad and stay true to them in the decision-making process. Seek out advice from abroad alum while also understanding that your experience can and will be completely different from years past and even everyone who will go with you! Take chances before you leave, while you are there, and most definitely when you return. Lastly, keep asking questions until you are left with nothing else but to listen. We are excited for you and will be rooting for you along the way!