Kendra is an Ambassador who studied abroad in Guatemala
Minor: Hispanic Studies
Why did you choose to study abroad and how did you decide on this program?
I had known that I wanted to study abroad since eighth grade, when I first found out that colleges gave you the opportunity to live and experience another way of being. I knew that I wanted to go to a place that I didn't know very much about, where I would really be forced to think about my experiences, where I might not be able to go in the future as easily on my own, and where I could be outdoors and in nature. After lots of pro/con lists, discussions with my friends and family, and probably too much indecisiveness, I finally decided that Guatemala was what I wanted out of a study abroad experience-and it was worth all the overthinking!
Briefly describe a specific cultural experience you had on your trip that made a lasting impression.
As a part of the program, each student does service-learning somewhere around Xela. I was placed into a preschool classroom in Zunil, a heavily agricultural town with a high indigenous population. I absolutely loved my Wednesday mornings at the school-my little kids were very affectionate and kind and intrigued at having an international student in their classroom. Frequently they would begin talking to me and I would ask them to repeat several times what they were trying to say, only to realize that they weren't speaking in Spanish, but in K'iche, one of the many Mayan languages spoken in Guatemala. I would struggle to bring the conversation back to Spanish, but most of the time, the only thing that mattered was the attention that I was giving to each of them. On my last day, my kids found out I would not be coming back and were quick to give me lots of hugs and little gifts of candy, letting me know that I would be missed and moving me to tears. I was so touched that these tiny people were so earnest and honest in their affirmation towards me, and I think that this experience reflects a lot about the Guatemalan people and their generosity and love, regardless of age.
Describe your overall study abroad experience.
Anyone who goes abroad will tell you that this is a very difficult question! During pre-departure orientations, I made many personal goals that I was super excited to accomplish; after just a week in Guatemala, I forgot what those goals were and still haven't bothered to look them up again. My new goal became to become as immersed as an American college student can possibly be in a new and different culture. From this goal, I made several strong friendships with Guatemalans that I hope to continue for many years, climbed up volcanos and mountains, ate lots of delicious food in my host family and around the city, and put in an effort to actually use the Spanish that I spent hours learning. Guatemala was a place that forced me to think about my identity and how that can change depending on your setting. I think about my time abroad every day, and continue to learn new things about myself and the world through lots of reflection.
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?
Living and studying abroad is an absolutely profound and beautiful experience. It is a rare opportunity to allow yourself to see, study, eat, learn, and live your way through a different culture, meeting new people and learning more about yourself through trial and error experiences. I continue to reflect nearly every day on my time abroad and how that experience had the power to shape me so intensely in such a short period of time. Being abroad made me appreciate the relationships that I have in my life, and also gave me a sense of those in my life who truly care about my well-being. It also put my time on campus into perspective. It made me remember that there exists a world outside of CSB/SJU and the stress that college can put on your shoulders. It was a gentle reminder to appreciate the little bubble that I have the privilege to live in during the semester. Academically, I realized that learning is more rewarding when you can put what you've learned into practice. It was incredible to start to feel comfortable using my Spanish outside of the school, applying what I had learned in class and being able to maneuver myself around Guatemala. Professionally, I feel more confused about what I want to do with my life...but it has made me more open to a plethora of opportunities and I feel more confident that I will end-up doing something that I love-no matter what that ends-up being!
What advice can you offer for CSB/SJU students who are considering or planning to study abroad?
Find someone or a group of people with whom you can reflect during and after your time abroad. You don't necessarily need to pour your heart out, but it is a great relief to be able to share your highs, lows, frustrations, and accomplishments while in a new place. Remember that you are not just studying or vacationing or touring a new country-you are living abroad, sharing and participating in a different culture, surrounded by another set of values and expectations. Immerse yourself as much as possible, but don't feel bad if you want to rest and do something familiar. Even the familiar can feel exciting while abroad.