“It’s Not Weird, It’s Different!”

Hola from Guatemala! If you weren’t already aware, we landed safely and are thoroughly enjoying the warm spring weather. Our first week has been one full of new experiences and routines. From trying new foods, to meeting our host families, to communicating through the language barrier, we have seen so much in a very short amount of time.

We had the opportunity to spend our first four days in Guatemala at beautiful Camp Adulam. It was in this tropical paradise that we got to reconnect as a team, learn about the country’s cultural expectations, and practice some basic Spanish to help us get around. There were also multiple memorable moments, including having a cat find its way into our room in the middle of the night, fireworks going off in the evenings, and Spanish music playing all through the night from a nearby party. Each of these events adding to the list of interesting differences between Canada and Guatemala. Having grown up accustomed to our home culture in Canada, we often walk into a new culture seeing everything as “weird”. We learned in orientation that it is important to recognize that much of what we experience is not going to be the same as at home. Thus the phrase “it’s not weird, it’s different” came into play.

I think one of the highlights of our time at Adulam was the afternoon that we went down to the local soccer field and played with a few of the kids in the neighbourhood. It was probably quite a sight to see 24 white people walking down the streets of the small town to the soccer field inviting people to play with them, but there were a few kids that decided to join. As a group of us organized teams and began the game, others talked with two girls from the town and started a game of tag. Soon everyone was running around and laughing, high five-ing and having a grand old time under the warm afternoon sunshine. Later we got an early Spanish lesson from the two young girls, who had joined us beside the field. We pointed and asked what certain objects were called in Spanish, and in turn shared what some of the English words for them were as well. They seemed to really enjoy teaching us a little bit of their language, and hearing some of the funny sounding words that English had.

Soon enough the weekend arrived, which meant that we were about to meet our Guatemalan host families and begin our journey into the Spanish language. We spent that Sunday in Antigua. We went to a Spanish/English church, drove up to the famous Cross on the Hill that overlooked Antigua, explored the central square in Antigua, and then drove up to San Juan del Obispo to meet our soon-to-be families.

We were all a bit nervous (some more than others!) but when names were called and people saw their “moms” for the first time, there were lots of smiles. As many can attest, the remainder of that night was pretty awkward. Sitting at the dinner table with a family you don’t know, a language you can’t understand, and sometimes food you’ve never eaten is daunting. But we all managed to make the best of it. You learn that “when in doubt, use your hands” is quite a true statement. Gestures make a world of difference with language barriers.

The next day brought us to Mundo Spanish School, where we were put in groups and began to learn basic phrases and words. I really liked the way that we were taught. It was interactive and got us to use everyday scenarios to help us remember the words. There was one game in particular that I remember quite well. We were learning our directions (up, down, left, right, forwards, backwards) when the teacher brought out a paper sheet with a picture of a fruit basket on it. It was basically pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but fruit basket style. Someone would be blindfolded and given a paper cutout of one of the fruits, and it was our job to direct them to the correct spot using the Spanish direction words we had just learned. I won’t be forgetting those words any time soon. At the end of the day we got to celebrate Guatemalan style – with a Minion piñata. A few people took turns hitting the piñata as we guided them in Spanish, until finally it broke and we got to grab some candy. It was quite a fun ending to our first day.
It’s been a great week and we are all looking forward to the adventures that lie ahead.

¡Hásta Luego!