By Abby Willms
The second week in Guatemala was one that stretched and pushed our group – each in unique ways. It was a week of unknowns and with that came understandable anxieties, questions and uncertainties. As we have all become well aware of (and I’m sure many of you at home have as well), Outtatown is not a program that shies away from encouraging each and every student to push themselves and to look for opportunities that inspire growth or present opportunity to learn – whether it be personal growth, spiritual growth or the growth of our worldviews (or, as so often happens on Outtatown, all three in one!).
As Sunday rolled around and we left our gracious hosts at Semilla, there was much excitement in the air, however, there was also a distinct presence of anxiety that accompanied leaving both a comfortable place and the comfort of the group setting we had grown so accustomed to – both in first semester and the first week in Guatemala. This was a time where we were invited to sit in the inevitable awkwardness and discombobulation that would ensue both from the absence of the group and the presence of a new family – a family we knew little about except that they would speak only Spanish. As we gathered at the Mundo Spanish school in San Juan del Obispo and saw the smiling faces of 25 kind, welcoming host families, the muddled anxious/excited feeling turned to one of mostly excitement. We sat down in the grass, and one by one were called to meet our host families. We were all so grateful for the friendly smiles, hugs and photos that greeted us.
My host mom, host sister and her cousin had come to meet me and walk me home. They insisted on carrying my monstrosity of a bag – which gave us much reason for laughter on the way home (thank goodness laughter is a universal language!). While I struggled immensely to come up with even one coherent sentence on the walk home, they were incredibly gracious and even without being able to communicate verbally, I felt comfortable and at home. That evening as I settled into my new room and met the rest of the family – including several aunts and uncles, two grandparents, three cousins, my host brother and sister, host parents and their dog – I was overwhelmed and so incredibly thankful for their hospitality, something I will never forget.
The next morning we met back at the school and exchanged stories of the previous night – most of which included embarrassing Spanish mistakes, laughter, yummy food and the overarching theme of generosity and incredible hospitality. Following the quick exchange of stories, it was time to meet our Spanish teachers and start orientation – which included fun games, introduction to some basic phrases and an interview that helped them sort us into learning groups for subsequent days.
The following days were ones of adjustment and exploration. Each morning we met at the school for four hours of Spanish instruction and each afternoon we partook in activities that helped us learn more about both San Juan and Antigua and practice the Spanish we were learning in class– both through formal tours and through simply walking the cobblestone streets and returning the welcoming smiles and “buenos tardes” that others so willingly shared with us. I think I can speak for the group when I say this was a week that stretched us but also provided immense opportunity to be grateful and to celebrate the gift of relationship and community.