Before leaving for my internship, I was full of anxiety. I spoke with a student who had visited El Triunfo, Guatemala so that I could get a general sense of what to expect. She told me that the community was very poor, some without electricity or running water. After hearing that, I did what any sane person would do; I loaded up on bug spray, hand and feminine wipes, clothes I didn’t mind throwing away, a heavy flashlight, and extra strength deodorant. I was expecting an uncomfortable summer. I even thought to myself a few times, “Why hadn’t I chosen a location with more amenities?” I was also anxious, because I was not sure if the community would understand me because of my limited Spanish-speaking skills. Would they think that I was completely stupid, because I could only form simple sentences? I am accustom to being able to speak eloquently which is something I knew would be harder for me to do in another language. In addition to thinking about what my life would be like in a poor rural Spanish-speaking community, I was challenged by my internship assignment. I spoke with the Director on the phone, and she wanted me to research accounting platforms and set her organization up on one. I have never taken accounting, but I was going to have to figure it out.
When I arrived in El Tirunfo, I just let all the anxiety go and allowed myself to take advantage of the opportunity. I chose this internship because I wanted to know more about community development and to practice language skills. In order to accomplish both of these goals, I had to speak with the community. I gave myself permission to sound simple and stupid at times in order to ask community members questions to better understand their reality. This was the best choice I ever made. I asked about political, gender, economic, environmental, family planning, and many other social issues. Because people saw that I was interested in their lives, they looked past my poor language skills and often held long conversations with me, using gestures when necessary. I grew from that, because I was learning about the community while actively practicing the language. I learned their stories. I learned what was important to them, what they valued and why. For the moment I opened my mind to not judging their values but trying to understand them.When I opened myself to these possibilities, then was when I grew. During the summer, there were many instances where those around me touched my heart in very special ways. The night before I left to go to Antigua, Guatemala before returning to the states, most of the young people visited me, giving me letters and hugs. I was going to miss them.
In Antigua, I wanted to challenge myself and climb Volcano Pacaya. Of the foreigners on the tour, I was one of the only ones who understood the tour guide. I was able to ask him about his life in Guatemala. Without any hesitation, he shared it with me. Today, I would not say that I am fluent in Spanish, but I am certainly more than proficient. Additionally, I mastered that accounting platform I set up for the Director and all of these things, forming lasting relationships, improving my language skills, and learning accounting on the spot, makes me feel good.