The shores of Central America were calling and I rode the waves. Some lifted me, others threw me.
Your time as a student in Guatemala can be a unique experience, you’ll get to make unique memories in a place like no other. Follow these tips to make the most of your time in Guatemala.
My school sent me to Guatemala with the classification of an intermediate Spanish speaking student. That was a joke. After four years of high school Spanish and one year in college, I still struggled to get outside of the conversation “Hola, comó estás?” Out of fear of being rejected, I spoke in English whenever I had the chance. What I learned, however, was how accommodating and encouraging people were. You’re there to get familiar with the culture and way of life. Getting comfortable with the native tongue is the best way you can do this. Go ahead and make mistakes. As with most things in life, you’ll only become better for them.
Even if you aren’t good at it. Go to the local disco-tech and let someone swing you around. You don’t have to stay with them all night. They don’t have to buy you a drink. Start off with some Merengue, it’s simple and easy to follow. It’s your basic one-two-three-four pattern. If you show up a little early, a lot of places will teach you the basics to Salsa or Bachata. Just participate and laugh. Who knows, you may end up loving it!
Responsibly. You’re in a foreign country after all. The tequila may be flowing, but be reasonable. Safety is the most important thing. That being said, you’re young and want to experience their way of life. Take a shot or two and get back out there and dance. The next morning when you have the headache, go to the local coffee shops. Not only do they offer the richest coffee around, the vibe at many of the coffee houses provides an indie feel and the people who come in will usually catch your eye on way or another. You can meet some interesting people that way. Grab a mug and strike up a conversation.
Make yourself a regular somewhere. Let the people who work somewhere start taking notice of you and talking to you. It’s a great way to practice your Spanish. Secondly, I know many people who were offered part time jobs this way. It’s a chance to get out the house and to keep learning. Your best lessons won’t come from the school work. The best lessons will come from being right there in the thick of it. Working, talking, and forming better relationships. But the only way to do this is to put yourself out there continually and make good relationships with those around you.
I can’t stress enough how the most important thing to literally surviving is your safety. I’ve been mugged not only once while in Guatemala, but twice. And while this doesn’t deter me from telling anyone to visit - I seriously think you should- it does make me want to issue a word of caution. If you are out late, don’t walk alone. If you’re female, make sure to have a male with you. Try to carry with you as little as possible. Hold on to your backpack in front of you if you are in a crowded area. Most people who’ll try to rob you, will not hurt you, they just want your stuff. Should you have your passport snagged away from you three days before your plane is supposed to take off, your country’s embassy will become your best friend.
6. Fall in Love
Fall in love with something. A food you’ve never had before. A coffee shop with an amazing view. A song that you can’t just sit down to. A person who makes you nervous when they look your way. The deeper your emotions run in a particular place, the longer lasting your memories of it will be. This should be an experience which when you look back on it, you can’t help but smile.
7. Talk Some More
If you go down in a group, make a good friend or two you can go out with, but really concentrate on getting to know others. Get to know other travelers and get to know the locals. The only way to do this is to strike up a conversation. Spanish, English, whatever. Just try talking. The people you meet and the memories you make are what you’ll take away with you when you go home.
My time in Guatemala was an amazing experience. It went beyond the goal of learning the language and the culture better and past the cliché of getting to know myself. I learned about the funny way the universe works and how people, and relationships, are the foundations to anything you will do in life. So get out there and try new things, talk to new people, and immerse yourself in a new way of life. You won’t regret it. And if you do, adjust your mindset and realize that even in the sour moments you’re still learning.