Student Shares Perspective on Study Abroad in Guatemala

Jessica Mendoza, Staff Writer 

During the spring semester of 2020, I studied abroad in Guatemala through Augsburg’s Center for Global Education and Experience. The program was called Peace, Justice and Community Engagement in Central America. 

It was my first time traveling outside the U.S and I was nervous about what to expect. The first memories I made once I arrived were of the busy, colorful streets and hot sun making everyone in the taxi sweat. During the program I took a Central American Literature course as well as a history course on Guatemala. My history course was the first exposure I had to learning about the Guatemalan internal conflict (1960-1996). During this conflict the Guatemalan government persecuted Mayan Indigenous groups in extreme manners. Large numbers of people were forcibly disappeared and any opposition to the government was met with death. Various guerrilla groups fought against the injustices of the government such as the Guerrilla Army Of The Poor (EGP – Ejército Guerrillero de los Pobres). Our professor told us that referring to the events between 1960 and 1996 in Guatemala as a civil war did not acknowledge that the government was using all of its might against groups that did not share the same access to weapons, food and other resources. Documentaries such as “When the Mountains Tremble and Granito” offer information about the conflict which I would recommend to anyone wishing to learn more. 

Another significant part of my study abroad experience was staying with several host families in different parts of the country. First I stayed with Keila, her husband Carlos and three children in Panajachel. Each day I would eat meals with them and then walk seven minutes to the nearby language school. My host mom Keila was welcoming and talked about many topics ranging from Machismo to her Mayan K’iche roots. We would walk to the market on Sundays and I would spend time in the evenings playing chess with her two daughters (both of whom only let me win once). I wasn’t ever too homesick but there were times I started to miss my family. Making Tik Tok videos and coloring with the children helped me overcome those moments. 

The second family I stayed with was a young mother, her two year old daughter and her husband. She taught me to make tortillas and told me not to worry when they didn’t quite look like hers. We were only able to stay in her home for a week, but I enjoyed her sense of humor and delicious home cooked meals. The last family I stayed with was from Nebaj. Doña Francisca is a social worker that lives with her brother and mother. She would constantly have guests over who were local community organizers, writers and spiritual leaders. I enjoyed speaking with each visitor and learning about their cultural perspectives. 

My short time in Guatemala held many learning experiences that allowed me to understand Central American better. Although things are uncertain given our current situation with COVID restrictions, I encourage anyone considering studying abroad to research programs to participate in when these opportunities become available again.