This past spring break, I had the amazing opportunity of traveling to Guatemala with a group of 20 Hope College students for an immersion trip. Immersion trips are exciting ways to get to know other students, travel (whether nationally or internationally) and have a faith-oriented experience. My team only met once or twice before the trip, so we hardly knew each other when we embarked on a three hour bus ride, two plane rides and a car ride all the way to Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala. Our group worked through a long term missions program called Students International. What we loved about this group is that they are long term missionaries. They have already built a proper foundation and they know the community of Magdalena and what it needs. Getting to join this team of wonderful, God-loving people and being a small part of a much bigger picture was not only more effective but also more rewarding. Students International has several different sections that cater to different people’s talents. There were sites for sports, social work, special ed and others.
I was able to teach and work in the creative arts school every morning, painting and talking to various community members mostly children. It was beautiful to be so immersed in the town and in the culture. I was forced to speak a lot of Spanish despite my small knowledge of the language. We also had a couple free hours in a larger city in Guatemala called Antigua. Antigua, with its cobblestone streets and bright buildings, was my favorite place by far. The culture was so apparent in every store, every food and every person.
The people are not nearly as time-oriented as we can be. When walking with some locals, we would talk and stroll for over an hour on our way to our next location. It was unusual for me; since I am so used to running from class to class. They are also extremely family-oriented. I had the privilege of staying with a host family in town, who had rooms for us to sleep in and cooked us meals all week. The mom, dad and two sons would often eat dinner with us; and it was remarkable to me how willing they were to take time out of their schedules, sitting patiently with us. There was something so comforting about this relaxed pattern of time.
One of the craziest parts of the trip was hiking one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes, Pacaya. The hike was almost five miles round trip but by the time we made it to the top and saw the breathtaking, mountainous view of Guatemala, we knew that every single step was worth it. Hiking Pacaya was a physical accomplishment and an emotional accomplishment for my team as a whole. We encouraged each other and cheered one another on the entire way up.
By the time we were taking the bus back to the airport, we had learned so much about Guatemala, about ourselves and about our God. I would highly recommend immersion trips to anyone that is considering one. They are a great way to make friendships and delve head first into cross-cultural experiences. I cannot wait to start planning a trip back!