Here’s to our internship with Maya Traditions in Panajachel, Guatemala this summer!
Below is our final blog post, consisting of our individual reflections from our experience working alongside Maya Traditions!
It has been a little over two weeks since my return to the States and not a day has gone by where I haven’t reminisced about my time spent in Guatemala and reflected on what I’ve taken away from my time spent there. If Guatemala taught me one thing it is that flexibility and adaptation are necessary elements for success in any aspect of life. In order to acclimate myself into and become accustomed to the laid-back and slow-paced Guatemalan lifestyle, I had to learn to be open-minded and willing to embrace the unfamiliar. Moreover, this translates into the workplace as well. Being able to adjust when a plan goes awry or when faced with unexpected bumps in the road is needed to overcome challenges faced to make the best of the situation. I’ve learned that plans cannot be expected to work out perfectly, as they often did not in Guatemala, and that having flexibility is necessary in order to move past these unexpected issues. This lesson I will keep with me forever as it will translate into every aspect of my life. I am so thankful to have learned so many valuable lessons during my time abroad, in addition to the amazing experiences I had.
My five weeks in Guatemala were so incredible, unexpected, and motivational that I find it difficult to describe them in words. I walked off my flight with a list of expectations and goals only to walk back on five weeks later with an entirely different perspective and list of life lessons learned. Perhaps these life lessons is what I took away most with my experiences during this project.
To start, I learned just how challenging and rewarding travel can be without parents or close family. While responsibility and organization fell straight on my shoulders this trip, I made amazing connections with the other project members as we all grew to depend on and share our experiences with each other. Through my constant interaction with Guatemalans I discovered just how similar I am to those whose cultures and lifestyles which appear so different from the first impression. My host family and coworkers helped me to realize all of our common values, goals, and interests. Finally, this trip to Guatemala helped me to adapt to and make the best of any situation. Travel, group work, and international projects hardly ever go exactly according to plan, and my five weeks in Panajachel were filled with adjustments, cooperation, and unplanned changes that benefited the entire project as a whole.
It has been nearly two weeks since returning from Panajachel, but it feels like only yesterday we were savoring our first taste of street food in the form of lime-squeezed corn-on-the-cob along Calle Santander, biking beside gleaming lakeside views of Lago Atítlan, and cooling off with well-earned Sarita’s banana splits. The past two weeks have hit me with a punch of suburban banality — sinking back into summer classes, catching up with high school friends, and readying myself for family roadtrips. A distinctive element of Pitt Nourish’s project this summer for me was how culturally immersive the entire experience was. Although nobody could mistake the seven of us for locals, hailing down tuk-tuks became commonplace after six weeks, and we had become so familiar with Pana’s marketplaces and shortcuts that none of us felt at all like tourists by the time we had to leave. Our host families embraced us into the amiable Guatemalan lifestyle with open arms and plates of steaming tamalitos and exchanging ¡buenos días! every morning to our neighbors helped to smooth our transition into the tranquil work life at Maya Traditions Foundation. Volunteering at Maya Traditions allowed us to experience the ways of life at different communities around Sololá through a local lens and better sense the foundation’s aim to preserve indigenous heritage by sustaining rural communities’ livelihoods through weaving cooperatives and community health clinics. Through the relentless rainy season and insects aplenty, we each learned lifelong lessons in adaptability, global healthcare objectives and necessities, and nonprofit-powered international development. I am so excited for our chapter to return next year to contribute to the success of Maya Traditions’ initiative, and I know our upcoming interns will have an incredible journey traveling through Guatemala and sharing an unforgettable adventure with each other!
There were several times during my stay in Guatemala when I questioned my initial reasons for going. Was I making the impact that I wanted to make at the NGO? Was I getting the cultural exploration and exposure I wanted? When will this god-awful traveler’s diarrhea end?
As it turns out, I wasn’t the only one mulling over these worries. In fact, these concerns helped our Pitt Nourish team members truly bond with one another and also became the driving force of our internal growth.
We divided the work to be done among the seven of us hungrily as we eagerly did what we came to do in Guatemala. We gained a sense of accomplishment as we created the products to sell in the States to raise awareness for Maya Traditions Foundation’s work and benefit the Maya artisan women. We gained a new insight into these women’s hard work and talent after learning how to back-strap weave from the masters themselves. We became honorary family members of our host families and enjoyed some of the most delectable Pepian chicken, rice, and tamales I’ve ever had. And on the days our colons pleasantly surprised us by adapting to some of the ethnic cuisines we were devouring, we were reminded of how far we’ve come–mentally and physically!–from being the people we were before we came to Guatemala.
Six weeks of culture, of experiences, of memories that will be cherished, laughed about, and definitely remembered for a lifetime.
As we worked alongside a well-established NGO and lived outside of the country independently, it has been a rollercoaster ride– one that was a bit rough in the beginning but smooth sailing by the end. Throughout the experience, I have learned to say guatever to times things haven’t gone as planned, and definitely learned to be flexible and to be creative with backup plans when the first and sometimes the second plan falls through. Working in the Maya traditions garden-cutting weeds, carrying rocks, digging dirt, I’ve learned a lot about naturopathic medicine and the importance of these preserving traditions. I’ve come to realize how often these roots are lost in this fast-paced modernized world, especially since I live with my first generation parents in America. I myself do not know much about my past generations and their Chinese heritage and traditions celebrated. Seeing the weaving that the women who work for Maya Traditions do for a living and actually trying to weave ourselves left me with a sense of awe and also appreciation for the hard work they do. And after this trip, it has really motivated me to dig deeper into my own culture and to learn more about my own history and heritage.
What I will take alway the most from these 6 weeks of Guatemalan culture is how I live, I mean really live. Being in America, I always look towards the future and never really appreciate each day as its own and I’m always so worried about the future that I forget that there’s only time to live in the present. It is important to live with an open mind, an open heart, ready to embrace everything and everyone that comes into your path, and the people that I’ve met in Guatemala have all taught me that. I without a doubt have had a wonderful experience here in Pana, and cannot imagine it any other way. And as the days go by from the daily adventures of boat rides across Lake Atitlan and buying 15 cent chocolate cupcakes from the local panaderia, I miss Panajachel and the people I met more and more.
And here’s to more adventures next year.
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