[Note: A HUGE thank you to the 7th and 8th grade Westport Field Hockey Association parents for your generous donation to my fund!]
The scramble of months categorized as “Pre-Departure” for endeavors like a year volunteering abroad through WorldTeach is stressful, to say the least. [Working extra hours and jobs to save money, gathering visa paperwork, making oodles of appointments and somehow putting several hours of ESL classroom time into my already triple-booked work week – it makes for some headaches.]
I know that in exchange for the WorldTeach paperwork, fees and deadlines I’ll get extensive training, in-country support and resources, health insurance and, of course, 30+ gringos to share the experience. That’s a massive factor in this trip because as hermit-like as I can be, I need friends – and my study abroad pals are some of the best I’ve ever had.
[Note: Some people attest that hanging out with other Americans during semesters abroad is destructive to the cultural experience blah blah blah, but I wouldn’t trade my Spain and Ecuador friends for anything. And I managed to get some culture along the way.]
Then I did it on my own, and I had to dig down deep and toughen up in the beginning, but I succeeded. In many ways, Santiago Atitlan became more of a true home than Granada or Quito had. I had to forge my own comfort and depend entirely on myself and the kindness of the people I met there to create that home, rather than relate to those who were also out of their familiar environment. I can’t describe how grateful I am to the wonderful, caring individuals I met in Guatemala.
As I sit here dry-heaving from stress and anxiety, I’m a bit worried that being a WorldTeach volunteer will be detrimental to the utter independence and self-reliance I practiced in Guatemala. However, I know that I need WT’s support and training, and more than that, my school and students need me to have it. I’m accepting a full-time position and the pre-departure headaches are part of the contract.
That being said, WorldTeach has been nothing less than amazing and supportive since I started the application process in July, so I haven’t the slightest concern about my Colombian experience with this non-profit. Having worked in cultural exchange at AIFS the past nine months, I’m familiar with the gritty details on the other side and I really appreciate all their help thus far!