Mi Casa Es Tu Casa

Lindsey Faust, News Editor

As we stepped through the threshold of the automatic doors of the airport, hauling carry-on’s and rolling suitcases, a rush of sweet warm air surrounded us, and we were confronted with the sound of dozens of voices directing travelers to autobuses in rapid Spanish.

Three native Guatemalans approached us in matching T-shirts, introducing themselves slowly and guiding us onto a rickety autobus. Wide-eyed and chattering as we hurtled through Guatemala City, we snapped photos of anything and everything that was lit up against the Central American night sky.

We had arrived, and it was beautiful.

This summer, a group of 13 students took a trip to Guatemala sponsored by the Spanish department, staying there for two weeks as part of an immersion program. The students, ranging from sophomores to seniors, stayed in the homes of locals in the touristic city of Antigua Guatemala and attended La Unión Centro Lingüístico, an international school focused on teaching Spanish to natives of other countries, as well as going on multiple excursions to experience everything that Guatemala had to offer us.

Whether it was ziplining down a mountain overlooking a gorgeous lake, climbing an active volcano, or navigating the largest outdoor market in Central America, there was plenty for us to do – but not until we’d had our daily dose of education.

For four hours a day, we spent one-on-one time with our personal instructors, learning conventions of the Spanish language and how to apply it better than we’d learned in school. By the end of the two weeks, we were chatting with our guides confidently and fluently, like we’d never done before.

Junior Abby Starck was amazed at the bonds formed in the 13 days us American students spent with our Guatemalan “families” and tour guides.

“They were  so accepting and open were towards us,” Starck said. “ No matter where we came from, they came to us with open arms,  ready to accept us into their family.”

All of us experienced the openness and warmth of the Latin culture that is often in stark contrast with the customs of American society.

We made friends with everyone we met, from our teachers at La Unión to the owners of the bread shop to the street vendors who sell candles and blouses outside the town’s cathedral. La Unión’s school motto is “Mi Casa Es Tu Casa” – “My House is Your House.”

Both literally and figuratively, the people we met and grew close to in Guatemala let us into their homes and took care of our every need, allowing us to completely submerge ourselves in the culture and lifestyle of this incredibly different country.

In two weeks, we learned so much. But perhaps what meant the most was reflecting on just how much we had here in the United States.

Among our adventures during our excursion-filled afternoons were eye-opening visits to a daycare center in the middle of the city and a school high up in the mountains, where we watched the children vie for our attention and become ecstatic over the stickers, stuffed animals, and coloring book pages we handed them.

“It showed me that I take so much for granted, such as clean water,” Starck said. “I get upset over the littlest things, but kids there, who have nothing, have smiles on their faces.”

Our somber autobus ride back to the airport at the end of our stay was nearly the polar opposite of the one we had taken the night we arrived – instead of exclaiming eagerly and excitedly at every new building or billboard we saw, we sat in near-silence in the early-morning dark, soaking in every last view of the landscape we’d grown to know and love.

And as we settled into our seats on the airplane, we looked back through the photos on our cameras and hoped that we would remember the people in them, and the things they taught us, forever. I know we all will.