Signature Project Description
My STEP Signature Project entailed a service trip through Buck-I-Serv to Antigua, Guatemala, where eleven other group members and I worked with the local organization Constru Casa to build houses for three families in a nearby town. Our tasks included digging the foundation, mixing concrete, cutting rebar, preparing and carrying blocks, and other miscellaneous ways we could be helpful. I also served as one of the Spanish translators to facilitate communication on the worksite. We were able to explore Volcano Pacaya and roast marshmallows on its hot coals, experience the beauty of Lake Atitlan, bargain and shop in the markets, and learn about the history and culture of Guatemala through a knowledgeable tour guide and several museums, churches, and other sites.
I was fortunate to travel to Guatemala in 2015 to work with another organization building houses and interacting with indigenous families. However, I embarked on this trip with a new perspective and left with a new understanding of myself and the Guatemalan culture. In 2015 I barely knew Spanish and found it difficult to connect. This time, I served as one of the main translators and grew in both confidence and passion for the language and my ability to form and facilitate connections. I approached this project with more cultural humility and the realization that I needed to be open to learning and let go of expectations I had of Guatemala, the people, and the trip in general. This mindset was valuable during this trip and one that I can use whenever experiencing a new culture or idea.
An important takeaway from this trip for me is that, as human beings, we are all more similar than we are different. Focusing on these similarities and respecting the differences is one of the best ways to achieve progress. Despite the material poverty that afflicted the people we worked with, we were able to learn from each other and form relationships through the quality time we spent with one another. I also found it encouraging that despite the differences in backgrounds and beliefs of the eleven strangers I started this trip with, we all were able to work towards a common goal and consider each other close friends by the end.
Events, Interactions, Relationships, and Activities
Each worksite had four trip participants, several masons, and the family whose house was being built. The masons were patient with my Spanish and our groups’ construction abilities. They far exceeded us all in physical strength but appreciated and accepted our help with humility. We played soccer during the lunch breaks, an activity that allowed us to bond and have a lot of fun with the masons. Once again, their patience, humility, and dedication to bettering their community was evident and admirable.
The most memorable interactions I had were with the children of the family – two little girls aged five and six, and their eight-year-old brother. They were extremely shy the first couple of days, but eventually showed their playful sides after I asked if they wanted to help. I showed them how to hammer a hole in the concrete blocks and they enthusiastically joined in and wanted to participate in all the construction tasks. They asked to learn words in English and we doodled drawings together in a little sketch pad I brought. I was truly devastated leaving them after only a couple days, knowing I will probably not see them again but wanting to form a lasting relationship with their family.
The relationship Buck-I-Serv has fostered with our hosts Elvira and Enrique is incredibly valuable and contributed to my personal transformation during this project. They were welcoming and gracious hosts, who taught us about their country. They were also extremely grateful for the work we were doing in their community. I enjoyed the conversations I had with both Enrique and Elvira; they encouraged me to practice Spanish and shared interesting and hilarious stories about their lives.
As I mentioned before, we started this trip with twelve strangers but finished with a close group of friends. I feel very lucky to have experienced this trip with these selfless, compassionate, and hardworking people. Our late-night reflections were full of insightful, funny, and deep conversations that I will cherish.
Value of My Transformation
This project has been very valuable to my personal goals and future plans. It has reinvigorated my love of Spanish, which I feel had become stagnant after several years of monotonous classroom papers and exams. It challenged me to continue to learn and better my Spanish and to apply it to my professional goals and career. Furthermore, it made me regret not spending a semester studying abroad, but introduced me to the possibility of returning to work or volunteer in Guatemala. I am graduating a semester early this December and have already begun a search for opportunities abroad in the spring and summer. The value of cultural immersion is undeniable and greatly benefited me on this trip. It is something I would like to continue.
My trip to Guatemala has allowed me to reflect on my priorities and lifestyle. Although many of the Guatemalans we encountered experienced material poverty, their focus on faith, family, and community was refreshing. I want to live a more minimalist lifestyle and be more serious about my conservation efforts. It has challenged me to focus on forming relationships and recognize their value. This will help me focus on my career goals and be a contributing member of society.