Guatemala Immersion: Integrating Academics, Service, Vocation, and Faith

Contributed by Regan Postma-Montaño

Caitlin Skiba ’19 plays with children while their mothers learn to sew at the women’s social work site. Photo: Regan Postma-Montaño

This spring break, 19 Hope College students and I headed to Magdalena Milpas Altas, Guatemala on a 9-day adventure in Spanish language, Guatemalan cultures, service learning, vocational discernment, and faith formation. We lived with Guatemalan families and served alongside long-term Students International staff. Our team supported projects focused on building community by assisting at various sites: medicine, education, special education, sports, microfinance, sponsorship, creative arts, and women’s social work. When not at our sites, we worshiped at a local church, played soccer with host siblings, hiked up a volcano, and visited cultural sites in Antigua.

Jubilee Jackson ’19 plays soccer with team members and host siblings. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

One of my favorite parts of this immersion trip was seeing students at all levels strive to communicate in Spanish. At the women’s social work site, I watched as Spanish minor Caitlin Skiba ‘19 translated the story of site-director Sheny for the group. Later that day, I hummed along as intermediate student Clare Martin ‘18 sang a well-known song “Océanos” in Spanish. Whether enrolled in Spanish I or an advanced literature class or growing up in a Spanish-speaking home in the US, students persisted in communicating and found joy in using their Spanish to help others. There is something exciting about being able to connect through language, and this excitement grew throughout our time in Magdalena.

As a faculty member, I also enjoyed conversing with students as they integrated academics, service, vocation, and faith. More than once students connected what they were learning in various classes, including Spanish, feminist theory, microfinance, and world religions, with their experiences in Guatemala. These conversations on the mile-long walk to the community center, before lights-out, and on the flight home allowed students to integrate their head knowledge with their desires to serve and realities of the community in Guatemala.

Perhaps this integration is best articulated in a Emily Ureste’s ‘18 words (Majors: Spanish, Social Work):

The combination of being involved in local life in the town through host families, speaking Spanish, participating in a site that pertains to my interests and promotes sustainability and empowerment, and growing as a Christian and a team member was incredible. In regard to Spanish, I recently took a linguistics class at Hope, so learning the local slang and dialect was invigorating for me as I was able to incorporate what I learned in my classes. In addition to this, the trip involved many of the themes from Spanish IV and Latin American literature classes, such as indigenous rights in Guatemala and the film El Norte. Essentially, this trip allows the classroom to come alive in the real world.

Autumn Smith ’20 and Emily Ureste ’18 tour the city of Antigua. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

Emily’s experience is representative of the many abroad experiences that the Department of Modern and Classical Languages supports, including spring break, May term, and semester-long abroad programs. As can be seen in her words, these trips offer students the possibility of learning in hands-on settings while receiving the support of faculty members in their field.

A flower carpet (alfombra de flores) covers an Antiguan street in preparation for Holy Week. Photo: Cecilia O’Brien ’21

In all, I am thankful to companion these students while they serve, communicate with the local community, and discern their callings. We have started planning for 2019, so let us know if you are interested in serving next year in Magdalena Milpas Alta, Guatemala!

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