Amy Brown - 2014 Program Participant

Jardin de Amor in Guatemala

Jardin de Amor- English teaching placement.

What inspired you to volunteer abroad? Why Guatemala?

Ever since high school I had been wanting to go somewhere outside of the country but I didn’t want it to be a typical vacation, staying at a nice hotel and eating at fancy restaurants. I wanted to make myself useful. And when I did research and found out people could teach English and work with children abroad I was all for it, especially being an elementary education major in college. Learning Spanish starting in elementary school was a big reason why I wanted to go to a Spanish speaking country to use my skills.

What made you choose IVHQ over other volunteer organizations?

Money was a big factor in my decision. I looked at other programs but IVHQ offered the same things (a homestay, in-country support) for a fraction of the price as some of the other companies, and as a broke college student that was important. Other than that, I heard great reviews from other volunteers about IVHQ so I knew it was the real deal.

What type of accommodation did you have in Guatemala? What did you like best about it?

The accommodations were similar to that of a hostel. Volunteers share rooms with each other in a big house and eat meals together, which is a great way to meet new people. And don’t worry about going hungry because the local women who cook are fabulous!

Describe a typical day volunteering in childcare work in Guatemala

Everyone’s placement was a little bit different, but for me I would take a 30 minute bus ride to a smaller city outside of Antigua. Once there, I would start off the morning teaching a big group of eight to nine year old for about 40 minutes. After them I would teach a few older students, have a short break, then I would teach my final class of the day. All of the classes took planning on my part outside of the scheduled volunteer hours since I chose to make activities based on all of the students’ English levels. I never taught the same lesson to another class.

Chicken buses in Antigua, Guatemala

Chicken buses, the local form of transportation.

What was the most memorable experience you had volunteering abroad?

Taking a day long trip to visit Lake Atitlan was probably the most memorable. It is a gorgeous lake surrounded by green mountains and our boat stopped at three small villages, each one unique. Pictures just didn’t do it justice.

How did the local IVHQ staff support you throughout your program?

The IVHQ staff took care of all of the business before departure. This included answering any questions I had, sending me the volunteer handbook, and making sure I was up to date on payments, flight schedules, etc. Once in Guatemala, Maximo Nivel gave us the orientation, took us to our placements the first day, and came to visit us at our placements to make sure everything was working out.

What challenges did you encounter while volunteering in Guatemala?

Teaching English to the students in general was a challenge. There was so much I wanted to teach them, but since my time was very limited I had to pick and choose what to teach the kids. I could tell it was hard for them to have a new English teacher every few weeks.

What advice would you give to others who are interested in volunteering with IVHQ in Antigua?

I would tell them to have fun, but that they’re also there to work. Most placements only take up about four hours each day, so put as much energy into working as possible and then have fun after! Also, while in Guatemala make sure to not let those unpleasant stereotypes about Americans seem true to the locals.

If you could, why would you volunteer abroad again? Where would you most like to go?

I’d love to learn about many more cultures and communicate with the local community. Going on a typical vacation just doesn’t offer this type of experience. If I were to volunteer again it would hopefully be somewhere in South America, maybe Chile of Peru. There are so many good options!

What was your favorite part about volunteering in Antigua?

The people! Everyone was so nice and helpful that even walking to the bus stop I had people ask if I needed directions. Some people think Guatemala isn’t a safe place to travel, but during my two weeks in the country I never once felt unsafe. Just make smart decisions and you’ll be fine!

Overlooking the city of Antigua, Guatemala

Top of hike overlooking the city of Antigua.

Would you recommend IVHQ’s program in Antigua to others?

I would definitely recommend this program to college students or those who have just graduated and want to do something meaningful for a few weeks. Volunteer programs are popular for this age group, but there were also several older adults volunteering as well.  IVHQ was quick to answer questions and provided the right amount of support for travel preparations.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

It’s hard to think of anything I would change about the program because in general I had a great experience. But one suggestion I would have for future volunteers is to learn a bit of Spanish beforehand. That way the volunteer work is more efficient and you will seem to be more of a help if you can talk to the locals on site.

How have your experiences volunteering in Guatemala impacted your life?

I now feel more confident traveling abroad even if it means going alone. Before this experience even going through airports was stressful, as embarrassing as that is to say. It was intimidating at first to figure out transportation and day to day life in a foreign country, but now I feel I have a better grasp on these essentials for traveling.