Beth Mattern - 2016 Program Participant

What inspired you to go abroad?

I love working with and meeting new people, and I have had an itch to try a new life experience. After some research, I knew my passion for people and education while traveling was something I couldn't pass up.

Why did you choose Teaching You El Salvador?

I chose to travel with Teaching You because my questions were answered completely and quickly. I felt a trust with Joaquin through our interactions and I was able to be in touch with other volunteers that he has had recently working with his program.

Volunteer teacher hugging students in El Salvador
Being greeted by some of the students and the principal on my last day in Santa Tecla.

What was your favorite part about El Salvador?

I loved the people of El Salvador. Everyone was so hospitable and wanted to make sure I had a great time and really saw the best of El Salvador. Also, the food was a plus!

Did anything about life in El Salvador surprise you?

I was surprised by three things:

1. How wonderful the people of El Salvador are. Everyone was welcoming and went out of their way to make sure I was enjoying my stay.

2. The pollution. There was severe air pollution that at times made me nauseous, and they would throw trash on the ground or out the bus window.

3. The country is beautiful! From the volcano to the beach, the entire country is gorgeous!

How did local staff support you throughout your program?

Joaquin was always around to give me tips on where to get anything I needed, walk with me to school, and arrange weekend travel so I could see El Salvador.

How difficult was it to communicate with locals?

I had some struggles with communication but was always able to work them out. I struggle to learn languages and it showed. I tried hard to pick up as much as I could and was able to communicate at a decent level. People were taken aback by my six foot frame, blond hair, and accent. At times, those were the barriers because they would freeze and not listen to what I was saying. If I was with a Salvadoran, they almost always defaulted to speaking to them to understand what I was saying. Google translator was my friend!

Santa Ana Volcano, El Salvador
The view of a volcano from the Santa Ana volcano, what an amazing experience.

What is one thing every participant should know before participating in your program?

Everyone needs to know that you need to be flexible and go with the flow while teaching in El Salvador. There is on-time, and then there is El Salvador time. They are not the same at all.

Describe a typical day in the life of your program.

Typically, I would wake up and get ready for school, and eat breakfast at my host house. I would walk to school and spend the morning teaching. During the lunch break, I would walk home, run an errand or two along the way, and either eat lunch at my favorite puposa maker or bring home supplies to make lunch. In the afternoon, I would go back to school to finish my classes for the day. In the evening, I would either make dinner, go to the volunteer house to make sure I had what I needed for school the next day, or go out to dinner with my family or Joaquin. I was in El Salvador during the summer Olympics, and my host family and I enjoyed watching the Olympics together at night.

What did you enjoy doing in your free time?

I traveled to all parts of El Salvador. I still think of the beach on a daily basis. I went to the markets, local restaurants, did some shopping, and also tried to earn my keep with my host family.

What was your accommodation like? What did you like best about it?

My accommodation was fantastic. I had my own bedroom and bathroom. I had a nice sized bed and my shower had a water heater on it!

What made your experience abroad unique?

Living with a host family made my experience unique because I was able to really see the day to day life of people living and working in Santa Tecla. My hosts loved making me traditional food and wanted to make sure I was having an authentic experience. My host family was what put my trip to El Salvador over the top, because they did so much for me to make me feel welcomed and to make sure I experienced El Salvador.

Sunset over a beach in El Salvador
The beach at sunset in El Salvador - definitely a can't miss!

What is one thing you wish you would have known before volunteering abroad in El Salvador?

I wish I would have realized how much easier life would have been had I spoke better English. I made it work but I wish I was better at language than I am. Oh, the bus system is CRAZY! The food is amazing! Puposas are life changing!

Do you have any packing tips for individuals headed to El Salvador?

I would bring a little of everything. I made a small first aid kit with as much as I could think of. I needed very little of it, but was happy to have it. Depending on where you are staying, you may need to bring your own towel. I did a lot of research for my packing and it paid off. Bring bug spray, sunscreen, allergy medicine, materials to fix a small cut, a good water bottle to refill, and two toothbrushes in case you have stomach issues (then you can toss the one you were using away and still have a back-up).

What was the hardest part about volunteering abroad?

One of the hardest parts was adjusting to what El Salvador considers safe. I always felt safe and at times I thought precautions were extreme. However, I never had an issue so I can't say their precautions were wrong. There is a different philosophy on safety that is engrained in their culture.

What's one thing you wish you would have done differently?

Nothing can prepare you for the lifestyle and cultural differences from your home and a foreign country. Just having this experience will better prepare me for future travel.

Now that you're home, how has your time abroad impacted your life?

I am much more appreciative of what I have, specifically air conditioning and warm running water. I think about the people I met in El Salvador all the time and kind of long for the simplicity of what life felt like while I was in El Salvador. People first and everything else second.

Mayan ruins in El Salvador
Sitting on the steps of the Mayan ruins in El Salvador

Would you recommend Teaching You El Salvador to others? Why?

I definitely recommend Teaching You as a company to travel with. I had so much fun, and learned so much about working with people and experiencing life in general. Everything I could have wanted in a travel program was taken care of for me; I always felt safe, had a great teaching experience, and was able to see the country, all with the help of Joaquin.

If you could volunteer abroad again, where would you go?

I would definitely go back to Latin or South America. I feel there is so much to see and the people were so wonderful that I would love to travel there again.