In September 2015 I spent a week volunteering in Guatemalaand can say, with certainty, that it was one of the best decisions I made and I cannot wait to do it again. For you new Guatemalan volunteers, I’ve put together a list of 5 things you should do to prepare for your adventure:
Tip One: Bring The Right Clothes
The week before I left, I started tracking the weather in Guatemala City and Antigua. I saw that it rained almost every day (I found out it was the “rainy season” when I got there). I made sure to bring a raincoat and umbrella, which I used every day. Also, read the IVHQ manual to find out how to dress for the Guatemalan culture. The women don’t usually wear shorts or skirts above the knee and wear higher necklines with sleeves, not tank tops. Since I wanted to blend in, not stick out, I made sure to dress appropriately and conservatively. Also, I usually don’t wear jewelry, but I also didn’t want a garish display of gemstones (not that I have any!). Be respectful of the Guatemalan dress codes and values.
Tip Two: Personal Safety
This was a big issue with my family, they have heard all the bad stuff about Guatemala and were afraid for my safety. And when I spoke with fellow volunteers, their families had the same thoughts. Thankfully, I did not allow that to prevent me from doing this trip and if you just follow some basic common sense, you will be fine. IVHQ does a great job of preparing you with basic safety tips: Don’t carry your original passport, only a copy (which they made for me the first day I arrived), don’t carry all your money (quetzals), only what you can afford to lose in case you get robbed. If you get robbed, give them the money. Don’t go out alone after dark and only in large groups after dark. Don’t leave your drink unattended in case someone may slip something into it. Keep your money tucked away in a pocket which would make it hard for a pickpocket to grab it. Be sure and activate your situational awareness and don’t wander around with your earbuds blocking all noise. Basically all the things I learned while roaming around downtown Chicago. Make sure your phone is enabled to call or text your Guatemalan contacts if you do get stuck somewhere. I had international calling enabled and could call Guatemala, I just needed to dial 00 first before the phone number. Carry the local contacts phone numbers with you or put them in your phone, in case you need to call them quick and don’t want to fumble for a piece of paper. And please enable international texting so you can assure your family that you are safe, happy and enjoying the entire experience.
Tip Three: Food
One of the really fun parts of traveling is trying new foods that you would never normally eat in the US, or wherever you may live. My homestay was with a wonderful woman who cooked delicious breakfasts and dinners for me. I really appreciated her time and work it took to plan, prepare and cook yummy traditional Guatemalan meals. During lunch, you are on your own, so I took advantage of the recommendations offered by the IVHQ local staff and ate at a few local cafes. The food was so good, but the coffee was amazing, it beat anything Starbucks had to offer. And on that note, there were no Starbucks anywhere, which is weird for someone from the US!
Tip Four: Practise Spanish
Although this is not a prerequisite for your volunteer trip, I found that to really enjoy and immerse myself in this beautiful country, practising the Spanish language basics would have added a deeper level of enjoyment and comfort to the whole experience. IVHQ has all kinds of great online training materials and helpful online classes. The IVHQ in-country volunteer coordinator had afternoon Spanish classes when you were in country. I did learn the basics while I was there with a lot of help from these 3 great online apps I pre-installed on my iPhone before the trip: Duolingo, Speak & Translate and Spanish Translator & Dictionary.
Tip Five: Other Volunteers
In addition to walking around and really soaking in the beautiful, and sometimes sad, surroundings, I had a lot of fun talking with the other IVHQ volunteers. I met people from all over the world and was very interested in what paths they took to lead them to this country at this time. Every single story was unique and interesting and I loved taking the time to hear the many different stories. Not only was it fun to bond over our shared interest, I received really good advice on where to go next and what volunteer area I may want to try. I love children and had so much fun with them, but I also love mother earth and all her creatures, so I will try marine or forest conservation in my future IVHQ trips. One of the best parts of this journey is all the new doors it opened for me and gave me the tools and opportunity to expand my worldview.
So those are my 5 tips to prepare for an amazing Guatemalan adventure! I’m busy planning my next trip and am so lucky to have found IVHQ to help me with my worldwide volunteering goals.
Sue Faunt describes herself as an ‘soloprenuer’ and proud owner of Somethinspecial.com selling over 205 fragrances online! Read more about her time as an IVHQ volunteer in Guatemalaby following her personal blog somethinspecialblog.com.