Hola, Guatemala.

When my plane landed in Miami International Airport my heart sank. I was so close to home, but so far away.

During my short two hour layover I felt an overwhelming desire to go home.

I sat staring at the departure board, looking at multiple flights for Newark New Jersey, messaging friends and family members, and wondering….what if I just went home right now?

I help but think that had been gone for too long.

I know that I am so lucky and blessed to have experienced all that I have in the past eleven months.

I have explored six continents and have accomplished so much for my project and for my own personal journey. I have shadowed judges and revised written decisions in child protection cases, attended parenting classes and support groups, visited shelters and safe houses, and visited schools and hospitals.

I have jumped out of a plane skydiving, thrown myself off a bridge bungee jumping, held on tight while riding an ostrich, spotted animals in an African Safari, ran off a ramp on the top of a mountain while hang gliding, and stared straight into a great white shark’s mouth while shark cage diving.

As I sat at the airport scrolling through the pictures on my phone, I was overcome with a feeling of happiness and pride for all that I have accomplished during my year and how I have made the most incredible memories and met the most amazing people.

I have seen and experienced situations of extreme pain, loss, and sadness.

I have spent time with children and women who are living in conditions that many people could never imagine.

I have learned how fear can hinder us all from our true potential.

I have explored how fear has hindered the growth of programs, governments, and services as people are afraid to challenge the established culture, practices, and ways of life.

I have understood through my own journey and the journey of others how fear hinders our own personal growth as we shy away from new experiences, avoid change and the unknown, and struggle to live with a truly open mind and open heart.

I have felt and witnessed a new and different kind of strength, resilience, love, acceptance, and happiness.

I have witnessed the beauty of the human spirit as I have met people who remain positive, kind and giving even though they don’t have much to give and are struggling with their own difficult situations and challenges.

I have been taught a new way to approach people, places, and life in general as a more open, strong, and spontaneous person.

I have experienced a new level of happiness and love. I have formed new friendships and relationships with people who have shown me absolute acceptance, compassion, generosity, and genuine love.

In many ways I am a new person!

And it is strange to think that the people in my life will have to get to know the “new” me when I return home.

At the same time there are also many moments in their lives that I have missed while away: new jobs, new partners, struggles, and successes.

I will also have to understand the ways in which they have learned, have grown, and have changed.

As I boarded my plane, I readjusted my mindset and focused on embracing all that I can learn and experience in a Guatemala.

Fortunately, with the help of a beautiful city full of history and incredible people I was able to have an positive transition to Guatemala and a memorable first two weeks exploring new places, a new culture, and a new way of life.

I am very lucky to be staying with a welcoming, compassionate, and kind host family.

Violeta, my home stay mom, cooks very delicious traditional Guatemalan meals every day and I get to spend time learning and practicing Spanish while sharing meals together. My host father host brothers,and the travelers staying we the family have also been very supportive and helpful as I explored the area, organized my project, and adjusted to my new surroundings.

I really enjoyed exploring the city and surrounding areas.

The city of Antigua is absolutely beautiful. The colorful buildings, stone streets, churches, parks and ruins are full of life, memories, and history.

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I visited a macadamia nut farm where I had special macadamia nut pancakes.

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I visited a farm with a scenic view of the city and began a routine of morning walks to the iconic view at Cerro de la Cruz.

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I explored local villages where I went to a chocolate factory and visited a man’s shop where I sampled a dozen different flavors of homemade fruit “wine” (moonshine).

I rode a horse up the San Pedro volcano to a scenic mirador.

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I kayaked with my friend Olivia at sunset on Lake Atitlan.

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I relaxed, loaded, tanned, and rode a four wheeler on the black sand beaches of Monterrico.

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I have also shared delicious meals, continued to try salsa dancing, and have walked around the city while getting to know my housemates and my host family.

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At the end of my two weeks I had to say goodbye to my first two friends in Guatemala: Kati and Olivia. I cannot thank them enough for making my first two weeks in Guatemala so special and I look forward to seeing them again hopefully someday soon back in the United States!

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Their departure reminded me of how truly close “home” is for me and how even though my travel year will soon be over, there is still so much for me to learn and to experience.

With three weeks left I am excited to immerse myself in my project and to continue to make the most out of my time here in Guatemala.

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