Written by Emma Frasier (U.S.-Indiana)
Two years ago, I made the decision to step outside of my comfort zone and travel to Guatemala for a week with the Timmy Global Health chapter at Butler University. Timmy is an organization that works to expand access to health care both locally and globally and encourages students to tackle the various global health challenges occurring around the world. As a member of the club since my first year of college, I quickly developed a passion for the organization and everything that it stands for.
Each year, a group of Butler Timmy students travel to Quetzaltenango (Xela), Guatemala for one week to set up medical brigades in different rural communities and provide health care to those who would otherwise not receive it. I was extremely excited to participate in the trip and experience the impact first hand. Along with this excitement, however, came a multitude of nerves. This would be my first time flying on an airplane, my first time traveling outside of the United States, and doing all of this without knowing any Spanish.
A few months before the trip in May, one of the trip-goers discovered the opportunity to spend a week in Guatemala prior to the Timmy trip studying Spanish at Pop Wuj Spanish School. Due to my nonexistent knowledge of Spanish, I thought this would be an amazing opportunity to get comfortable with the country before the medical trip. My original one-week trip suddenly turned into two and I was even more excited than before.
When I got to Guatemala, I was in awe. This mountainous country was nothing shy of beautiful. Our group spent the day traveling four hours from Guatemala City to Xela, where we would be for the next two weeks. Once we got to Xela, we arrived at Pop Wuj and were immediately sent off with our host families. My host mom was the first one to show up, so after a short conversation in all Spanish between our coordinator and my host mom, I was on my way across the street to the home I would be living in. The walk over was one I will never forget: My host mom was speaking to me in Spanish, and I had absolutely no idea what she was saying. I felt awful. The only thing I could say was “I’m so sorry… no hablo español.”
She continued to speak in Spanish as she showed me around the home, where the main entrance and living area had no roof. I was in 100% culture shock. On the verge of tears, I said thank you to my host mom as we finished looking around the house, then I went into my room and began breaking down. I had never experienced such a feeling before. I had been so excited to be there, but in that moment, I didn’t even know how I was feeling. An amalgam of home-sickness, guilt for being home-sick already, and doubt hit me hard. As I did my best to get my emotions together, my host mom knocked on my door saying “cena?”—translation: dinner. I remember thinking to myself, Okay, I can do this. I’ll go to dinner and get it together and just do my best to connect with the family.
dWhen the second week came around and it was time for the medical brigade, I was ready. I now had a little bit of basic Spanish that I could use and understand, and I was excited to branch out and participate in a medical setting for the first time. Throughout the entire week, we saw around 500 patients and worked through their medical concerns with them. This often consisted of prescribing them basic medicine—like ibuprofen—to lessen the severity of pain of working out in the fields all day.
This is a medicine that is so common here in the states, but is not accessible in places like Guatemala. It was amazing to see how grateful each patient was for having us there helping their community live a healthier and stronger life style. I left this trip with a new respect for the life that I live, along with an eager passion to go see more of this world.
Have you had any "firsts" while studying abroad? What was the hardest thing to adapt to?