Thousands of Peace Corps volunteers serve across the globe continent in countries as different from one another as Alaska is from Florida. As part of my blogging goals for 2015, I hope to bring you volunteer interviews from Peace Corps countries from all around the world! This month, I am excited to introduce to you a volunteer from Guatemala.
Sara Boro – Age 26
Where are you from?
I am from McHenry, Illinois.
What country and program do you serve in?
I serve as a Youth in Development (YiD) volunteer in Peace Corps Guatemala. As a YiD volunteer, I train youth in life skills including self-esteem, values, leadership, teamwork, prevention of drug and alcohol abuse, and sexual and reproductive health. I also coordinate and collaborate with service providers to train them to work positively with you and create youth support systems in the community. I was assigned to work primarily at a Health Center in an Espacio Amigable or “Friendly Space,” which is basically a youth center. At the Espacio Amigable, we have a leadership group called Jóvenes en Acción or “Youth in Action” which is composed of in and out of school youth. My counterpart and I meet with the Jóvenes en Acción twice a month to train them in leadership skills and work with them to plan events and activities for other young people in the community.
What is your housing like? What amenities do/n’t you have? What are some of the biggest challenges of your lifestyle?
I live in a small town in the department of Chimaltenango in the Western Highlands of Guatemala. I am only about a 5-minute bus ride from the Interamerican Highway, the Central American section of the Pan-American Highway that spans from Nuevo Laredo, Mexico to Panama City, Panama. The population of my town is around 15,000 but only 2,500 people live in the town center and the rest in surrounding villages. I live in room of a two story concrete house with my host family. My room is small but I have a private bathroom with a calentador, or electric water heater in my shower. I have my own pila, which is a large sink that I use for washing dishes and clothes. I cook on a three burner electric stove that is connected to a propane gas tank. The comida típico, or typical food in Guatemala that is eaten for breakfast and dinner consists of eggs, black beans, fried plantains and corn tortillas. Other than cooking a lot of típico, I cook stir-fried vegetables, pasta, chili, chicken and beef. I love my host family and it has been awesome living with them! In my family there is Doña Mari (my host mom), Don Cesar (my host dad), and four children Rocio (13 years old), Cesar (7 years old), Caterin (2 years old) and Abigail (11 months old). My host mom stays at home and takes care of the younger children and works at the family store located in the first story of the house. My host dad commutes 1.5 hours everyday to Antigua, Guatemala to work at a law office. My host sister Rocio goes to middle school in a neighboring town and Cesar goes to elementary school in town. At night and on the weekends, I spend time with my host siblings, playing cards, watching movies, or teaching them about American holidays and traditions. On Halloween, we carved pumpkins and on Thanksgiving, my site mate and I prepared a traditional Thanksgiving dinner for my family.
What are Guatemalans like?
Guatemala is very linguistically diverse with 24 languages spoken including Spanish, 21 Mayan languages and two non-Mayan dialects. My community is 90% Mayan and the local language is Kaqchikel. My host dad is from a village of my town, so his first language is Kaqchikel, but my host mom is from another department and speaks a language called K’iche. Since my host parents have different first languages, they communicate with each other in Spanish. In my site, most people speak both Spanish and Kaqchikel, so I am able to communicate in Spanish without trouble although I use Kaqchikel on occasion to greet people in the streets.
What are some of the most rewarding parts of your service? What have been some of your greatest challenges? Has PC service met/surpassed/trampled on your expectations of what service would be like?
One of the challenges I have faced as a Peace Corps volunteer is not seeing results of the work I do in my project. Did I prevent a teenage pregnancy? Does someone have higher self-esteem because of a session I gave? These are questions I will probably never know the answers to. However, the most rewarding part of my service has been the relationships I have formed with my host family, work partners and youth in my community. Goals two and three of Peace Corps revolve around sharing American culture and the culture of peoples served. Even if I cannot see the results of my work within my project framework, I have been able to form meaningful relationships with Guatemalans and teach them about American culture. Some of my best memories in site are trick-or-treating with kids on Halloween or dancing in the traditional costume dance during my town fair. Before coming to Peace Corps, most of the expectations I had revolved around living conditions. I expected to be living in the middle of nowhere with no running water and no electricity. In that sense, my expectations were completely trampled. I live right off the biggest highway in Guatemala and have almost constant access to electricity and water. Other than living conditions, I tried to come into Peace Corps with an open mind, ready to accept whatever challenges were thrown my way. I am now on month 20 of my 24-month service, I can say, with confidence, that having an open mind has definitely helped me cope with the day-to-day challenges of serving as a Peace Corps volunteer.
Why did you join Peace Corps?
As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to participate in several study abroad programs. The knowledge I gained as a participant in study abroad shaped my core values helped me see the value in international cultural exchange and understanding. It also led me to complete a Master’s degree in College Student Affairs so that I could pursue career in international education and help other students seek these same opportunities. After graduating with my masters, and as a future international education professional, I wanted to gain more experience living and working abroad, living away from my family and friends, and speaking a language other than English. I looked into several options and ended up choosing Peace Corps.
Do you feel like Peace Corps is still a worthwhile program for the U.S. Government?
One of the reasons I chose Peace Corps is because I am a strong supporter of its’ mission to promote world peace, friendship and cross-cultural understanding. It is because of this mission that I believe Peace Corps is still a worthwhile program for the U.S. Government.
If you had to give a piece of advice to someone thinking about applying to Peace Corps or getting ready for staging, what would you say?
If I had to give a piece of advice to someone thinking about applying to PC or getting ready for PC, it would be to learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. So many parts of the Peace Corps experience can be very uncomfortable, but it is in those experiences that you learn and grow the most. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes in the language you are learning, people won’t really think that your dad paints pigs (instead of cars) or that you put tampons in your ears (instead of ear plugs). Don’t be afraid to accept an invitation to a wedding, lunch, or town dance. You may just end up meeting a new friend. Don’t be afraid to try something new. It may be uncomfortable teaching a Zumba class when you have never danced before or teaching middle school students about changes in the body during puberty, but do it anyways! I have always been a somewhat introverted person, but working my way through these uncomfortable and unfamiliar situations has helped me become more confident and willing to take on anything that comes my way.
Any plans for post-Peace Corps?
After I finish serving, I plan to travel with a fellow PCV from my training class through Central America for three months. When I get back to the United States, I plan to start applying for jobs in the field of international education in a university setting.