Guatamala town by Daniel Lozano Valdes

Guatemala changed me

—why go

It all started when my mom wanted me and my brother to learn Spanish. The best way to learn any language is to fully immerse yourself in a country that speaks that language. So, my mom decided to take my brother and I to Quetzaltenango in Guatemala to live with a local family and attend language school for a month. I was 10 years old.   We lived with the family day-in-and-day-out. They crammed their own family into two rooms so we could have the 3rd room all to our selves. I still remember the cold cement walls and creeky bed.

We were completely immersed in their culture, eating all meals that they prepared for us, and went to school every morning. My teacher at the school took me on the bus to the bustling open-air markets, had me order food, negotiate prices, and get around town…all in Spanish. We got to explore the city, take in the culture, and even hike to an active volcano.   Back at our host family’s home, we got used to their rice and beans, roasted corn, pan dulce and the occasional meat for dinner. I remember for showers, we would walk across the courtyard over to an enclosed tiny space where you would splash some water on yourself, soap up, and then dump a bucket of water on your head to wash off. We also had to wash our dirty clothes in the courtyard on a fixed concrete washboard by hand with some soap and water, and then hang to air dry.

It was nothing like I had ever experienced before.

Guatemalan kids
Corn by Roderico Diaz
Futbol by Juanma Batz
Guatemalan textiles by Gerson Omar Quinonez
This was nothing like the world I grew up in, but somehow seemed totally normal. Kids playing in the street who didn’t seem to have a worry in the world. The way of life and culture in Guatemala was eye opening to me. The children seemed so content with what little they had.

Having these immersive experiences over 4 weeks had a profound impact on me. I had seen a lot of the local kids my age during my stay, and got to play soccer soccer with a well-worn ball. These kids were completely happy with much less than I had at home. At 10 years old, not only did I begin to understand real gratitude for I had, but also a deep compassion for others in the world that lived on a lot less.

I gained an immense confidence after given the freedom to venture in the open-air markets with my teacher, take in the smells of the sauteed chicken in chili sauce, and negotiate prices with vendors so I can eat my lunch. This was a vibrant culture, and nothing like I had ever experienced. My world-view got much broader.   I look back on that experience with such gratitude since my parents encouraged us to have these rich cultural experiences. It ignited a spark in me for travel, adventure, and getting out of my comfort zone. Now looking back 20 years later, it made a profound impact on me and it’s paying dividends for my children and the community at Formative Adventures.

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