Saturday, 7 May 2011


I have said much about my travels within Guatemala and some of the unfamiliar foods and customs I have encountered here, but I haven’t said much about my primary occupation: my job at IGA. IGA is a language school for kids, teenagers, and adults in addition to being a middle school and high school. I work in the adults program, with students of various levels. Even though it is a job with responsibilities and work, I have a lot of fun at IGA. The students are really friendly and interesting. Many are high school students trying to improve their English in order to get into a good university. Others are university students or adults who need English to advance in their careers. Many are learning English while they are looking for a job.

[Many English students want to get a job in a call center of a U.S. company. I have a friend who once sold flowers over the phone; one student of mine called clients of a credit card company who were late in paying their bills. While most people don’t seek a job in a call center, with its long hours, low wages and high stress, it is a job with a salary, so many, desperate for work, will take such a job. I’ve found that most current and former call center employees have a story about someone insulting them during a call. Some of them can look back on it and laugh, like my friend who laughs about the time when someone asked her where she was from. When she answered Guatemala, he asked her where that was, and when she told him “Central America,” he asked if that was near Kansas. Some people, angry about the telemarketing call, make racist comments to the callers because of their accents, even when their English is nearly flawless. It makes me feel awkward, because as much as this is a clear example of outsourcing, which many people view as a contribution to unemployment in the U.S., I see my friends and students trying to get a job, work hard, and make money for their families. So whatever your feelings about outsourcing, it’s the decision of the company, not the employees, so don’t be mean to them. You might just be talking to one of my friends.]

Anyway, I think the students like getting to know me just as much as I enjoy getting to know them. They like hearing me speak in Spanish (I think it makes them feel less self conscious about their own difficulty in speaking English) and always ask me if I like Guatemala and what places in Guatemala “I know.” And sometimes we talk like old friends, like we’re not from cultures that are literally two thousand miles apart.

This is most achievable with advanced students, who I work with primarily during English Club, where we do reading, listening, and conversation exercises (and games) to increase students’ fluency. English Club might be my favorite part of the day. During last bimester (which ended last Monday), we had a daily schedule with specific activities for each day of the week. Students particularly liked Idiom Mondays and Listening Thursdays. The students really enjoyed when we listened to a song on Listening Thursdays and they had to fill in the missing lyrics of the song. The men and women alike swooned while we listened to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours.” Unfortunately, and to my great disappointment, only one student recognized Billy Joel’s “Just the Way You Are,” until co-teacher told them that they sing it at the end of the first Shrek movie. Then they all recognized it.

I don’t even mind the three hour break that I have in the middle of the day. While planning and grading in the teachers’ lounge, my friends (the other teachers) and I talk about classes, current events in Guatemala, and whatever else friends talk about.

By time I get home after being at IGA from 7am to 5pm, I have just enough energy to cook dinner and watch “House” before passing out around 9:30.

So while it is a job, I really enjoy being at IGA. And though it might not be the first thing I mention when talking about my trip to Guatemala, it’s been a great opportunity to grow as a teacher, to meet some wonderful people, and to learn more about Guatemalan culture. And I’ve been told that the Spanish classes I’m taking have improved my Spanish un montón!

Monday, 28 February 2011


It’s crazy to think that we are nearing the end of the first bimester here in Guatemala. On the one hand, it feels like I just got here. On the other, I can’t believe I have done so many new things and been so many places in such a short amount of time. 

Photos from Zone 1 - The National Palace and Metropolitan Cathedral

 A few weeks ago I went with a friend to Antigua, the former capital of Guatemala located less than an hour from the city. Antigua is a major tourist destination for both foreigners and Guatemalans alike, and for good reason. The streets are made of cobblestone, the buildings are small, colorful, and feature many antique architectural details, and the view of Volcán de Agua from the city is absolutely stunning. We ate a traditional restaurant, where I first tried rellenitos, plantains stuffed with black beans (which are surprisingly delicious!) We visited the central park, which felt like jumping into a painting of colonial Guatemala. We also drove to the top of one of the surrounding mountains and saw the vista desde el Cerro de la Cruz (the view from the cross). However, my favorite part of Antigua is the Catedral Metropolitana, built in 1543. The building was breathtaking, especially the open roof, which appeared stunning under the sunny sky. We also went under the Cathedral’s floor to a small vigil and a few large rooms of some unknown use. Parts of the Cathedral have been destroyed by earthquakes, but the ruins only emphasize how long the Cathedral has been there and how many people must have visited it. I took about 100 photos in the Cathedral alone, but you really have to see it for yourself to imagine how spectacular it is.

I spent another Sunday in Iximché, a former Mayan city located just outside of Tecpán. Iximché is in the mountains, where the air is fresh and quiet, and the wind is both tranquil and ominous.  The ruins at Iximché, which include temples, palaces, and pyramids, date back to the fifteenth century. It is incredible to think that such structures were built so long ago with no modern technology. It was even cooler to stand next to them, touch them, and even climb on some! We were even able to see a Mayan ritual involving prayer, candle lighting, and an offering of some drink. It was a very peaceful and pensive place, a wonderful day and a nice break from the busy city.

I also had the incredible opportunity of going to Mexico! I spent several days in Mexico City at a seminar for Fulbright ETA grantees in the region. The seminar was very informative and interesting, and it was great to talk to other ETAs about their experiences. Although most of our time was spent in the hotel and library, on the very last day, the other Guatemala ETA and I visited the Zócalo, the main plaza in Mexico City, which were very beautiful. The Cathedral and National Palace were huge, and the Cathedral especially was stunning. We even had the chance to go inside the Palace, where we viewed murals painted by Diego Rivera and visited the National Museum. Although I was happy to return to Guatemala, I definitely saw enough of Mexico to know that I need to go back someday! 

This past weekend I went to my very first ballet, “Romeo and Juliet,” performed by a Russian Ballet Company. The dancing was incredible, and it is a pretty cool thing to watch a story told without any dialogue. I also got a very exclusive 360 degree view of the city from the National Theater, which was incredible despite it being misty outside.

 In re-reading this I realize that I’ve used words like “stunning,” “incredible,” and “beautiful” excessively, but there really aren’t words strong enough to describe some of the sites I’ve seen here. So take a look at the photos, but imagine them even more stunningly beautiful in person.