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Connections, Growth, and Gratitude: Realizations during my Gap Year

If someone had told me one year ago that I would be traveling to Guatemala to participate in volunteer work and swimming through caves with just candles to guide the way, I would have laughed at the idea. Being here in Guatemala now, I still can't believe it. I have already experienced more than most people do in a lifetime. WorldStamp Gap Year has given me the tools and the experiences to really know what is important in life. While there will always be bumps along the way (like eating bad street food) there's nothing better in this world than to see it and experience it for yourself.

Volunteer work in Guatemala has been amazing. We just started to connect with the students and actually teach them. We spent the first leg of our time in Guatemala painting and revamping the school where we volunteer, which was fun in itself, but getting back to what I believe is the real reason we're here (to teach and connect with the people of the world) is so refreshing. My class is a group of forty first graders and one local teacher - they are a wild group. That is what makes it so fun, though. We have been going over the phonetics in Spanish, and I have been learning right beside my kids. The more we have been communicating with each other the more Spanish I have been learning.

I knew that coming on this Gap Year meant that my Spanish skills were going to improve, but I never realized how fast and how big of a difference I would actually notice. Being here for just two months I have seen myself excel in understanding when people talk to me. I am by far not fluent yet and still have tons of trouble actually forming sentences to respond; however, I am very proud with what I have accomplished. Going from not speaking a single sentence to having semi-conversations with my host family has been a huge motivator in itself. I hope by the time we leave I will be able to have a real and meaningful conversation with my host family to truly convey to them how grateful and happy I am to have been placed in there lives. They really have become my second family.

Aside from the WorldStamp group's volunteer life here in Antigua, traveling to places such as Semuc Champey, Monterrico Beach, Iximche, Lake Atitlán, and soon to be Tikal, has allowed me to see some of the most beautiful and amazing sights in the world. Some of the things we got to do with the Gap Year group such as swimming through a cave with only a candle in our mouth, or seeing thousand-year-old ruins, and just relaxing on the beautiful beaches, have been some of the most memorable things I have done in my life. These mini vacations that we get to go on are just amazing. It truly shows the beauty of Guatemala as a whole. To anyone who is thinking about volunteering aboard or just visiting Guatemala, you really should look into seeing these sights - especially Semuc Champey.