I was interested to learn as well as travel and I thought that going with U of T would be a good experience because they are an institution of learning, which is why I signed up for the Guatemala trip.
We hit every point in terms of where we were going, visiting and the people we spoke to. So the learning experience was fulfilled. I expected I would meet new people, in a comfortable, slightly formalized setting. Each time we would go to a new location,
“ It was like it was a little lecture in a very cool way.”
It was physically exhausting. I think that the amount of time and effort it took to go up and down that mountain was the unexpected portion. At the end of the day, no one is going to carry me down the mountain. I just had to do it. I can honestly tell you, I have never fallen so much in my life as I have fallen on that mountain. And it just repeated. I would just fall, and fall, and fall. And so at one point, I would just sit on my jacket, and slide down, until I couldn’t slide down, because I hit a rock or something. And sometimes you’d be walking down, and you’d think you’d be stepping on earth, but it was a rock, and the rock would move, and then you’d fall! It was like a cartoon. It was interesting, because I think it bonded everybody because it was such a horrible experience at the time. That’s the good thing that came out of it.
I think it’s good to know your own personal limits. As a person, it’s good to be able to reflect. Even though you want to meet a certain goal, and you definitely have the capacity and capability to do so, it’s always good to know when you need to take a time out. If you continue to push yourself, it can be unhelpful to your long-term goal. Sometimes you do need to take a break, a breather to sit and just say, “OK this is just the time for me to reflect.” There’s a need to know where you’re going and know when something is becoming too much to just say, “This is just too much in this moment at this time. I’ll be back in 10 mins,” or however long you need.
One of the things I learned is that I can really adapt personally. There were things before that bothered me in terms of bugs. You know when you live in GTA, there’s a very high standard of how things should be presented. But when you go to Guatemala, and particularly in the homestay community, people only have so much, so there aren’t all those protocols in terms of making your food look amazing – and the food looked fine, but it wasn’t in a way that was so artificial. Sometimes because we would sit outside and eat during the daytime, bugs might’ve flown onto the plates and food, and you’re not going to throw it away. It’s just kind of adapting to that and knowing, “Okay this isn’t actually going to kill you.” Elsewhere isn’t always applicable to other countries. It’s a change depending on where you go, that you just have to go with the flow. If they’re able to live and survive through that, then why can’t I? I carry this mentality when I enter/go into new situations.
I learned that luxuries that we live with here are not applicable everywhere, and they’re not necessities. Just knowing that they’re superfluous. They’re just fluff. Let’s say that. The luxuries we have here are just fluff that help society go round.
There’s also tons of waste, specifically, electricity, or when you go to a restaurant and they give you disposable materials when you can use reusable materials. And all the time we have air conditioning on or we have heat – well maybe not heat, because heat is important, especially in Canada. Heat is kind of keeping us alive. In the summer, when air conditioning isn’t particularly needed because realistically it’s acceptable to walk around in a t-shirt in the summer, right? I can say that’s a custom. Your body will regulate, but we love to blast air conditioning so we have that ‘perfect temperature’ and it’s just too much. Or when you go past a building at night, that is empty, and all the lights are on. There’s just so much waste. It’s not something I thought about in such depth before the trip. You’re aware of it, but it doesn’t become vivid. It’s something you know cognitively, but it’s not something you feel emotionally as different. But when you see the waste, then you have an emotional response. It’s a waste of money, it’s a waste of electricity. The resources for that can be managed better like being redistributed on the planet, or it could be used for families who don’t have high incomes to support the electricity in their homes.
To make that true change, there has to be an emotional component to it. You have to live it, not just learn it. Advice I would give to those interested in the UTM Abroad program is that if they could go and they really wanted to, but you’re scared that interacting with people of a different culture will be difficult, don’t be too afraid, definitely read into what’s appropriate and do your research.
Don’t let anxiety stop you from having a good experience!