Wondering what it’s like to climb dead volcanoes, feel the steam from a lake-filled volcano, and harvest coffee beans with ex-guerilla combatants who fought in the war?
Well, you’re in luck because Daniel Jayasinghe—a Management student from the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM)—shares his UTM Abroad story in Guatemala.
TELL US ABOUT GUATEMALA
“Guatemala is different from Canada. In Canada you see nice streets and big buildings. But, in Guatemala, you see a big mountain right where we stayed. Just that scenic view makes a huge difference.
And, the locals loved their coffee. There’s a coffee shop everywhere.”
LIVING LIKE THE GUATEMALANS
“I travelled to four locations: Antigua, Xela, Santa Anita, and [Solola].
We avoided tourist-spots, stayed with locals, and lived with farmers. We ate what they ate, slept where they slept. We wanted a true understanding of what’s like to live there.
Anyone can go to Guatemala City, but it would be like a vacation in any other city in the world. But, to travel to remote areas, the rural lands, you can hang out with the locals and learn about their lives.
In Antigua, we stayed at the locals’ houses. And, as soon as you step outside, a big volcano right outside greets you. At Xela, we climbed a dead volcano. As we reach the top, you can see the surrounding volcanoes with smoke seeping from their craters.
We also visited [Lake Atitlan at Solola]. The area was right on the lake. What’s surprising is that the lake is actually a super volcano. Then, water filled the crater and made a lake. It felt unreal to stay on a volcano with water, surrounded by more volcanoes.
I wasn’t scared because of safety checks. But, it would be a thrill to see something happen.”
THE GUATEMALAN TIM HORTONS
“No way. They don’t have any Timmies there, but they mainly exported coffee beans around the world.
I never liked coffee but it’s the only place where I enjoyed its taste.
I remember the farmers said that certifying their produce as fair-trade was expensive for them to breakeven, even if fair-trade is a big deal here in North America.
So, the farmers prefer direct sale and ship the produce straight to the company.
This made me question fair-trade companies if they’re actually being fair-trade or not, when they are only required to have 2% fair-trade coffee beans and 90% would be any kind of coffee beans.
How is this fair?”
A LEAP OF FAITH
I asked Daniel why he joined the UTM Abroad trip to Guatemala. Here’s his answer.
“YOLO. Straight up.
You never get this rare chance again in life, especially when you start working.
The locals in the village taught us about the community. There were activities similar to lectures—when locals share stories and struggles—but overall you learn on-the-go.
Learning felt less structured and more genuine. It’s all about experiencing, rather than sitting down and taking notes.
Experiences like this define what’s unique in you. The trip proves that you don’t only have the textbook knowledge, but you also have the life experience to separate you from others with the same piece of paper, showing a university degree.
Everything that we did is tough for an average tourist. It’s the organization (Operation Groundswell) who had the connections. It would be hard to do the activities that we did—farming coffee beans, hiking dead volcanoes, staying on a super volcano’s lake—without knowing the locals.“
A TRAVELLERS’ NEW INSIGHT
“Appreciate what we have here.
We built a relationship with them, so I’d like to continue building that relationship by supporting their communities.
The community in Guatemala wanted to improve their education system.
UTM has a Spanish department with old Spanish books. I thought that the Guatemalan villages would find them more useful, since books become outdated fast in UTM. So, Operation Groundswell contacted UTM to send the books to Guatemala.
I’m glad that UTM isn’t just a place that sends a few students once in a while. The locals realized that UTM actually tried to support and kept the relationship between the communities at UTM and at Guatemala.
Travelling to Antigua, Xela, Santa Anita, and Solola, I learned more from the locals than the locals learning from me. So, I should do something to give back as gratitude”