Tarah Fisher is a 3rd year studying Psychology who spent her Fall 2017 semester with Semester at Sea. See her reflection on her experience below!
It’s been over two weeks since I’ve returned to Virginia. I’m back in Charlottesville
beginning Sorority Recruitment. The stark contrast between what I’ll be doing tomorrow, that is small talk with hundreds of first years, and what I was doing two weeks ago has me reflecting.
The day we disembarked, I cried like a baby. I didn’t know if I’d ever see these people again. I cried for the second time when I saw my father at the airport.
Did study abroad change my life like most returnees claim it changed theirs? I thought about this a lot on my last few days on the ship. I couldn’t tell you that my life has changed, that I’m a new person, or that if you study abroad your life will change. I notice change in the subtle ways. I am more aware of what if feels like to be a foreigner in a country where you don’t speak the language, and how that smile from a local truly makes a difference. International news hits close to home more than ever before. When I see the South African President in the news, I think of the South Africans I met, and what they must be thinking. I’m able to say more about Africa than “there are starving children there”. I can deal with things that don’t go my way and I don’t let them ruin my day. I can navigate a city with only a handheld map.
People have told me I’ve changed. I have seen the world with a new lens, but it’s always been the same eyes behind them. If anything, my voyage has sparked a thirst for more. I will never stop traveling. I will never stop searching for new places to pull me outside of my comfort zone. Maybe one day, without me even noticing it, I will have transformed into the global citizen I’ve always wanted to be.
So how do I sum up my voyage? How do I put four months worth of experiences into a sentence? What do I say when people ask, how was it? “It was amazing,” doesn’t begin to explain it. I may not be able to convey it all through words. There will be subtle details that contribute to the big picture that I’ll forget.
But I’ll always have my friends who stood there beside me as we experienced everything together, and that’s something I can count on.
Sandy Hoang is a 1st year student in the College of Arts and Sciences studying abroad on the UVA in Guatemala: Engineering Public Health program. Check out some of her beautiful pictures of Guatemala and thoughtful reflections that go with them!
A Mayan woman carrying firewood on her head makes the difficult hike through the hilly plantation with her son. In the rural indigenous villages, it is the woman’s duty to collect and carry the firewood to her home, where she uses the wood to cook. Work in Guatemala is often gender-divided, with women working at home and men working on the fincas, or plantations.
In the market, women display and sell their traje weavings. Traje is woven using traditional methods taught in Mayan culture for hundreds of years. With creative and meticulous detail from the weaver, traje is considered a powerful art in Guatemala. Each traje takes around two months to finish and each village has a unique traje design.
Washing clothes in the lake is not only a burden because of a walk, especially with the weight of wet clothes, but it also damages the lake because of the detergents and bleach that are used in the process. These pilas offer an environmentally and personally safe alternative to washing clothes in the lake, and was created by the San Lucas Toliman Mission as a way to improve the health of women.
Before the Spanish conquest in the sixteenth century, Mayans lived in tight-knit communities. These ruins cue back to the grand architecture of this time, where hundreds of people would live in each square of land. The communities would often feud against each other and cautions were taken to prevent sabotage. These seemingly ancient communities persisted up until the sixteenth century and show how important Mayan identity still is in Guatemalan culture.
Many men and women gather in the center of Xela to buy fruits and vegetables grown by their neighbors. With rich soil and ideal weather, agriculture happily continues to be a huge source of income in Guatemala. I was immediately reminded of the issue between the US and Guatemala during the United Fruit Company crisis in the early 1950s, when the US exploited Guatemalan land and government for the growth of the US-owned fruit business in Guatemala. Guatemala is a land filled with agricultural potential, as well as agricultural exploitation.
At the crater of Volcano Chikabal is a sacred lagoon, where Mayans offer flowers and prayers to the god of the rain for better crops. While I was there, I also stumbled upon a Mayan ritual, which consisted of chants from the Mayans and a large fire. I was surprised at the persistence of Mayan culture and identity despite Western influences from the Spaniards and the US.
This manually-operated hydroelectric plant offers a modest number of megawatts for a portion of the villages in the outskirts of Xela. Although the supervisor of the plant has requested to the municipality of Xela the use of automated machines to power the plant, the government denied his offer in favor of more jobs, since the cost of automated machines far exceeds the cost of workers. Before seeing the plant, I expected to see a large Hoover dam, and was surprised to see how small the plant actually was.
Unlike in USA cemeteries, Guatemalan graves are above ground because of the high water levels underground due to the rainy season and the lake. Death in Guatemala is viewed not with so much solemnity as in the US, but, rather, with a sort of celebration of their passed ancestors and their reunion with Christ. The bright colors and the detailed architecture attest to this attitude with the dead.
Lake Atitlan, surrounded by three large volcanoes, is the home of many indigenous villages such as San Martin, San Lucas Toliman, and Santiago. The lake is a source of drinking water, bathing water, and washing water. Over the years, the lake has been a popular visit for tourists, and the indigenous population has adapted to this interest with markets and stores that has transformed the lives of the Mayans. Increasing pollution of the lake has also created problems in the indigenous health, and many NGOs have tried to combat this solution.