GETTING TO KNOW GUATEMALA CITY
Located in Central America, Guatemala’s springlike temperatures has earned it the nickname “land of eternal spring” while its variety of plant and wildlife has put it on the map as a biodiversity hotspot. Guatemala is also an incredible destination for volunteers interested in Mayan history, tradition, and current culture. Between the warmth of its people and the beauty of the land, you will be amazed at how much Guatemala has to offer.
Learn About Guatemala
The Mayan civilization was (and still is) active in this region, and the ruins of Tikal stand as a breathtaking example of their religious beliefs and traditions. Though the height of the temple period was over 1,000 years ago, the indigenous people remain active in Guatemalan culture – making Guatemala strikingly different from many of its Central American neighbors. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century brought Catholicism and a baroque architectural style to Guatemala. To view these influences for yourself, check out the cobblestone streets and spectacular ruins during an afternoon in Antigua (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).
Guatemala’s recent history cannot be mentioned without discussing the effects of a 36-year long civil war that ended in 1996. Guatemala has worked hard to overcome their recent past, and has won over a new generation, offering visitors everything from eco-tourism to award winning coffee!
Chocolate is said to originate in Guatemala! It was used in Mayan culture as early as the sixth century A.D. The word ‘chocolate’ comes from the Maya word ‘xocoatl’ which means bitter water, as cocoa at the time was the basis for a thick, cold, unsweetened drink. Sugar was not yet discovered so the Maya used different spices to add flavor, including hot chili peppers - which are used in gourmet chocolate production today.
The Maya believe the barrier between the realms of the living and the dead is thinnest on Day of the Dead (November 1) and All Saints Day (November 2), so it’s an auspicious time to communicate with the souls of the departed. Attaching messages to handmade kites, the Maya let the wind carry their words to their departed loved ones. This is colorful and unique experience you don’t want to miss!
Guatemala City is THE place to be - a vibrant epicenter for history, religion, and culture. It is a bustling metropolis, but since it is divided into zonas (zones) each neighborhood has its own personality. From our Home-Base, it is a quick walk to many cultural sites, and you’ll feel like part of the community!
Cultural Do’s and Don’ts
Entering a new culture is an exciting and challenging experience. And just as you bring your own culture to share, it’s important to be open and respectful to the culture of those you’ll meet during your travels. You’ll often find that you have a much more positive experience if you are aware of and take into account cultural norms when meeting new people and getting to know your new community.
Picture this: You’re living in a country far from home. You can’t understand the language, and you’re trying to order food, but everything seems to be moving so slowly! Why can’t it just be like in your home country: fast and efficient?
Sometimes, these and other frustrations can build up, and you may even become angry or annoyed at with this new and unfamiliar place, its cultural norms, and its people. If this happens to you, you might be experiencing culture shock.
Culture shock can be a normal part of traveling to a new country, but it might surprise you that you can also encounter reverse culture shock when you return home. While everyone experiences some degree of culture shock, the impact that it has on your experience depends on how well prepared you are to handle its different phases. Here are some tips and tricks to get you assimilated (and re-assimilated once you’re back home) so you can enjoy every moment of your journey.
- Have a sense humor.
Try to see something of value in every new experience you have. While it can be challenging in the moment, try to keep it all in perspective. The ability to laugh and go with the flow are two key tools to coping with initial culture shock.
- Expect differences.
In any new culture, there will be some differences. If you’re prepared for there to be challenges and differences before you arrive in-country, it can make a world of difference in how you adjust.
- ...but look for what’s the same.
You will likely encounter differences in cultures, but you might not immediately realize the similarities. Take a moment to appreciate those attributes that make us more alike than different.
- Keep learning.
Immersing yourself in a new culture is a constant education. So continue making an effort to learn and understand what you’re experiencing.
Living and working within your new community is a great way to learn the local language. Whether you’re an advanced speaker or just learning a few key phrases, you’ll enjoy CCS-organized language lessons during your time in-country to help you through your journey. Here are a few important phrases to learn before you depart for your volunteer program. Even if your pronunciation isn’t perfect (yet), give it a try! Your attempts to connect with new friends in the local language will always be appreciated.
As with learning any new language, reading phrases is helpful. But listening is one of the best ways to grasp sounds and vocabulary. Click below to hear Country Director Virginia Burmester begin your first Spanish language lesson.
Ready for the next level? Practice your Spanish with these online sites:
Recommended Reading and Films
We believe that travel and firsthand encounters are the BEST education. But there are also plenty of resources to help you learn more about the history, travel opportunities, culture, stories, and language of Guatemala so you can begin to immerse yourself even before you arrive. Here are just a few of our favorites to get you started:
Travel & Leisure: Under the Volcanoes »
CCS Blog: Guatemala »
YouTube: Guatemala City »
Between volunteering, cultural activities, navigating a new language, and immersing yourself in a brand-new culture, you’ll still have plenty of time to explore the local area and even the country during evenings and weekends. Free time is an important part of your experience for independent exploration and self-reflection, and our in-country staff will always have some great, local tips to share.
Start your planning with a few of our favorite suggestions, but also remember that you can plan most of your trips once you arrive in-country (especially if flights aren’t required) with your fellow volunteers.
If you’re ready to start learning more, review your online Training Sessions below (these are required – so make sure you allocate enough time to review each of these trainings, each under 30-minutes). About two weeks before your program begins, you’ll join your final pre-departure call with your group. We can’t wait for you to join us, meet your fellow volunteers, and explore all that CCS has to offer.
Training Call 1:
How to be a Successful Volunteer »
Training Call 2:
Savvy Street Smarts »
Training Call 3:
Volunteer Work Assignments »