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As I write this I find that I am struggling to find the words to express how my first week in Guatemala has gone. I arrived by myself to Guatemala City early Saturday morning and did not meet with my two team members until late Sunday evening. My first two days in Guatemala were very important for me because I gained a sense of independence and developed the necessary confidence I needed in my Spanish to carry out my project. I found myself starting to think and respond in Spanish after the first day, to the point where it almost feels unnatural to be writing this blog post in English.

This project has already helped me grow as a person in more ways than I can name. I have been to Latin America before, but always with my parents to visit my family in Colombia and I discovered very quickly that I had a very privileged view of Latin America up until now. I am learning to manage a budget which is something I have had little exposure to, but recognize is an extremely important life skill to have, and I am learning to be more confident in myself in every way.

Very quickly after meeting up with my teammates I found that as far as Spanish speaking abilities go, my communication skills are much stronger than theirs and I have so much respect and admiration for my teammates for going into this two-month project and stepping out of their comfort zones in terms of language- barriers. This obstacle has also helped me in unexpected ways because I have had to step up within my group and take on more of a leadership role that I was not necessarily expecting.

I have been told by many people close to me that I need to learn to be more assertive and tell people what I want, which by nature for me is very difficult because I avoid confrontation at all costs and hate feeling like a burden to others. I made this one of my goals to work towards for the summer; to be less passive and less afraid to speak my mind. While it has been very difficult and very uncomfortable for me; I have had to do just this in Guatemala. I had to make a bank deposit to the school at a local bank, buy and ask about rechargeable phones and modems, and speak for my group at the school. I had to arrange a meeting for us to discuss our curriculum and research with the principal of the school, and in that meeting, I had to present most of our ideas and negotiate teaching times. All of these things made me very uneasy and nervous, but they needed to be done for my sake, the sake of the team, and the project that we are working on.

What I have found is that very good things have happened when I take action. We have already become friends with a lot of the girls we will be teaching and found that they are almost, if not more excited about our project and our research, as we are. People are very friendly and appreciate when I speak up and I often find that I was worried for nothing. So, I guess the most important thing I’ve seen in action in my first week here is that being uncomfortable is a great thing. I’ve used this phrase several times before, but I don’t think I was ever very good at taking my own advice until now. I can honestly say that I have never been more uncomfortable than I have been over the past 6 days, and I think that I am already a much better person for it.