Most days in Guatemala start with several hours volunteering on a service-learning project. Participants choose between construction of primary schools, reforestation, work on a coffee farm or service in a local hospital.
GL International’s service-learning philosophy is also one of humility – participants are not there to fix a problem or to help the helpless. They work alongside Guatemalans on projects the local community has deemed valuable or necessary, learning about the potential for solidarity and service within the Central American contexts. For that reason, service projects often change from one year to the next, as our local partners work with the community to identify where need exists. GLers have much to learn from their Guatemalan counterparts, and by working together – building team bonds and strong relationships – they do. GL staffers, along with host country staff and student work-team leaders, develop meaningful and challenging discussions and reflections to help participants unpack and understand the experiences they have.
The biggest goal of service learning abroad is that our students step out of their comfort zones. After their year-long participation in service and leadership at home, they have develop the skills, awareness, openness, and confidence to act. Service-learning abroad is an opportunity to put those skills into practice in a much different context. By overcoming new barriers – different language, different cultural background, different values – students are even more empowered to lead the charge to any challenge, and effect positive change.
Global Leaders has long-standing relationships with trusted families who welcome GL students into their homes. Groups of three to five students live with a local host family for the duration of the trip, sharing traditional meals, learning customs, and becoming a part of the family. Past participants have reported that time spent with their homestays is some of the most memorable, and many from life-long friendships with their host families.
One of the most important aspects of travel is facing, and overcoming, the language barrier. To help our students do this, GL has worked with staff in Guatemala to create a Global Leaders language school. While other language schools geared toward tourists take a large percentage out of the teachers’ fees, by developing its own school, GL is able to pay teachers a more fair wage. Highly trained tutors give one-on-one Spanish classes to GL students, creating lesson plans specific to their level, and helping them learn to understand and communicate better. Last year, GL students received nearly 600 hours of one-on-one Spanish tutoring.