My first experience abroad was as a graduate student in Salamanca, Spain. Some family members...
My first experience abroad was as a graduate student in Salamanca, Spain. Some family members did
not want me to go (not just abroad but didn"t want me to leave our city for school) but I was
determined especially since complete immersion would help improve my proficiency in speaking spanish
(my major). Initially, it was a bit traumatic because I experienced serious culture shock from the
moment I arrived at the airport. Paralyzed by the cacophony of foreign sounds and the sight of the
currency I had to use to call the hostel) I looked for something familiar. A family waiting for a
loved one held a hand drawn "Bienvenido" sign with a picture of Mickey Mouse on it and that snapped
me back. Despite a couple of relapse, I enjoyed Spain, the program, my family and it"s
culture. I made a point of spending time with my family and the locals to get off the beaten paths.
That"s when the experience became richer and more memorable. The second experience was in the
highlands of Guatemala. I chose this location because it had fewer english speaking students.
Again, I chose to hang out with my family and locals. I spent more time researching local customs
and culture with the mixture of Mayans and Spanish heritage. I photographed as much as I could and
went on my first hiking trip (up a dormant volcano) to look down into a live one. More at ease on
this study abroad program, I traveled the country to see the ruins and spent time photographing the
black Guatemalans (Garinagu) that lived on the coast. Always looking for the similarities and the
differences, this experienced sealed my commitment to bridging people from underrepresented cultures
and telling their stories because one similarity is this isolation and lack of understanding and
appreciation of being affected by the same issues. I returned to Guatemala recently, as a volunteer
photographer, to photograph the social initiatives of a community organization called The God"s
Child Project. I followed a social worker into the mountains surrounding Antigua to document their
efforts in providing assistance to the Mayan families of the children that attend their school. The
photos supported fund raising efforts which is a primary income source. So as a result of my study
abroad experiences, the scope of possibilities became vast and global. Leaving my home, my country
provided a perspective I never could have developed had I stayed home or in the United States.