We are lucky. This is our third service trip with School the World- our last as high school students- and we find ourselves thinking about our first trip a lot this week. We remember the excitement, challenges and nerves that come with breaking your comfort zone and traveling to a developing country for the first time.
In 2013, we were sophomores at Winchester High School with some family vacation abroad experience, but really having no idea what to expect on our first trip to Guatemala. We didn’t realize how far out of our comfort zone it would actually be. We knew certain differences- we wouldn’t be able to drink the water- but we had no idea we would meet mothers who were our age, at 15 years old; or get asked how old we were, and, after hearing we were 15, how many children we had. (While we found the question to be a little crazy, they found our answer of, ‘no,’ to be just as surprising.)
Trips like this are meant to affect you, and each person is affected in different ways. A change occurs in each person. Our experiences have impacted our views on almost every aspect of life, most prominently, education and gender equality. For example, at home, if we decided to drop out of high school or not pursue a college degree, we wouldn’t be following the ‘social norms’ we grew up with and know are expected of us. Comparatively, in the rural areas of Guatemala, if girls choose to continue their education past the sixth grade, they are not following their social norms, and are faced with isolation from families and pressure to conform. At home, our education is so easily taken for granted; we now think about our Guatemalan friends often and value the educational opportunities that we are given- to go to college and that we don’t need to drop out of school to support our families.
Whether it your first time outside of your comfort zone or your second or third or fiftieth, talking about each day and new things that come is a way of processing. Each night, School the World leads a “debrief” session where we can bring up challenges we faced that day, peculiarities we notice or realizations we come to. When participating in these nightly discussions with our group and group leader, it is interesting to see the questions, comments and concerns brought up by new comers versus returning students- it certainly brings us back to that first trip. It is refreshing to hear the new students thoughts; often times they are feelings that we have forgotten or observations that we never noticed.
A big question we all ask ourselves is: How much will this trip affect our day-to-day lives once we go home? There will be little things- like getting to brush our teeth with tap water again- that will be nice, but will always trigger a thought of those who can’t. After seeing girls in these indigenous communities not encouraged to play soccer and or get dirty or act like the carefree boys, we think about the support given to the girls’ sports teams at our schools.
“Re-entry” has been a process for us each time we return home from Guatemala. Once we return home our ‘bubble,’ or comfort zone that we have grown up in and continue to live in will expand. We don’t expect to be able to change people’s minds, or tell them what to do. Instead, our goal is to create awareness of this crippling poverty- how a vast majority of the world lives.
Until next time,
Annie and Claudia