Pre-Departure Thoughts

By Jerzy, Teaching with Cultural Embrace in Guatemala

Here I am about to undertake my international journey.  I feel this is a journey of exploration not only into another culture, but into me.  An experience of this magnitude will likely bring much more than I could anticipate at the onset.  My name is Jerzy Wasilewski and I work as a Guidance Counselor at a high school.  I am currently 29 years old and am about to leave everything behind to depart for my 6 month teaching program in Antigua, Guatemala.

As one might expect, there’s been a range of thoughts and emotions from the time I started my search leading up to now.  At first there was the eager sense of adventure. While I have not lost that feeling I started to get nervous as the departure date approached; scared of the unknown, knowing that I would face a frustrating language barrier as part of my learning process and absorbing the reality that I would not see my friends, family, and dog for quite some time. At times it didn’t even faze me and yet there were also periods of great sadness and anxiety as I looked ahead and envisioned myself so far from the comforts and familiarity of home.  Oddly as the travel date got much closer I felt less intimidated by the journey ahead and simply found myself impatiently awaiting its start.  I am curious to see how I feel when I actually arrive at my destination.

People have frequently asked me why I decided to do this.  It’s difficult to explain it to them.  I usually just respond with something simple like “I want to learn Spanish.”  Really there is so much more to it than that.  I describe it to my close friends as an opportunity to hit the reset button on life…the chance to remove myself from my accustomed life schedule in the USA.  I’ve always been someone who needed to strive toward a goal in order to avoid becoming bored or losing purpose in my own life.  After completing my Masters of Education I needed to take on another project.  I had been interested in learning Spanish for several years on a personal level and quickly finished the Rosetta Stone Spanish computer program after completing my Masters.  Once I entered the professional world of the K-12 school system in Arizona I realized how beneficial it is to be bilingual in English/Spanish.  My friends joke that I’m going down to Central America to find a wife.  I don’t expect others to truly understand my motivation for this trip but I believe it’s exactly what I need in my life at this point. I am seizing the opportunity to embark on this adventure while I am still in a position to do so.  I don’t ever want to look back and regret passing up the experience.  I realize that down the road when I am married with children I will likely not be able take such extended travels so the time is now.

I started the search for an international teaching program months ago using website references from friends and colleagues. At first I was quite overwhelmed by the number of programs I found.  How did I know which programs were legit?  How did I even know what to look for??  I can say that the best guidance I got in my selection came from others with similar travels in their past. I was shocked to discover the cost of many programs. My desire to teach in another country wasn’t about making money but I thought it was crazy that I would have to pay an organization to volunteer my time. After a while I got better at identifying programs that I could discard right away for consideration. I shied away from programs with disorganized websites with grammatical/spelling errors. Admittedly it did bring me more comfort to choose a program whose organization is based in the USA. What I found the most reassuring about Cultural Embrace was their prompt response time and willingness to help with any and all questions that I had.

Personally, my selection had less to do with the program’s specific location and more to do with finding an all inclusive inexpensive program; I didn’t want to worry about finding a place to stay etc in a completely foreign environment.  Admittedly I know very little about Guatemala, aside from the nearby ruins of Tikal which I am most excited to check out.  As long as they spoke Spanish in the primary language I was good to go.  My mother, on the other hand, couldn’t help but research the area in order to ease her worries.  Whatcha gonna do…moms will be moms.

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