During May term, I went to Guatemala. I can positively say that trip was one of the best experiences of my life. 

It was also my first time traveling outside of the United States. I was a global studies minor who had never gone further than Virginia — so, needless to say, I was ready to change that.

As soon as we arrived, I was in awe.

We stayed at SEMILLA Seminary in Guatemala City, where we often had one class in the morning before taking a trip in the afternoon. In class, we would learn about the history and culture of Guatemala from local speakers. 

The trips were my favorite; we would visit colorful markets, museums, a coffee farm and Iximché ruins. We even hiked an active volcano! 

While I don’t think I could pick my favorite memory, our weekend trip comes quite close. We took a trip to Santiago Atitlán, a four-hour drive and a boat ride away from the capital. We traveled in the back of a truck, watching as colorful buildings, stray dogs and mopeds went by. 

The glistening blue water and foggy mountains could be seen in the distance. 

We visited the women’s cooperative ANADESA, where they showed us traditional Mayan techniques and ways of life, such as grinding corn to make tortillas. 

We also went to a chocolate factory, a bee farm, a weaving company and a medicinal garden. I not only learned a lot but had fun in the process.

That is one reason I highly recommend studying abroad for May term, if one can. While I can look up information about Guatemala, nothing beats actually experiencing it. 

Not only did I learn about the culture and history, but I also made connections with people I wouldn’t have the chance to, from the chefs Ingrid and Reynalda to the class speakers and especially my classmates. 

Living together for three weeks was not for the faint of heart, but we left Guatemala closer than ever. 

Naturally, there were hardships — being homesick, actually sick, tired, sunburned and bloated from all the food — but support from each other helped us get through and stay positive.

I hope Guatemala becomes a permanent May term so that others may gain similar experiences. Seeing the beauty and culture, forming meaningful relationships and learning more about oneself in a way unattainable on campus. 

Such an experience should be valued; it was certainly one that will stay with me forever.