Hola from Guatemala!
We are finally all settled into our home stays, know our way around the main part of Xela (the town) and how to get from home to school, and the students are in their fourth day of language school today. Monday and Tuesday were full days beginning with five hours of language instruction. Each student was introduced to his/her Spanish teacher, and then everyone dispersed to their classroom or work area (some of the students sat in the outdoor patio at small tables with their teachers while others had small classrooms in the three-story building). All of the students completed various grammar exams to help their teacher determine their starting point in the language, and a good portion of their time was also spent in conversation. It is very important to the language school that each of our students feel comfortable with their teacher, so that the one-on-one instruction method will be a successful partnership between the student and the teacher. I have checked in with the students, and everyone seems very excited about their first days of class, although the grammar testing was a little shocking for a few of them (which is good!). I perceive that most of the students are already beginning to feel more confident in their language skills, especially with the amount of conversation they have had with their host families. It is a big confidence booster for them to realize that they can have in-depth, meaningful conversations in Spanish with their families.
Our first few days here have provided some free time for students to explore the town, enjoy the coffee and hot chocolate in local Internet cafes, or just rest and work on homework for the program. We have spent some time in group dynamics sessions to unify the group now that we have all twenty students together (after three of them spent the fall semester at our Costa Rica center). It is clear that this group is very adaptable, open, and unified, and their months of preparation are being put into practice in practical, linguistic, and cultural ways every day.
On Tuesday half of the group went to observe a traditional way of making chocolate for drinking and they were also able to take part in actually mixing the ingredients and forming the chocolate bars. It is quite a process that involves lots of pounding mounds of chocolate with your hands on a big wooden table, using simple homemade metal instruments to shape the bars. Hopefully everyone will be able to prepare this for their families when we return! The other half of the group spent the afternoon with the language school's community service program (La Pedrera), where we worked with the children and youth at the neighborhood nutrition and tutoring center. We served the daily snack (which is often one of only two times per day that many of these children eat), and our students worked in teams with a small group of kids or teenagers to teach an English lesson, sing or play games, and organize a recreation activity (mostly kickball!).
Wednesday we shared a wonderful time of worship and devotion together, led by our awesome worship team, Ali, Andrew & Peter. We reflected on the theme of embracing whatever comes along the way in our path, in life and especially during this CASP journey. Afterward, we did a small group chat in Spanish about the people here who have made an impact on us so far. This was the students' first graded language activity, and everyone did very well!
Today (Thursday) will be the other half of the group's turn to teach and serve at the Pedrera youth center, and the other part of the group will have a cooking class to learn how to make two traditional dishes. The students should come home with some great recipes to make for family and friends!
This weekend, we will have an overnight trip to Lake Atitlan and the surrounding area. This will be a time for the students to observe a larger Mayan community and put their language skills to work as they interact with the people in the market, etc. We will write to you about our adventure next week!
The weather was wonderful during the day through Tuesday while the sun was out (probably 70 degrees), but yesterday and today have turned colder and overcast. In general, the mornings and evenings are quite chilly, so most of us are using our sweaters, fleeces, and jackets several hours of the day.
I am very blessed to be part of this group. Each student is contributing to our experience in very special ways, and I have seen the way that their support and encouragement amongst each other is having an impact on the experience of each person in the group, including myself and the other leaders. We have started this journey very well!
Thank you for your continued prayer and encouragement. We will continue to send updates.