To sit down and sum up my year at NPH Guatemala, the feelings, the experiences, the challenges, the celebrations and the memories, is next to impossible. Fifteen months ago when I set off for my year adventure to teach English at NPHG, in a country that I had never traveled to, where a language was spoken that was not my own, far away from family and friends, I did not know what to expect. Though I was scared and nervous, I was excited. Little did I know that this much anticipated year would be the best thirteen months I have experienced yet. Though life-changing, the thirteen months were not easy, and there were bumps in the road. Even with bumps, the road I traveled at NPH was the best road I have traveled in my life.
Each day I spent at NPH brought new excitement and new challenges; from the moment I woke up. Every morning at 6:00am my alarm went off, and I never had much interest in getting out of bed; it was too cold. As breathtaking as the mountains surrounding Casa San Andres are, they cause for very cold mornings and nights. I rolled out of bed and threw on my NPH uniform: black pants, my gray polo shirt, black shoes and of course my signature red or pink sunglasses. Once dressed in my usual attire, I grabbed something for breakfast and headed out the door. I was at school every morning by 6:45am for formation, before the school day began. By the time 7:00am hit, the kids began to file into their classrooms, laughing and chatting away, and I greeted each student with a smile and a good morning as we started our day.
Teaching at NPH was one of the hardest, yet most rewarding and fulfilling experiences I have ever had. First, I had to balance teaching kids from preschool through ninth grade with different learning styles, different levels of English and very different attitudes. Some were so eager to learn and others had to be pushed. Some could speak English very well, and others had never taken an English class before. Each day brought something new, and my students and I learned together, had a lot of fun, and made great gains. After a day full of very energetic (and not always well behaved) classes, correcting papers and preparing lessons for the days to come, I headed down to spend the evening with my section of girls.
My girls (a group of twenty), between the ages of 11-15, were the highlight of my year at NPHG. Working as a volunteer in the section was the most challenging aspect of the year, but by far the best. There were moments with these girls that pushed me to extremes emotionally that I never knew were possible. The time I put in, the relationships I made, and the memories that will last forever made every second worth it. I quickly grew to love this group of girls, and looked forward to walking in each night to find that they were always up to something different. Some evenings I would walk into a dance party complete with twenty girls singing at the top of their lungs (which of course I would quickly join in on), sometimes an indoor soccer game would be in the making, and sometimes they would all be spread out around the room working on homework and assignments for the upcoming week. There was never a dull moment in the section in the evenings, and I loved being able to be part of it—from soccer referee, to tutor, to friend, or just a listener. The relationships I formed with these girls were the foundation of my year at NPH.
After an evening in the section I headed home to my little volunteer house on the other side of the NPHG. I always walked across the soccer field where there is an amazing view of the surrounding mountains, volcanoes and stars. The other volunteers, who were making similar treks back to the volunteer homes after a visit to their section or a late night soccer game, played a large role in my year at NPH. We were together all the time and I quickly formed relationships that I know will last a lifetime. Having the support and friendship of the other volunteers was important—we were there for each other and picked each other up when we were down, and celebrated in each other’s successes and gains.
Now, the thirteen months in Guatemala have come and gone and I am back in the states. The much-awaited moments of seeing friends and family, applying for jobs and looking for a place to live has been a blur. I am realizing that I am not just back for vacation, but here to stay. Things are different here, and I notice it every day; everyone is speaking English, my Quetzales are not worth anything, people don’t find the need to say “buenas tardes” (good afternoon) when they pass me on the street, and I am not surrounded by the comforting laughter of the children and the familiar landscape that I had been calling home. I miss Guatemala and NPH every day, and I can't believe it is time for this chapter of my life to come to an end. I know that the memories I have made, the experiences I have had, and the people that I have met will be in my heart forever.