I'll be traveling in Guatemala from June 15 until July 29 this summer -- primarily studying Spanish in Xela, but also hiking volcanoes, enjoying a little beach time, and exploring Mayan ruins. I also hope to write a bit. Not too much, not too little -- just enough to enhance the experience of being there. After all, a big part of the appeal of traveling and experience other cultures is the act of sharing that knowledge and experience with others. Forty-four days in Guatemala. It one sense, it's really not that long. At most, I'll get in five weeks of classes at Celas Maya. Even with five hours of one-on-one instruction five days a week and a homestay with a Guatemalan family, that's hardly enough time to reach any reasonable level of competency in Spanish -- though it can't hurt either.
In another sense, 44 days is a long time. It will be the longest trip I've done by myself. When I finished studying abroad near Athens, Greece in 2005, the ticket home I bought was from Moscow to Arkansas (via New York), and the flight out was 40 days after the end of my school term. It was a pretty exhausting 40 days; a whirlwind tour from Greece through Southern Europe to Portugal, back across to Croatia, up through eastern Europe to Poland, and through Scandinavia to Finland, Estonia, and Russia, all without seeing anyone I knew. Looking back, it was an amazing experience, but the pace was a bit crazy.
This trip to Guatemala will also be the longest period of time I've spent in a developing country. I was in Ghana for five weeks (as a "missionary intern"), South Africa for three, Zambia for two, and Mexico, Guyana, and Egypt each for about 7-10 days. Needless to say, my experience is relatively broad but not very deep. 6 weeks in Guatemala won't exactly fix that, but being based in one place for that long will be a step in the right direction. And being rooted in Xela will allow me to make friends with other students and Guatemalans in a way I wouldn't be able to if I were just backpacking through.
In August I'll start graduate studies in international health, and this time next year I'll be preparing for either a 4+ month practicum experience in the developing world, or Peace Corps service. So in that sense, Guatemala is really just a warm-up. Compared to the internationally-oriented career I'm planning, the time I've spent overseas feels fairly insignificant -- but you have to start somewhere!