Photo of the Week
Guatemala 6-week
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    [post_content] => Well here we are, our last homestay. This last homestay was different then all the others for numerous reasons, the living conditions are much different. This last homestay has a shower, a gas stove, the list goes on but above all else i'd like to talk about my homestay sister. She's different from all the others because she doesn't have a voice, or rather she doesn't communicate through sounds. This is because she was deaf since a young age so she talks through hand gestures and sign language. But I don't see her as anything less than for this, but instead I greatly treasure her ever more for this. In a way I can relate with her because here in this foreign country i've seemed to have lost my voice because I don't know the language. But these last two days with my sister has taught me that in order to deeply connect with someone words need not be spoken. To truly connect with this other being you speak through your heart. If you can devote enough time on this bond you can speak through gestures, mere eye contact even, but at the end of the day the message is passed on. This is what my homestay sister Elizabeth taught me without even saying a word, merely spending enough time with me.
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Guatemala 6-week

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Without a voice

Leonard Zeng,Guatemala 6-week

Description

Well here we are, our last homestay. This last homestay was different then all the others for numerous reasons, the living conditions are much different. This last homestay has a shower, a gas stove, the list goes on but above all else i’d like to talk about my homestay sister. She’s different from all the […]

Posted On

07/25/14

Author

Leonard Zeng

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [post_date] => 2014-07-25 14:58:40
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-07-25 20:58:40
    [post_content] => I sit now, at 8:43 PM in a green painted room, with cool air blowing slightly on a thin curtain. To my left sits a large calendar, the first I've seen here that's from the right year, and turned to the right month. I hear my host-mother's mother sweeping a few rooms behind me. Yes, I'm on a computer in my house. Yes, it's making me feel strange, too.

In Cotzal, it seemed easy to say my family was in poverty. Perhaps in Todos Santos, too. We've spoken briefly as a group about poverty, but I'm still not sure I know exactly what it means. Is a family in poverty when they don't have clean water or a bed to sleep on? Is a family in poverty when they don't have a microwave, or if they have dirt floors? Perhaps most importantly, is a family in poverty if they're happy?

When I arrived at this house in Pachaj, it didn't seem so far off from ones I've seen in the States, which is certainly different. Poverty is defined as follows: "the state or condition of having little or no money, goods, or means of support; condition of being poor."

But that doesn't address happiness. For example, I'm happy right now. I feel a little more connected with the world after reading a bit of the news for the past ten minutes. I took a shower that has hot water on most days. There is a refrigerator in this house and a stove that doesn't run on wood. I slept last night, exhausted, on a real bed with real sheets. Right now, I'm exceedingly comfortable. My family here is kind and happy.

But as I've indulged in this life, I've realized how little of it is necessary to my happiness. I don't need to shower every day; once or twice a week is plenty. I don't need a bed; I never thought I'd say this, but there's a part of me that misses the smoky wooden board filled with cats and chickens I slept on in Cotzal.

I don't have a big revelation for this yak- in fact, I'm not sure I have a revelation at all. I'm not experiencing anything all that profound, and millions of others before me have done it, hundreds of them Dragons students. I suppose what I'm experiencing is an understanding that poverty shouldn't be said with pity. It's not that I looked down on anyone poor, but I certainly felt their lifestyle was less fortunate that my own. But if fortune is measured in happiness, I'm not so sure. At least for me, and I know for the families I've lived with, whether or not that have a flushing toilet doesn't much affect happiness.

I suppose what I've been going on and on about to say is that my association of materialism with happiness (or at least status) was so strong, I pitied those with less money, with smaller houses and dirt floors. Now, I have no pity in my heart left for them, and while that may have sounded cold-hearted to me six weeks ago, I feel more open, warm, and happy myself- I need so little, and I've never felt so good.

Oh, and for any readers who are wondering- they don't want your pity, at least from my experience. People with less money might struggle financially, but they live their lives simply and happily, doing the best they can. They have somewhere upwards to move, after all, and that seems far more exciting than being at the top.
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Guatemala 6-week

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Something New

Henrietta Reily,Guatemala 6-week

Description

I sit now, at 8:43 PM in a green painted room, with cool air blowing slightly on a thin curtain. To my left sits a large calendar, the first I’ve seen here that’s from the right year, and turned to the right month. I hear my host-mother’s mother sweeping a few rooms behind me. Yes, […]

Posted On

07/25/14

Author

Henrietta Reily

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [post_date] => 2014-07-23 14:55:04
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    [post_content] => I met four strangers on Wednesday.

One was tiny, and wearing Hello Kitty leggings clearly passed down to him by his older sisters.

The next had shiny dark hair, and clothes permanently stained with what looked to be salsa and dirt.

The third was carrying an uncomfortable-looking basket on her head and a had a beautiful smile.

The fourth and oldest was clearly the caretaker, the one responsible for the lives of her three children. She looked ready to accept the challenge of taking in a person used to living a completely different life than her own.

I left my family on Saturday.

Edwin was a sweetie, and also an incredibly dancer and hugger.

Yosselin was sneaky, and had coerced me into doing her homework for her; I didn't mind once she looked up at me with huge eyes and a smile that lit up her entire face like a lightbulb.

Yessica was an inate helper, constantly being patient with me and helping me with my Spanish. It might have been because she thought my mistakes were funny, but who knows?

The fourth was exactly what she appeared to be: a mother, a fighter, a caretaker, and a friend.

 

I left my family on Saturday.
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Guatemala 6-week

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Four Strangers

Molly Gump,Guatemala 6-week

Description

I met four strangers on Wednesday. One was tiny, and wearing Hello Kitty leggings clearly passed down to him by his older sisters. The next had shiny dark hair, and clothes permanently stained with what looked to be salsa and dirt. The third was carrying an uncomfortable-looking basket on her head and a had a […]

Posted On

07/23/14

Author

Molly Gump

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [post_date] => 2014-07-22 17:22:21
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    [post_content] => Over the past few days, despite some illness, our group has had the opportunity to discover more about Guatemala's second largest city. Yesterday, our slightly smaller group put on blindfolds, walked out of the hostel, and with arms on the shoulders of the person in front of us, made our way down what seemed like endless cobblestoned streets towards an unknown destination. It was following one of our more difficult group-led meetings, and forced us to communicate constantly and clearly with each other. Afterwards, we reflected on the experience and engaged in a few more communication activities before heading off to lunch on our own in the city.

In the afternoon, each student had a meeting with our three instructors in a local cafe to discuss ways to improve over our remaining three weeks. During our free time, we shopped for our group dinner, for the sick members of the group, and tended to personal needs. In the evening we used the hostel's facilities and a $25 budget (trust me, it was enough) to buy vegetables, 30 eggs and desserts that made Israeli salad, guacamole scrambled eggs, and sweets.

This morning, students were required to leave the hostel by 8 AM for our 'urban solos', where we split to explore the city in places specific to our respective ISPs. Hilary went to the zoo and spoke with a veterinarian, while Leo traveled city-wide to make a Xela map. Ari visited a natural history museum and a natural medicine shop, while I went to the local government library and town hall to get more interviews for my ISP on women in Guatemalan government. We all reconvened at 1 at the hostel to discuss our findings and hold our somewhat postponed 'morning meeting'.

At two, we headed to a surprise salsa class down the street before coming back to prep for our third and final homestay tomorrow and begin disussing our midnight trek up Volcano Santa Maria tonight.

After returning from our hike tonight, we'll pack up from the hostel and drive the short distance to Pachaj, where we'll be for six full days, living with our new families and taking Spanish classes in the afternoons.

¡Hasta luego, readers!

Henrietta
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Guatemala 6-week

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Xela Group Yak

Henrietta Reily,Guatemala 6-week

Description

Over the past few days, despite some illness, our group has had the opportunity to discover more about Guatemala’s second largest city. Yesterday, our slightly smaller group put on blindfolds, walked out of the hostel, and with arms on the shoulders of the person in front of us, made our way down what seemed like […]

Posted On

07/22/14

Author

Henrietta Reily

Category

Guatemala 6-week

WP_Post Object
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    [post_date] => 2014-07-22 15:24:46
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-07-22 21:24:46
    [post_content] => My yak about Cotzal now feels well overdue, but is not one I feel willing to skip. Throughout our course, we'd all been briefed on the incredible experience we were sure to have there. Located in the Quiche region (which includes three mid-sized towns) over half of the documented massacres of the civil war were committed. We were told that hearing the testimonials of a few women severely affected by some of the war's worst moments would change us. We heard that for many students, this was the most moving part of the course. To say the least, my expectations were high.

When we arrived in a room with dim, flashing Christmas lights strung around it, I couldn't wait to be paired with one of the fascinating-looking women lining the walls as my host mother. When the time came, a toothless women came up to me and kissed me on the cheek. My anticipation was so high, I felt I could even see her stories woven into her wrinkles. However, she spoke immeasurably softly. I had to bend down and pay the most attention I could to everything she said to make out some of the broken Spanish she was saying (my host mother really only spoke Ixil, the local Mayan language).

After I had broken a sweat with all my bags on my back and in my arms, trudging along in silence for what seemed like hours, we turned down a steep alley and reached the house, made of two walls and a hole-ridden roof. I sat with my host-mother and her adult daughter on the ground in the 'kitchen', where tears welled in my eyes from the smoke blowing in my face. Around me, the two spoke solely Ixil, and I felt bewildered. I only had two full days here. If I was going to have a life-changing experience, I wanted it to get started. After becoming frustrated trying to understand the Ixil, I turned my attentions to the evangelical radio station playing in Spanish, effortlessly easy to understand in comparison. After eating a few tamalitos (tortillas masa stuffed with a few beans and cooked like tamales), I resigned myself to the bed I had been presented with, a small wooden board on top of a few cardboard boxes. I awoke in the night, coughing from the smoke blowing in from the kitchen and finding kittens in my sleeping bag.

I was hating it. I couldn't communicate, I couldn't sleep, I had eaten three meals of tamalitos and I'd had enough. This didn't feel like a life-changing experience. Instead, I felt I was imposing myself unneccesarily and rudely. Then, all of a sudden, it clicked. I didn't need to communicate verbally, I just had to be present. I didn't have to get a perfect night of sleep, and anyway, these women were living to 100 in smoke their whole lives. I didn't have to be angry, but more importantly, I didn't have be angry with myself for being angry. I had a little over a day left. Instead of resigning myself to my 'bed' or going outside, I patiently sat in the kitchen on the floor with my family and listened to them, asking questions in Spanish to which they did their best to reply. I was doing my best, and they were reciprocating. My yearning for a moving experience before seemed silly and forced. Why would I make my host mother talk about the traumatic events of the civil war when I could learn how she made tamalitos, how she wove and how she learned Spanish. All of a sudden, I was content and eager to learn about the normalcies I had isolated myself from initially. I was content to explore my living space, and learn of how one wall was composed of furniture and what can only be called 'stuff', and how when it got holes in it, they just had to shove something else in. I wasn't just content, I was fascinated. I let myself release my judgement I'd had when they told me the 'bathroom' was the nearby river.
I was grateful to finally hear my host-mother's civil war story, but what easily exceeded it in value were the moments I hadn't been able to prepare for, the moments I hadn't ever thought I could find appreciation for. When my host mother kissed me on the cheek again before we boarded our bus to Xela, it felt different. I didn't see her as a victim, I saw her as a resilient, intelligent, funny woman who'd done nothing other than her best all 64 years of her life, and that was something I had even more respect for.
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Guatemala 6-week

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Resolutions

Henrietta Reily,Guatemala 6-week

Description

My yak about Cotzal now feels well overdue, but is not one I feel willing to skip. Throughout our course, we’d all been briefed on the incredible experience we were sure to have there. Located in the Quiche region (which includes three mid-sized towns) over half of the documented massacres of the civil war were […]

Posted On

07/22/14

Author

Henrietta Reily

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [post_date] => 2014-07-22 15:13:08
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    [post_content] => "The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

-Milan Kundera

 

Last week we spent several days in Cotzal, a beautiful community in the western highlands of Guatemala. We spent most of our time in Cotzal working with women in a weaving cooperative who graciously welcomed us into their lives and homes. These women were all survivors of and widowed by the devastating Guatemalan civil war that dominated three decades of the nation's history starting in the 1960's. Towards the end of the armed conflict, five widowed women decided to band together and sell their weavings to forge a future for themselves in the wake of such profound loss and desolation. 20 years later, the co-op uses a strong and sustainable business model to support 45 women and their families.

Several of the women in the cooperative shared their survival stories with us one night as we squeezed in the conference room and huddled away from the rain. Their stories blew me away. The strength, grace and poise that Doña Caterina displayed while sharing her incredily devastating story was truly remarkable. I was able to really appreciate the beauty of the courage that these women display in every step that they take and every row that they weave with their weathered fingers.

While hearing Doña Caterina's story I took rough notes so I would be able to remember the experience later. Afterwards, I decided to transcribe my notes into another journal and now I find myself writing about her words again. The practice of repetition and storytelling is a concept that fascinates me. Storytelling is not only an important source of amusement and catalyst for creativity, but I believe it is also an immense and powerful tool (or weapon) in shaping society. After all, we learn from the words that have been chosen carefully for our ears, and we act based on judgements formed from those words.

As important as words are, I believe silence can be equally impactful on society. If people like Doña Caterina chose to remain silent about the horrific crimes that occurred during the civil war, the situation would continue to worsen and tragedies would continue to occur. Memory is a beautiful and powerful tool in shaping society, and I greatly admire people who choose to remind the world of problems that go unnoticed and forgotten. I will continue to remember the dignity and strength with which the women of Cotzal carry out their daily lives, and the courage with which they chose to break the silence.
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Best Notes From The Field, Guatemala 6-week

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The Power or Memory

Anna Kasibhatla ,Best Notes From The Field, Guatemala 6-week

Description

“The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.” –Milan Kundera   Last week we spent several days in Cotzal, a beautiful community in the western highlands of Guatemala. We spent most of our time in Cotzal working with women in a weaving cooperative who graciously welcomed us into their lives […]

Posted On

07/22/14

Author

Anna Kasibhatla

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    [post_date] => 2014-07-21 09:10:58
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    [post_content] => During my time in Cotzal I noticed how hard everyone works. My family woke up early in the morning to feed the animals and begin cooking breakfast and preparing for the day. They went to bed soon after dinner leaving a few minutes top lay with the family. Also while we were taking a break from sowing the field the locals continued working. People work hard, but still leave time for their family. For example families always eat dinner together and talk about there days. In America people that work hard tend to put there work before there families. In Cotzal and other places in Guatemala people have found a balance between work and family.
    [post_title] => The worker bees of Cotzal
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Guatemala 6-week

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The worker bees of Cotzal

Hilary Kraus,Guatemala 6-week

Description

During my time in Cotzal I noticed how hard everyone works. My family woke up early in the morning to feed the animals and begin cooking breakfast and preparing for the day. They went to bed soon after dinner leaving a few minutes top lay with the family. Also while we were taking a break […]

Posted On

07/21/14

Author

Hilary Kraus

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [post_content] => I stared at the smoking tortillas in front of me, thinking of how I was somehow in the middle of Guatemala. Part of me was hesitant about eating them. What was going on

 

Upon arriving in Guatemala, I was for every meal greeted with a plate of tortillas. And for each meal I pushed them down, attempting to eat them. I hoped that I would eventually acquire the tastes for the beaten corn meal. Oddly enough, I secretly considered that my family would one day surprise me with white bread as a way of sharing a cultural taste. Something that I wouldnt mind having with a meal. I knew that this secret was an example of me holding my American way too close to myself.

From Guatemala City to the end of the mountains outside Nebaj, I tried my best to avoid eating tortillas. Then, I came to Cotzal with my energy drained from the previous trek. My homestay house was starkly different from those in the US. A dirt floor, ducks roaming freely between the sheds, and tree stumps for stools.

 

She greeted me with a hug and nodded her head to the door. I made my way toward my packs, gesturing her to help me with my baggage. For being five foot three and skinny, she took my thirty pound bag and with ease began walking out the door. On the way to the house, everything was steep hills with small indents in the pavement to filter away the rain. All of the kids in the street stopped what they were doing and stared at my red hair color. Something that they had never seen before.

After the many minutes of walking, I arrived at a small dirt pathway lined to the end with trees and barb wire. She began quickly walking and turned down a steep set of rock stairs. What came next shocked me. Ducklings, probably around twenty of them were waddling around. A muddy stream cutting through the house area had small wooden planks placed over it. She opened up a rotting door and guided me toward a small table with a small, sanded-down tree stump. And there sat a plate of smoking tortillas.

For a brief moment, I found myself wondering why I couldnt bear the idea of eating tortillas for all these weeks. To experience eating American food in a foreign country wouldve been a waste. Here in this country I was allowed to see the richness of their unique culture. Maybe it was that I had been shocked in this state. This state of trying to see how similar my culture was to Cotzal's; however, that state had led to me rejecting seeing the difference. Without the difference, I could never truly see Guatemala

Without thinking, my hand moved over to the plate and grabbed a tortilla.

It was delicious.

 
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Guatemala 6-week

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From Bread to Tortilla

Will Campbell,Guatemala 6-week

Description

I stared at the smoking tortillas in front of me, thinking of how I was somehow in the middle of Guatemala. Part of me was hesitant about eating them. What was going on   Upon arriving in Guatemala, I was for every meal greeted with a plate of tortillas. And for each meal I pushed […]

Posted On

07/20/14

Author

Will Campbell

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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    [ID] => 106195
    [post_author] => 26
    [post_date] => 2014-07-20 09:53:09
    [post_date_gmt] => 2014-07-20 15:53:09
    [post_content] => 
Here in Guatemala, and especially in Todos Santos, excitement and novelty await us at every turn. The best example of this is when we went on a little hike with our Spanish instructors to visit the local caves. Before we even left, some of us were given machetes, a clear and present danger in the United States, but a fun, and not so constructive, way to interact with nature here in Guatemala. We walked for about 25 minutes before arriving at the edge of the woods. At first I couldn’t understand why we had come to a river and a forest, and not caves, but after everyone had grouped together I understood. We were going to cut through the forest, bushwhacking our way through the underbrush, clearly. After about 20 minutes of meandering through the jungle, we arrived at the entrance to these large caves. As we entered, we became very humbled by the grandeur of the caves. There were paths leading to higher caves and many people climbed up into them. The walls of the caves were wet from some sort of substance, probably water. 
Later that afternoon, a few of us went to see the local cemetery. Here in Guatemala, the graves are above ground and are created differently, creating a very colorful, and fun place to see. Here in Guatemala, there is a day of the dead, where people celebrate the life of those they have lost. This kind of happiness is a great example of how happy people are in this country. Local people don’t often complain and even celebrate the death of their family members because they believe that they are in a better place. I believe that the way that the cemeteries are decorated and look are indicative of the happiness of local Guatemalans. I am inspired by the way that people here live their lives, simply, and very happily. There is a calming feeling that comes from knowing that you live close to the things that matter to you, the food, family, and friends. I hope to continue to be inspired by new and interesting ideas.
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Guatemala 6-week

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The Caves of Todos Santos

Gedalia Schorsch,Guatemala 6-week

Description

Here in Guatemala, and especially in Todos Santos, excitement and novelty await us at every turn. The best example of this is when we went on a little hike with our Spanish instructors to visit the local caves. Before we even left, some of us were given machetes, a clear and present danger in the […]

Posted On

07/20/14

Author

Gedalia Schorsch

Category

Guatemala 6-week

WP_Post Object
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    [ID] => 106263
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    [post_date] => 2014-07-20 09:51:33
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    [post_content] => Hiking can sometimes, at least for me seem very tiresome and often can be boring. At some point through the trek, however, I realized that hiking has value beyond the long walking and the beautiful views and only then did I begin to appreciate the time our group spent trekking through the wildernesses of Guatemala. To me, it seems that hiking is an exercise, much like homework. This exercise requires physical energy and persistence. This exercise also requires dedication and constant hard work. Like homework, hiking offeres many valuable exercises which build different skills. Hiking has shown me that hard work has value simply because I put in the time and energy towards a goal. Additionally, hiking has proved to me that having faith in a goal can be rewarding even if you don’t complete the goal. I believe this is true because when you hike, you commit to hiking, regardless if you get to your desired rest spot or not, or if you climb the mountain in under an hour. This exercise of committing yourself to doing something is very important and often overlooked. Being able to be consistent and determined are important skills and I feel as though they are usually connected with success, but they don’t need to be. In addition, being able to work hard for something that will never produce tangible results is a valuable practice, because often people get caught up with making money, or wining a trophy, and forget that sometimes work is good just because its work. I think that being able to look up and see the big picture and appreciate how far you’ve come and how much work you’ve put in is a great way to be happier, because no matter whether you succeed or not, you will feel accomplished. Being able to appreciate your hard work is a skill that hiking truly makes you recognize. Another skill that hiking has to offer is the ability to develop and grow as an individual. I believe that in order to grow you must constantly be learning about yourself.  Hiking has taught me a lot about myself and what I am capable of when I work hard and commit myself toward a goal. I believe that hiking shows you that you are often more capable than you think, and with a little hard work and determination, you can do a whole lot. Persistence and determination are very important skills as a student. I often feel unmotivated and so I think that we hike so that we don’t forget that hard work, dedication, and persistence will lead to great results.
    [post_title] => Hiking is Really Similar to Homework
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Guatemala 6-week

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Hiking is Really Similar to Homework

Gedalia Schorsch,Guatemala 6-week

Description

Hiking can sometimes, at least for me seem very tiresome and often can be boring. At some point through the trek, however, I realized that hiking has value beyond the long walking and the beautiful views and only then did I begin to appreciate the time our group spent trekking through the wildernesses of Guatemala. […]

Posted On

07/20/14

Author

Gedalia Schorsch

Category

Guatemala 6-week

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