Mario Pizzuto, a third-year applied linguistics student, writes about the opportunities and various challenges he expects to have while volunteering abroad before departing for the Guatemala Alternative Spring Break trip

A few months ago at Carleton Serves, I saw a very intriguing presentation about ASB. Surprisingly, up to that point I had never even heard of the program before! But throughout the presentation, it occurred to me that even though I had taken volunteered in my own city and university campus, I had never experienced community service learning in another country. The idea was very enticing and I couldn’t deny the enthusiasm that it brought about inside of me. I decided that I had to put myself out there. I had to try; I owed it to myself to at least apply.

Needless to say, I was grateful to receive a spot on one of the trips in this year’s program. In just under a month I will be in Guatemala, not only absorbing some sun but also a culture that is unlike anything I have ever experienced before.

While a few years ago the prospect of visiting a different country without my family would have made me nervous, today I can’t avoid the rush of curiosity and excitement that I have every time I think of the trip. It will definitely be an opportunity for self-growth and that is one of the things I look forward to the most. I will be putting myself into a brand new situation, with challenges that I do not experience every day. Seeing how I respond will be interesting.

This whole experience, from the group pre-departures to the fundraising events to the day of service, has been wonderful. ASB has already been an opportunity to become friends with amazing new people that I might not have met otherwise. In Guatemala, I hope to gain a new sense of cultural competence and develop a better-rounded worldview. I also hope to observe some of the things I have studied in my courses in a real-world setting.

I do not underestimate the challenges that await me in Guatemala. This will be the first time I travel without my family. It will be difficult to say goodbye, but I’m sure my attention will be diverted during the trip. In any case, I will be going to Guatemala with a fantastic support group who I know will be there for me if I feel homesick.

Last week, my team met for one of our pre-departure days. Together with the Belize team, we did an activity that focused on the importance of communication. There were five tables with a card game going on at each table. After reading the rules of the game, no talking was allowed. At the end of each hand, certain players were required to move to different tables, each of which employed different rules. As there was no talking allowed, players had to find alternative ways to understand the new rules at the new tables.

The activity drew several correlations to the situation we may find ourselves in on our trips. In Guatemala they speak Spanish. The language barrier is something that our team will need to overcome. As an applied linguistics major I can’t underestimate the importance of language in daily life. Appropriately, our team decided that we would take on the task of learning and sharing various Spanish phrases that we think will help us get by.

In the coming weeks I am looking forward to the team dinner that we have organized. As there are no Guatemalan restaurants in Ottawa, we’ll be trying some Mexican cuisine (they are somewhat similar) in preparation for the trip! Then it will be back to counting down the days until we leave – it is approaching faster than we think!

Submitted by Mario Pizzuto, a third-year applied linguistics student.

To learn more about Alternative Spring Break at Carleton, visit carleton.ca/seo/asb


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