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Guatemala Journal 2014

Day-by-day in Guatemala

Share the daily accounts of five students and instructors on the 2014 Guatemala Study Tour - December 27 - January 12.


Day 1

We made it to Guatemala, and we are all sharing tight but tidy corners in the hostel. Because of our large group, we are staying in the "auxiliary area."  Let's just say that it's a character-building opportunity! Our flights were pleasantly uneventful and all our luggage arrived. Tomorrow morning, we will head out for Quetzaltenango!

Guatemala Day 1


Day 2

We made it to Quetzaltenango! We had a very pleasant morning of waking up little by little, of having a nice conversation with Libertad (the owner of the B & B ) over breakfast, of checking emails, and of getting to know each other a bit more. Many of the students were working earnestly on their greetings and introductions in anticipation of meeting their host families this afternoon. The Casa Xelaju bus came around 11:00 a.m., and we loaded up and headed out for Quetzaltenango.  We made it in time for the students to have their first dinner with their families. 

Guatemala Day 2


Day 3

Today was a full day of learning the layout of the central part of the city,  going to the ATM, locating the school, checking email, and enjoying an afternoon meal at a local café. As you can see from the photos, Michael is busy studying Spanish while Nicole, Jessica, Kyle, Heather, and Rachel are soaking in the sun. The last photo is at the language school where bright and early Monday morning the students will start their intensive language classes. From left to right the students are Michael Pedersen, Kyle Sumiejski, Sarah Juon, Keri Helgeson, Renee Iannareli, Heather Kurilla, Rachel Pedersen, Jessica Jacobson, Nicole Babich, and Marilyn Evers

Guatemala Day 3


Day 4

Sarah is eagerly arriving at her first day of classes at Casa Xelaju! She's toting one the four computers that will be donated to a rural middle school. Meanwhile, Gary began his exploration of the city and found a monument in honor of Tecum-Uman, the last Quiche Mayan king of Xela. Tecum-Uman fought the Spanish conquistador Pedro  Alvarado in 1524. Lastly, a group of us headed toward the bank so that Kyle and Nicole could exchange dollars for quetzales. The students are settling in nicely with their families.

Guatemala Day 4


Day 5

Today concluded the second day of Spanish classes for the students. Gary took these photos as the students were leaving their classes. The textile vendors are a charming and integral part of the school, and they have been regulars at Casa Xelaju for years. They are lovely individuals and have always welcomed the opportunity for students to practice their Spanish skills with them.

Guatemala Day 5


Day 6

Today was a very quiet and relaxing day. After spending New Year's Eve with their host families, the students woke up leisurely and gravitated to the central square by mid-day.  A few of them participated in the eating of twelve grapes at midnight, which signifies a wish for each month of the new year. In the morning, Gary and I explored the public cemetery and paid homage to Vanushka's sarcophagus. Tonight we all attended a Mayan procession of the celebration of the incoming year. Classes begin again tomorrow, and the students have been working hard at completing their homework assignments! I am quite proud of their initiative and academic earnestness!

Guatemala Day 6


Day 7

Today's photos were taken in the interior patio of Casa Xelaju. On the last day of a student's study, the school acknowledges the student by a farewell celebration. Today two students -- one from Long Island, New York, and the other from Australia -- completed their studies at the school. The students are invited to express their gratitude, their sentiments,  their well wishes for Casa Xelaju, their thankfulness to the wonderful teachers, and their hopes for those who are still studying. It's a moving experience to see the sincere feelings that can develop within a very short period of time. Nicolet students will be expressing their own sentiments on January 10!

 guatemala day 7


Day 8

The students finished their first week of classes! This afternoon we took one of the many colorful buses to Salcaja to see the first Catholic church in Central America (1524). Since Nicole is receiving credit for Spanish 4, she has been charged with interpreting for the group. She's doing a wonderful job! As you can see from the smiles on Kyle's face, he is thoroughly enjoying himself! On the way out of Salcaja, he saw some young men playing basketball and he jumped right in! Tomorrow we head out for a weekend excursion in Panajachel and a boat ride across Lago Atitlan!

Guatemala Day 8


Day 9

We arrived here today around 10:30 and have had a full day thus far. We ate lunch at an Uruguayan restaurant, took a little ferry boat across Lago Atitlan to Santiago, walked up a hill to a beautiful Catholic church (built in 1547), and then walked around and did a little kiosk shopping. Later in the afternoon, we returned to the hotel and checked in. Right now the students are enjoying a much-deserved rest!

Guatemala Day 9


Day 10

If you look closely at our faces, you can tell that we are all trying to smile nicely. We're pretending that we are not tired! We're thankful to Kristian and Don Luis for the lovely weekend we spent in Panajachel. Kristian is the charismatic activities organizer for Casa Xelaju, and Don Luis is the school's chauffeur extraordinaire! Tomorrow the students start their last week at Casa Xelaju. Our mornings will be the same: five hours of Spanish classes! The week's activities include going to a women's weaving cooperative, visiting Fuentes Georginas (thermal baths) and the Proyecto la Pedrera (a local school that Casa Xelaju sponsors), and perhaps participating in a cooking or dancing class!

Guatemala Day 10


Day 11

Today several of us went to Trama Textiles, a women's weaving cooperative. The association is comprised of seventeen different Mayan groups in five regions of the highlands of Guatemala. There are approximately 400 women who belong to the cooperative. It was organized after the armed conflict ended in the 1980s. The cooperative's primary focus was (and still is) for women to be able to support themselves and their families by selling their weavings throughout the world. Visit Trama Textiles at or

Guatemala Day 11


Day 12

Today Gary and I had lunch with Elizabeth Fredrickson at Café Baviera, a local café/restaurant. Although Liz traveled on her own to Guatemala, we met up with her at the airport in Guatemala City and she traveled with us to Xela. This is Liz's third year in Guatemala! She is staying with the same host family that she had three years ago and is enjoying her time with them. To her admirable sense of independence, she will be spending an extra week here beyond our group's two-week stay! Go, Liz!

In the afternoon, Nicolet students took part in a cooking class! They learned how to make jocom (a chicken, rice, and salsa dish). The smell of cilantro, onions, oil, and peppers drifted in and out of the school's kitchen and made their mouths water!

Guatemala Day 12


Day 13

Today several of the students took part in a dance class! We're all hoping that the mid-afternoon salsa music reenergizes them! Nicole and Jessica woke up very early to a rented mariachi band who arrived at her host family's house to celebrate a birthday! Needless to say, they were pretty tired by the time they arrived at school! The other students are doing well. This evening they are studying earnestly for their final exam!

Guatemala Day 13


Day 14

Today was a full day for the students. In the morning, they took their final exam. In the afternoon, several of us walked to La Pedrera, a local school that Casa Xelaju sponsors. Nicolet students met a few students and conversed in Spanish with them. It was a nice opportunity for students of all ages to talk about their interests, their hobbies, their school activities, etc. Afterwards, Heather, Kyle, Renee, and Sarah were recognized for their participation in a computer donation program for Instituto Mixto de Educacion Basica por Cooperativa, a rural school of limited funds that Casa Xelaju also sponsors. Tomorrow will be out last day at Casa Xelaju, and students will have the opportunity to express their thankfulness and appreciation to their teachers and to this wonderful language school.

Guatemala Day 14


Day 15

Today was a very special day for all the students. As you can see from the photos, they gave their farewell speech to their teachers and to the dedicated staff of Casa Xelaju. To top it all off, they did very well on their final exam! To celebrate, we went to Fuentes Georginas, a grouping of thermal baths located high above the mountain side. It was exactly what they needed: an opportunity to clear their minds and to relieve a bit of stress! I am tremendously proud of their accomplishments and how they all embraced this educational -- yet adventurous -- travel course!

Guatemala Day 15


Day 16

Today is our last day in Guatemala, and we are now in Antigua. We arrived here around 11:30, checked into the rooms, did a quick orientation to the layout, and then explored on our own. Tonight we ate a nice restaurant, and we are all quite ready to return to Wisconsin. All in all, it appears that the students learned a lot of Spanish, learned a lot about themselves, and enjoyed themselves in the process.

Guatemala Day 16


Day 17

Here's the last photo of the Guatemala International Study course! We left Antigua this morning at 5:00 a.m. and arrived at CWA around 8:30 p.m.! This final email serves as an acknowledgement of the students' personalities and/or character traits that I saw emerging during this travel course: Keri's sincerity and genuine kind-heartedness; Rachel's laidback and down-to-earth way of moving through the world; Jessica's admirable and willing adaptability; Nicole's maturity and natural collegiality; Michael's respectfulness and quirky sense of humor; Heather's self-determination and self-confidence; Kyle's uninhibited sense of adventure; Renee's refreshing flexibility; Marilyn's cultural curiosity; and Sarah's academic earnestness. Lastly, these emails would not be as interesting or as complete if not for Gary's good eye for impromptu and candid photos. He always looked for the best opportunities to highlight the students in their various activities and always did so with good taste and respectfulness.

Thank you for reading and supporting the daily emails!

Guatemala day 17