Tag Archives: Teaching

Welcome to the Volcanic Arc!

First things first: I’m sicky poo.

I spoke too soon when I boasted about not falling ill in Nepal. I almost, almost escaped unscathed. But I found myself coughing every few minutes between two hefty guys on a 15 hour flight to North America. That was not comforting in the slightest. Thankfully, they were just coughs and not anything worse. Upon landing in the Guatemala City airport, the time was now around 8:30pm on Sunday. I easily navigated around, found my luggage, eased through customs, and went on my way out the door. I saw a guy holding a yellow flag with a smiley face on it. That’s my guy! I received an email a couple of weeks ago telling me to be on the lookout for a yellow flag with a smile on it. There were two other volunteers there waiting. I was so out of it from flying, lack of sleep, and falling ill that I couldn’t remember their names.

Our Guatemalan driver handed us a folder labeled “Maximo Nivel” that had information specific to us. I opened it and read that I would be placed in a homestay. My host mother’s name is Olga. Can’t wait to meet her! We were picked up in Guatemala City but had to drive about 30 minutes west to the city of La Antigua, my new home for the next six weeks. I expected the roads here to be crap but they were as smooth and paved as can be. On the way we passed multiple McDonald’s, Wendy’s, Taco Bells, and Burger Kings. I haven’t had McDonald’s since Germany! That might be a new record for me.

We entered the charming city of Antigua, which was festive with Christmas lights and colorful buildings. The roads were made of cobblestone that spread evenly between perfectly parallel and perpendicular streets and avenues. Smack dab in the middle of the city was Parque Central, a very small square with a fountain and lot’s of greenery surrounding. Speaking of squares, Antigua was very square in nature. Streets ran directly north and south and directly east and west. This was block city at it’s finest. It would be difficult to get lost here.


After dropping the other two volunteers at their volunteer house, the driver dropped me off at my homestay, door number seven.


I walked inside with my bags and met a young woman, maybe about 20 years old, and a little girl around 10. The older woman didn’t speak a lick of English but welcomed me anyways. Her name is Lorena. Where was Olga? The woman showed me to my new room. Would I have roommates? Would the room be cozy? This house smells like my grandma’s house when I was growing up and that’s a good thing. It’s a comforting scent. “El desayuno es a las siete,” she said. Breakfast is at seven in the morning.

My room was a single bedroom, with a really soft bed, blanketed with multiple covers. I had my own dresser, night desk, and a few towels to spare. To top it off, I had my own bathroom across from my room with an actual toilet I could sit on and best of all…a hot freakin shower! This was luxury compared to my more primitive homestay in Nepal. And since I was coming down with something awful, I needed to be as comfortable as possible with the peace and privacy I needed to relax. But, were there other volunteers already living here? I arrived late at night so if there was anyone else then they’d be sleeping. I’d see who else was around tomorrow.

My room.
My room.

I woke up early from jet lag and from constant coughs. Thankfully, me new bed welcomed me with much needed comfort and warmth. Soon enough, I got ready and entered the dining room. There I met my pleasantly pleasant host mother Gloria and a few other volunteers. Three of the volunteers were here independently studying English. The other four were part of IVHQ and were only here for one measly week. Three of them came together for nursing and another, Adelah (New York), came here for construction. The breakfast we had was wholesome and filling. Yogurt, granola, omelets, fruits, toasts, and tea. We had a brief orientation later that morning at Maximo where I was introduced to more volunteers, including Roxy (USA). She will be teaching English alongside me.

The place where we would be teaching is in a new building that Maximo is still renovating. It’s about 25 minutes outside of Antigua in a place called Alotenango. To get there, we must take a chicken bus. A chicken bus is a pimped out American school bus that the locals can take to nearby areas on the cheap.

A chicken bus.
A chicken bus.

They call it a chicken bus because they pack it so tight that everyone’s heads are bobbing around like chickens packed in a crate. Honestly, I’ve been on far tighter buses that deserve the name “chicken bus” more so than these here in Antigua. These buses here weren’t so bad in comparison.


A team member from Maximo named Jonathan took a few of us to our placement on our first day and gave us the lowdown on our teaching gig.

Our building where I will be teaching.
Our building where I will be teaching.

Roxy and I expected today to just be an observation day to get the scope of things but instead we were thrown into our own classes of three groups of students. I haven’t been in Guatemala for 24 hours yet and already we had our own classes. As a matter of fact, there were no other teachers here, just Roxy and I. We found out we would be teaching to kids who couldn’t afford language classes and that these kids would be coming to our building after their normal school day. We teach for three hours every weekday to three classes, all ranging from five year olds to adults in their early twenties. We have to be basic and simple here. Constant repetition is key. Unlike Nepal, Vietnam, South Africa, and even Tanzania, the students here in Guatemala were severely lacking in the English department which surprised me. I thought they’d know at least a few things here. This will take some time!

Roxy teaching the students their numbers.



I’ve been pretty sick for the past few days and instead of mingling with the other volunteers and getting to know them better, I was stuck in bed, sick as a dog each night. I signed up for Spanish classes every morning and I wound up getting my poor teacher, Sandra, sick. Lo siento Sandra! I worked up enough strength to finally go out into the town with Adelah and a new arrival named Katie (England).

Me, Adelah, and Katie.
Me, Adelah, and Katie.

Turns out Katie and I have a mutual friend by the name of Sam. Remember I met Sam in South Africa some time ago and visited him when I went to London for Christmas two years ago. Small world! A few volunteers from the volunteer house planned on going to a place called Semuc Champey over the weekend and invited me along. By now my cold started to wear off and I felt better enough to join up. I had no idea what Semuc Champey was. I never heard of it.

Turns out it’s one of the best places ever to do something I’ve never done before!

The Latin Linguist

This upcoming seventh season of volunteering lending my talents abroad leads me to Guatemala and I’ve been wanting to go there for years! In fact, Guatemala was supposed to be my very first country I’ve ever travelled to alone, fresh out of high school. But a phone call from my organization at the time asked me to change countries last minute because of growing civil problems within the country. And so, I changed it to Costa Rica.

Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.
Guatemala! My new major area of exploration for the next few weeks.

I don’t know much about what’s going on but I do have some information to share. Once again, I will be working under IVHQ, teaching English in the city of Antigua, Guatemala! I’m scheduled to remain there for six weeks but I still don’t know if I’m staying in a homestay or a volunteer house. I’ve had great experiences with both situations, but I think I’m leaning towards a homestay. The best news I received is that the local organization I will be working with is called Maximo Nivel. I’ve worked with them before in Peru, three and a half years ago and they were a really great company to be a part of! They have branches in Peru, Costa Rica, and Guatemala. I also plan on getting my spanish on hardcore while I’m there.

La Antigua, Guatemala.
La Antigua, Guatemala.

Once again, I’m going in mostly blind. I don’t know anyone or what it’s going to be like, or even what excursions I’m going to be taking.  The mystery is part of the intrigue. I’m hoping Guatemalan food is similar to Mexican food because if so, I’m gonna get fat for sure! Mexican is my favorite food! I’ll be spending Christmas and New Years down there which will also be a first. I spent my first Thanksgiving abroad in Nepal and now I’m spending my first New Year’s abroad in Guatemala. For those keeping record, I spent Christmas abroad already once before in the United Kingdom.

The last few days in Nepal was starting to get cold so I was ready to get to a warmer country, but getting there was tiresome. A five hour flight from Kathmandu, Nepal to Doha, Qatar-> a 12 hour layover in Doha -> a 15 hour flight from Qatar to Miami, Florida-> a two hour layover and then finally a three hour flight from Miami to Guatemala City.

Goodbye Nepal!
Goodbye Nepal!

This is also the first time I stopped back in the US during a lengthy trip to continue onto other countries. So that will be a little weird; seeing all the fat people again for a few hours. After not being in the US for a few months, you really notice it once you go back. Trust me.

I’m ready. I’m excited. I’m pumped! I’m planning on getting my Spanish on and will bathe myself in the language until I start to think in Spanish. That is one of my primary goals while I am there. Also, to get my hands dirty with the Guatemalan culture and explore as much as I can.

Continue following me on here, I have a  feeling things are going to get interesting.



Farewell Flowers

The time has come.

My six week stint in Nepal was coming to an end. It was going to be mighty hard to say goodbye to this school. Just as I was starting to get a lot of the names down too.


My last day at the school was on Wednesday, but I told them I would pop by Thursday morning during the morning assembly to say goodbye. Upon arrival to the school, I was graciously bombarded with flowers from random kids from random grades.

“When will you come back to our school?” they would say. That was the question that I couldn’t give a good answer to.

“I’m not sure…” I responded. “But I’ll try my best to comeback soon!”

That was the truth. I felt an attachment to the students at the school and even to my host family that I would love to comeback and see them again one day. The only thing that would hold me back is time. There are way too many other countries just waiting for a visit but with places I’ve found the time to return to, namely South Africa and Vietnam, it definitely is a possibility.


During morning assembly, I noticed every single student held a flower in their hand. Some more than others. A few had made a bouquet of flowers while some have made flower necklaces. By the way, it’s customary to give flowers as a blessing and as a gift here.


I stood up near the front by a few of the teachers while the usual assembly routine went on. Afterwards, Principal Aatma took the microphone and let the students know that I was leaving today and that now would be a special farewell ceremony.


He called upon Sarmila, the English teacher I was paired up with most of the time, to say a few words since she was the teacher who knew me best. She said a lot of great things and then called upon a student to say a few words. Swastika, a girl from grade 9, came up and said some more great things. She spoke for the classes saying that I introduced them to a lot of new ideas, educational games, support for the educational tour, the volleyball tournament, and of course the fantastic farewell party I threw for them recently. She also mentioned how the students liked that I joked with them all the time which made them laugh and felt relaxed whenever I entered a classroom. Hearing all these things was assuring.

I made a lasting positive impact.

I was asked to say something to all the students in which I gladly did. Remembering back to the really great public speaking lessons I taught to grade 9, I made sure to set a great example. To sum it up, I spoke about how my expectations here were surpassed, how great the students here were, thanking the staff for trusting me so much on my own with the classes, and advice for their futures.


Next, as I stood up front, Aatma presented me with a award of recognition which was like a teaching certificate. He put some red tikka powder on my face in which the other teachers follow suit.


The red tikka is a sign of being blessed. The students lined up and one by one, each gave me a flower and in return I gave each a candy I had bought. Prior to this, Aatma let me know that it’s customary to give out sweets to students for farewells like these, so I made sure to load up on the sweets!



As it became the older classes turn to give me a flower, some put a flower wreath around my neck or gave me a scarf. I had a smile on my face the whole time and said a million thank you’s that day, but other than that I was as silent as a statue. I was actually feeling pretty sad. Each of the older students I’ve come to know, came up to me and blessed me with a red tikka mark and told me they were really going to miss me. It really took me back, which I wasn’t expecting. I had the teaching down to a science here. I knew which subjects were the most important, I knew how to command the attention of a class, and I put my own spin on certain subjects in which the students thoroughly enjoyed. I felt 100 percent comfortable without a main teacher present and actually preferred to have a class on my own. I enjoyed this school more than I realized.





Grade 9 presented me with a separate gift. They framed a class photo we all took together and told me to keep it forever. I will!



A couple of the girls handed me an envelope but asked me not to open it until I left the village. As the students filed back into their classes, I put all the flowers into a bag and went to the office to retrieve my luggage. What am I going to do with all these flowers?
On my last walk through the school grounds, I popped my head into each class and gave one last wave. Everyone responded well. I specifically went into Aakash’s class and he got up from his seat and ran up to me and gave me a hug. Same with Amish in his class. I gave him a high five and told him to be good. My host family kids felt like my own kids at certain times and I was going to miss them the most. What were they going to do without my iPad? I had to leave quick before things got really sad, but before I did, I said one last goodbye to my host parents Aatma and Mina. They have been superb. I was really going to miss Mina and her dal bhat. After six weeks of eating dal bhat every morning and night, I never got tired of it because it was so delicious!

As I took my last steps out, Zahra accompanied me. The plan was to hike down the mountain and then catch a cab to Lakeside. I was decorated in gold and white scarves and had red all over my face. I had a bag full of flowers and my travel bags in tow. That was that. Halfway down the mountain, we came to a lone tree that peered over beyond the mountains edge. I took all the flowers, sprinkled the petals around the base and hung up the flower wreaths on the branch. It’s the best thing I could think to do with them. And once I did that, I felt like that was the proper send off I needed before I exited Nepal.



Poor Zahra. She’s the only volunteer remaining in the village with no new volunteers arriving anytime soon. The holiday season is approaching which means the volunteer season will be slow. She’ll be able to manage though and I’m sure the Thapa kids will keep her busy.

The plan was to stay in Simrik overnight and that morning, take a bus to Kathmandu. The next morning I had a series of flights scheduled out of the country and into my next main destination. When I arrived at the bus station to Kathmandu, I joined up with Natacha, Alexis, Billy, Mats, and two other volunteers. I had no idea these guys were going to be here! It was great company to have on the exhausting 7-hour journey to Kathmandu. We also unexpectedly ran into Tim who was on the back of a motorbike in Kathmandu!

Nepal,  you were a tremendous experience and have been one of the most awesomely challenging countries I have been to yet.

Guatemala, you’re next!

Leaders of the Future

It’s a new week here at the college which means classes full of new students for me to help learn and grow. So far, I’ve met a wide range of young pupils all with different goals. The students range from 18 to 30 years old, most of them in the younger range. There are a handful that I’ve bonded with a little more than others. Let me tell you all about them! First up is a young girl named Duong.

Me and Duong kneeling.
Me and Duong kneeling.

She’s in her early twenties and has a contagious smile that never goes away. Definitely one of the most pleasant people I have ever met. During a session where we conversed with students about ourselves in English, Duong came over to my table of students, and happily introduced herself. Her English is great and we were able to understand each other perfectly. She had many questions about my home in the United States and told me all about what she does for a living. She is a waitress at a restaurant called ‘Cuc Gach Quan’. She said that I should come visit her tonight to get a taste of authentic Vietnamese cuisine. I did one better. I ended up bringing all of the volunteers with me to sit in her section!

20130701-133308.jpg Fortunately she had a table big enough for all of us and we were able to get her section. None of us really knew what we wanted so she created her own dinner for us which worked out perfectly. Servings of salads, meats, vegetables, fruits, spring rolls, and rice; all crafted with a touch of Vietnamese flare. In Vietnam, waiters and waitresses don’t expect tips or gratuity but when it happens, it’s appreciated. I made sure she was well taken care of.

A little later into the week, Shantai decided she wanted to work with younger kids and she switched to working with disabled children. A new volunteer by the name of Elisa (Berlin, Germany), took her spot. Elisa switched over from orphanage to teaching after hearing me rave about how much I enjoyed my placement. Turns out it was a decision she’s glad she made. During one of her first classes, the teacher let us briefly explain certain lessons to the students. My task was to teach the students how to comfortably pronounce the “th” sound. The “th” isn’t natural for them, as it’s not part of their language. It was a bit of a hurdle but in due time, these guys will sound natural. In this same class, I met three students, who would become buddies of mine. Their names are Bone, Bin, and Macu. These aren’t their real names but rather nicknames given to them by their parents. It’s way easier for me to remember their nicknames, so that’s what I stuck with. Out of the three, Bone speaks the best English and would often translate to Bin and Macu what I would say. This isn’t to say their English is terrible, because it’s not. They just need some polishing. And it’s partly because I speak too fast for them to register what I’m saying. All three of them are studying to become hotel managers for five-star hotels around the world. It turns out that it was Macu’s 19th birthday today and for the occasion he brought a cake, made some food, brought some drinks, all for the entire class! This is how you make friends! For his kind gesture, I invited him, Bone, and Bin out for pizza. My treat!

Me, Bin, Macu, and Bone!

I took them to a Pizza Hut nearby the supermarket. This was a great way for them to hangout with different people from different countries and get a whole new perspective on just about everything. I made sure to speak in simpler, slower English and everything went smoothly. I also learned a bit more about these guys. Bin is 21 and is a family man. He’s also great at table tennis. Macu should be on his way to Hollywood. He can sing, dance, do all sorts of flips and splits, play the piano, and can cook. Super talented kid! Finally, Bone is 21 and has dreams of perfecting his English and also wants to begin learning French. He has an older sister who studies in Texas that speaks English really well, so he always has someone to practice with. Once he reaches his goal of running his own hotel, he wants to stay in Asia, relatively close to Vietnam so he’s close to his family and friends. You can’t argue with that. You also can’t argue with the fact that these guys are extremely modest. I told them to order anything they wanted, along with desert but they were hesitant because they thought it would cost me too much money. I convinced them not to worry and so we ordered up!


We made plans to go to the cinema next week, any movie they wanted. For the remainder of this week I was a little busy. One of the nights, all of us volunteers went to go sing karaoke at the Aapple Karaoke bar about 100 yards away from the college. In case you were wondering, I sang “Billie Jean”. No ones ears exploded, so it must mean I did a decent job.

Shantai, Sophie, Lucy, Lex, and Tom singing.

Afterwards, by the suggestion of Peter, we went to a club called ‘Lush’. It was ladies night which meant girls drink anything they want for absolutely free. This actually worked in the advantage for me, Peter, Shane, and Tom because the girls happily, and constantly got us drinks from the bar. Thanks for looking out ladies! Some other students of mine joined us at the club. It was a bit weird at first but I kept forgetting that these students are in their early twenties and are not kids that I’m teaching this time. Needless to say, we had a great time!


I have a problem here in Vietnam. So the kids in each class like to request me as a friend on Facebook, which I don’t mind at all. The problem is that I can’t remember who exactly the person is that messages me. They all look so different when they’re in casual wear, not in their school uniform. I guess I tell students that we can hang out and then I’ll get a message from them, and I usually can’t remember who they are! I meet so many students everyday it’s a bit hard to get keep in track. I feel like a jerk sometimes but…everybody looks alike! Lucy, along with Lex, Tom, and Sophie have been helping out with disabled children about fifteen minutes away from the college. I don’t know too much about it, but Lex writes a blog on here too which you should read for another look at this whole Vietnam thing. (There’s a link to her blog, Lex on the Loose, on right-hand side of this page). After about a week of teaching and helping these kids, 12 of us decided to take a little vacation to the eastern border of Vietnam to Mui Ne beach!

The End Where I Begin

I just want to say–Vegas was incredible as usual! It was great catching up with some of my friends and hearing what’s been happening at home since I left a little over three months ago. I also got the chance to skydive again and it was just as amazing as my first time in South Africa! Speaking of Africa, I found myself constantly thinking about one of the greatest summers I have ever had. Matt, Bryan, and the others would ask me about my trip, but I had a hard time figuring out where to begin telling them; I have done and experienced so much!

I’ve been home in Michigan for a day or two now and everyone is interested about what I’ve been up to and what interesting stories I have. A lot of them kept up with me on this blog, which I was really, really glad to hear. Those times of searching aimlessly for decent internet in the middle of Africa paid off. You guys have no idea just how tedious that was. It wasn’t just internet I had to find, I had to find a place with connectable wi-fi. I wrote my blogs on my iPad, connected that to a wi-fi hotspot to upload to this WordPress site, and then from a computer I could place photos and finally publish a post for all of you to see. This explains those long gaps between publishing certain posts; it’s not because I was lazy and didn’t write anything, it’s because I had no access to the internet.

I had friends say I looked humbled and completely refreshed when I saw them again. That could be true because I was in complete bliss my entire time in Africa (even on summit day on Mount Kilimanjaro). I’ve done just about everything I wanted to do although the stuff I missed I’ll save for my return one day. However I won’t get to ride an ostrich, I weigh 15k too much haha! I do miss all the fantastic people I have met over the last few months; my Rec 13 (and Palmer) house, my Old house (and New house), my safari squadron, my LX6 Kilimanjaro family, the SASTS volunteers, my Zanzibar rafikis, the Zulu family, and some of the locals I met in SA and Tanzania, and especially all of the kids I had the pleasure to teach and spend time with. The kids in Muizenberg and Arusha were some of the happiest children I have ever met, even under their subpar living circumstances. And then there’s the kids of Kayamandi, specifically Aphiwe, Fudo, Atha, RiRi, Ski, Chester, Avele, and Mawande–I miss those guys more than I care to admit. I wonder what they’re up to right now?

I’m glad I was able to share what I experienced in Africa with you all. A lot of my friends and family never really understood exactly what I do when I travel and volunteer in other countries. Now, as you can see, I have the most absolute best time of my life! My main focus in writing this blog was to inspire everyone and show off what else is out there on this humongous planet, from the perspective of an average guy such as myself. I received lots of e-mails from strangers who read this blog asking me a bunch of questions because they want to do the things that I did too. Flattering. I am completely open to answering any questions or giving any advice with anything pertaining to any of my posts.

So keep tabs on me you guys. My stint in Africa may be done for now, but I am already in the beginning stages of planning another big trip abroad. I don’t know where (Southeast Asia?), I don’t know when (maybe next summer?) but it WILL happen soon. Also this time, maybe I won’t go alone? Maybe I can tempt a friend or two or three to come along, now that they’ve seen what I have done. I can’t see myself stopping anytime soon, it’s my drug. And of course, I will be sure to blog about it again. This isn’t the end my friends, it’s just where I begin again. Until next time, be safe folks and happy travels!
Here’s a little something extra for you guys, check it out!

The Grass is Just as Green on the Other Side

(New Adventure. New Posts. Coming May 2013!)