IMG_1211In my lifetime I have only traveled outside of the country once and that was to Cancun, Mexico for a vacation. It was a very fun trip and I still have a lot of fond memories of that place. When you travel outside the United States you know that you are going somewhere foreign. You are going to meet a lot of new people, see a whole new culture and interact with a society that is all around different from yours. There’s nothing that you can do prior to your trip to prepare yourself for that first jolt into your system of that new culture. For me I was excited when I heard that I was getting the opportunity to go to Guatemala. I knew absolutely nothing about the country or its people. So when the Elon IMedia Fly-In program chose me and five other brave students to venture to Guatemala for our Fly-In we were very excited to say the least. None of us had ever been there before and pretty much none of us understood any Spanish, which was very unfortunate considering that is the primary language in the country.

Honestly that was the only thing that hinged on my experience in Guatemala, the language barrier. However even though I couldn’t understand the people or they couldn’t understand me, we still found ways to communicate through a broken version Spanglish. It got the job done for the most part, oh and so did an outstanding group of translators. For our Fly-In trip, we went to a remote village near an enormous lake, called San Juan La Laguna. San Juan was one of several villages located around Lake Atitlan in the Andes Mountains. Surrounded on all sides by giant Mountains and Volcanoes, San Juan was harbored at the foot of the mountain on the Lake. One of the most ever lasting images that I hold in my head was the gorgeous view that I was able to wake up to every morning from the balcony of my homestay family’s house. Oh did I forget to mention that we got the opportunity to stay in a complete strangers house, where they fed us three meals a day and shared their culture, traditions and family stories with us. My homestay family was more than generous and they were very respectful towards me during my stay in their home. I didn’t feel like a stranger in a strange land when I stayed there, instead they welcomed me like I was one of their own. I was very humbled by my Homestay family, the Mom Maria Cruz, was an amazing women who was raising three boys, all very young and still juvenile. Maria was a homestay educator to many kids in San Juan and you could see how good she is with her boys and the many life values that she stores in them.

As for our expedition, we had one week to gather as much content on the organization of Rising Minds, which was based out of San Juan. Rising Minds is an NGO that helps facilitate cultural immersion and aid to the people of San Juan and other local mountain villages that are facing the hardships in Guatemala. There is no hiding in the fact that Guatemala is extremely impoverished and malnourished. Rising Minds tries to combat that by implanting several programs that help the people. Rising Minds works exclusively with Macalester College and their students who will do a semester abroad helping Rising Minds with their programs and give cultural immersion to the people. Rising Minds believes that by showing the people of San Juan outside cultures, they can open their eyes to the world outside of Guatemala and learn about the cultures that other people live in.

My job on the expedition was video production. I was in charge of gathering all video content for the website that we would build in the upcoming weeks. I cannot describe the invaluable experience that I got from this expedition. To be in charge of all video production on an expedition is a real professional experience. You cannot get this kind of experience as an intern; only in the professional world are you able to get this kind of experience. One of my fondest moments shooting video that week was when I was shooting b-roll video footage of the village of San Juan and Lake Atitlan. I remember it being so quiet and calm and I got some really great footage of the people interacting in the town and some gorgeous footage of the lake. I will always remember that day shooting on the lake, it was so calm and beautiful with the sun shining and with a small breeze, it was the perfect day. One of the best moments or fun moments was when we took the “Chicken Bus” as we called it to the top of the mountain to a village called Santa Clara. We were going to shoot the market and hike back down the mountain. The Chicken Bus was a pimped out yellow school bus with flashing lights and a color scheme that involved a lot of green and red. I remember I was one of the last members to get on the bus and I have never seen so many people on a school bus, you couldn’t move, I stood for the whole 30 min trek up the mountain in this subway car on wheels. It reminded me of the subway rides back home in New York City during rush hour, you stood the entire time unable to move, barely able to breathe, but yet you moved with the crowd. It was hot, smelly, personal, and bumpy. I loved every minute of it, I love having those types of experiences, and it’s something that you never forget.

I can honestly say that my trip to Guatemala was life changing. I learned a lot about third world cultures and the people of San Juan. I made a lot of friends there and I hope that I was able to instill the same feelings of humbleness and respect that I got from them. I cherish the memories that I made with my team members down there, and I cannot thank Rising Minds enough for letting us get up close to their organization and the people of Guatemala, we all learned a lot.

Ryan Sampson, Elon University iMedia 2015