Undergraduate diploma in hand I was off – armed and ready to go out in the real world. I was eager to make my mark, to make a living, to support myself. I had read books, written papers, presented on topics of importance. I was 22 and I knew things. One small problem; it was 2010. The job market was seemingly impossible to penetrate with a B.A. in International Studies and little to nil practice in a professional capacity.
Understanding that it was fundamental to gain work experience if I had any chance of embarking on a career in my chosen field, I started looking at less traditional tracks. I discovered Semilla Nueva (New Seed) – a non-profit organization based in the Western Highlands of Guatemala, formed to work with farmers in cultivating sustainable agricultural tactics. Knowing nothing about agriculture but having studied Spanish and Latin American history and culture, I contacted the creators and booked my flight for Guatemala City.
During the three-month volunteer stint in Guatemala, I gained valuable experience in topic areas ranging from teaching students how to create their own worm compost bins, to utilizing human waste to create a closed-loop garden system. I spent rainy afternoons researching cover crops, sunny mornings shoveling pig waste, and one very long day with a machete helping in the field with the corn harvest. I even faced my fear of cows – up close and personal.
Predictably, the things I learned from my volunteer experience in Guatemala extended far beyond the “curriculum” of the program. In addition to learning sustainable farming techniques, I was able to connect with people from walks of life completely different from my own. From anxiously waiting on a chicken bus for hours while men and women repaired a road that had just slid off the mountainside after a torrential downpour, to riding in the back of a truck bed filled with a dozen people down a two-track at midnight carrying a new mother home with her babe, to being a guest at my host family’s wedding and consuming one of their only meals to feature meat in an entire year.
The true lesson from this experience was the value of slowing down and showing up in order to connect and try to understand the greater collective needs of those around you. Three short months in a developing country began to open my eyes to the world.
For the first time in my 22 years, I was able to connect with and comprehend that there are billions of other lives on this planet that are fragile and precious and so much more resilient than I. I learned the value of protection, the importance of decision-making, and the capacity of humankind to employ optimism under unbelievable hardship.
Three months as a volunteer in Guatemala allowed me to put a relatively unique experience on my resume, which undoubtedly influenced my acceptance to a graduate program and eventual employment. Three months as a volunteer in Guatemala also allowed me the first glimpse at life through a different lens. While some view volunteerism as an opportunity to give back to society, my experience as a volunteer changed the way in which I viewed the world and the way in which I wanted to interact. Volunteerism was a true gift which changed me and the path that I continue to pursue. If faced with the opportunity, it is an experience I would recommend without hesitation.
Callie New hails from the one and only Lander, Wyoming. Throughout her twenties, she learned to make a mean margarita working her share of waitstaff and bartending gigs while pursuing a B.A. in International Studies from Southern Oregon University and an M.S. in Urban Planning from Columbia University.
She is currently proud to be working towards the future of the rapidly urbanizing Wasatch Front in northern Utah as a Transportation Planner focusing on improved transit and regional accessibility. In her down time, Callie is scheming how to ride, bike or walk through cities near and far, trying out new recipes, and exploring the Wasatch.