Seeing Guatemala with new eyes

Brianna with Hospitality Staff

Brianna Jensen (front right) with the Guatemala hospitality staff.

by Brianna Jensen, Vision Team Coordinator

A former long-term volunteer in Guatemala, Brianna Jensen reflects on what it was like to be back in Guatemala after a year and a half—this time as a visiting US staff member.

It had been approximately one year, four months, and 18 days since I left Guatemala as a long-term volunteer and temporary resident—and returning for the first time was a strange combination of excitement and nostalgia.

This time around, instead of traveling to Antigua as a long-term volunteer, I was traveling as a Common Hope staff member, where I got to meet the voices of hospitality coordinators Rebecca Tatham and Kelan Stoy for the first time in person. I think meeting in person was surreal for all of us—after 1.5 years of talking on the phone almost every day, making plans and sharing information about upcoming Vision Teams, we had built up a sort of friendship and camaraderie, over the phone. Meeting in person was entirely different, and definitely a positive, rewarding experience for all of us.

The trip was mostly a whirlwind for me, between the hospitality team meetings, the time spent running around with Vision Teams, and my frantic attempts to catch up on work e-mail. Despite this, one thing is for sure: I was definitely seeing everything in Guatemala in a new light. The volcanoes and ruins that I once walked past every day without thinking twice turned into breathtaking views that I had to stop and capture with a camera. (Pura turista!) The homes and smells of San Rafael, which had always been a favorite of mine, struck me so differently, now not the norm. The warmth and friendliness of our Guatemalan staff (and the Guatemalan people as a whole) made me appreciate all over again how genuinely nice Guatemalans are—strangers in Minneapolis never say good morning to me on the sidewalk.

The list goes on and on—there are so many things I saw with newfound appreciation during my stay in Guatemala. However, I’d have to say the thing I saw most differently was the very same program that I work in every day—the Vision Team program. After two and a half years of working with Vision Teams, both in Guatemala and St. Paul, I understand now that it’s not just a week of activities, education, and culture that introduces people to our work—it’s also an experience that is vastly life-changing, in so many ways, for so many people. It is the culmination of many months of hard work, fundraising, and preparation that all come together and peak in one week in Guatemala. And after being away for a year, while working with teams from Day One all the way through their trip and back, I’ve been able to see this process from a profoundly new perspective.

Returning to Guatemala, and seeing it not through the eyes of someone who lives there, but through the eyes of a visitor, has shown me how profound one week really can be. It reminds me once more how fortunate I am to be able to work in the program that I do, with the ability to continuously relive many week-long, life-changing trips—through the eyes of our visitors.

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