Name: Teresa Hermodson-Olsen
Position: Youth Program Support Staff
Time with Common Hope: 6 months
Favorite Guatemalan cuisine: Anything Vinicio, Doña Oli and Teresa (Common Hope kitchen staff) make for lunch
#1 Travel Essential: Camera and journal
How did you come to volunteer here at Common Hope?
It has been a bit of a lifetime journey to this position. My family has sponsored children through Common Hope for 16 years (I still remember picking the photo of Zoila, my first “Godchild” that I wrote letters to. We shared the same birthday). I have been to Common Hope in Antigua three times before. The first time was to celebrate Common Hope’s 15th anniversary, and the other two times were on Vision Team trips (most recently in January 2010). Every trip down here was too short—just one week. Tears accompanied my departures, and I kept saying to myself, “This wasn’t long enough. I want to come back.” So, I signed up for a year.
What has surprised you most about working with Common Hope?
I always struggle with questions with “the most” or “favorite,” as I never can just choose one. I am going to list two items at the top of my list.
- The great responsibility I am given yet with great support: When I entered my office after my two-week orientation, I was surprised how I was welcomed as “one of the team” on the first day. It was wonderful and overwhelming at the same time. I was a full member of the team, where my opinion mattered, I had individual responsibilities, and I had my own time in our weekly meetings to report what had occurred in the week. The first couple weeks, several thoughts raced through my mind: “They trust me to do that on my own??” “Whoa. They really care about what I think about this. Cool!” “There is NO way I can do that!” I found out very quickly, though, that I am never alone in this office. We all have our specific duties and responsibilities, but we are all here supporting each other along the way. If I had the slightest doubt about anything or wanted a little extra support leading some activity, I was never short a hand from my colleagues. Now, as I look back, I see how quickly my confidence has grown in my position. If you would have told me six months ago all the different things I would be doing, I would not have believed you!
- The youth: The youth here are just amazing. The responsibilities they take on, their stories, their personalities. It is such a pleasure to be able to work with them. I cannot even put into words what I want to convey about them. The best way would be to tell you about 50 individual stories about different encounters I have had or of what I have observed. One of my favorite parts of my job is when I’m in my office and I hear “Teresa!” or “Seño’!” and turn to see a familiar young face that is ready to greet me and chat a bit. They are great. Just great.
What is a new skill you have learned through living in Guatemala?
I have grown in my spider elimination skill (which before coming here was non-existent, but I’ve had to step up to the plate). My ping pong and foosball skills have definitely improved (and will continue to improve) with the daily post-lunch games. On a more serious note: definitely my confidence in navigating life in Spanish has grown immensely. I am not just talking about being able to ask for specific items or understand what others are telling me, but I am also learning the appropriate ways to approach a topic or ask a question in this culture. I am learning more than the school book Spanish; I am learning the Guatemalan form of communication.
What do you want people back home to know about your experience here?
Four words: It is the best. Of course there are days when I go home tired and I am ready for the weekend, but overall I look forward coming to work. I look forward to the new surprises, challenges, and tasks each day brings. Very rarely are two of my work days the same, as there are always new projects to be working on, and when you interact with youth, you never know what to expect. 🙂 I appreciate the variety that this experience brings. I am learning and teaching; giving and receiving; meeting Guatemalans along with volunteers from other countries. This is not an experience you can capture in one blog post, one conversation, or a few pictures. You must live it. I recommend that if anyone back home has the chance to take on an opportunity like mine (or even a little different, shorter or longer), take it! It is not something you will regret doing, but it might be something you will regret not doing.
Has anything happened during your time here that will make your life different?
Has anything not happened that won’t make my life different?! I really believe every experience and moment affects me in some way, shapes who I am, and therefore will affect my decisions and attitudes in the future. Though if I had to pinpoint just one thing at this moment, the relationships I have established (and am establishing) are life-changing. Through these new relationships, I have had the opportunity to enter into the lives of different people. I learn and experience their different personalities, their different pasts, their traditions, their opinions, their likes and dislikes, and their way of life. Besides receiving from them, I also share a part of myself with them. Being allowed to enter into another’s life makes you reflect on your own. I have also found there are many parts of the culture and people here that I really like and identify with. Also, it seems that the other volunteers come here with similar ideas or values. Therefore, you enter into a community that is challenging and invigorating. I feel my new friendships here are allowing me to grow and be better, which will definitely have a lifelong effect. The complete effect I do not know at this point.