Every year, Maximo Nivel hosts hundreds of international participants who chose to take college-credit courses, commit to volunteering abroad, participate in an international internship, study Spanish, get TEFL certified, and explore the famous sites of Costa Rica, Guatemala, and Peru.
We caught up with some of the international students who completed a program at the Maximo Nivel campus in Antigua, Guatemala. Here’s what they had to say about their most memorable moments during their time studying abroad.
Andrea C. – Health & Medicine
I spent 14 weeks studying abroad in Antigua and it was truly a life changing experience. It’s kind of hard to hone in on just one memorable moment, but I have to say it was during the service-learning portion. As a medical student, I have spent sleepless nights studying for exams, memorizing symptoms, and reviewing terminology. But none of that prepared me for the gratitude I received in a rural area outside of Antigua.
On a medical campaign, while providing basic medical services to the local population and distributing antiparasitic medication, an older woman reaching no taller than my chest wrapped her tiny arms around me in the most genuine embrace. It was completely unexpected, and awkward for the first 2 seconds, but as I returned her embrace, I felt nothing but warmth. I’m not sure I’ll ever feel that feeling of gratitude again, but I’ll cherish it forever.
Samantha K. – Anthropology & Sociology
Studying in Antigua was incredible. I spent 10 weeks abroad and learned more than I did in my three semesters at school. In 10 weeks, I went from being a basic Spanish speaker to a beginner, and believe me, that’s an improvement. I took a social responsibility and social justice course and explored archeological sites that granted me course credit.
One of the most memorable moments for me was when we took a day trip to visit the traditional Mayan villages. This community lived off the grid outside of Antigua. They took us on a tour which gave us more insight into their daily lives. Without the use of electricity, these people were able to live otherwise normal lives. They appreciated the natural resources provided to them and didn’t take anything for granted.
At the time, they were hosting two service-learning students who helped with the daily tasks including tending to the land, the farm animals, cooking and preparing traditional meals, weaving, and more. We learned that working with this community was Maximo Nivel’s way of expressing their social responsibility. Not only is it important to provide help to the organizations within the urban city centers, but also to acknowledge the indigenous people of this land.
Jeremy A. – Hospitality & Tourism
Studying in Antigua was a wild adventure. I took Spanish classes and completed a hospitality and tourism internship at a boutique hotel in Antigua. I worked hard, but I definitely played harder. I’m so happy I got to travel while getting university credit because while all my friends back home spent their weekends studying in their dorm rooms, mine were filled with adventures throughout Guatemala, meeting locals and other international travelers.
My favorite moment while abroad has to be the time I met these two travelers from Australia who were checking into the hotel I was interning for. They had spent 3 months in Mexico, a few weeks in Honduras and were now in Guatemala. They opened my eyes to what travel could be and it was then when I made the decision to travel throughout Latin America as soon as I graduated. I’m still in contact with this duo and many others who I met while in Antigua. I love following them all on Instagram, seeing what they’re up to, and which part of the world they’re exploring. It’s nice to know that I have people to reach out to when I travel to other countries and they know they have a bed to sleep on if they’re ever in Chicago.
Cora T. – Human Rights Intern
Before this trip I wasn’t a big fan of traveling; I’m still afraid of flying, and I used to be an introverted person. So, how’d I end up studying abroad? My best friend dragged me along. It was either this or spend a semester at college without her. So, I came along and I’m really glad I did.
I feel like I became a different person because of this experience. And it happened all of a sudden when I looked up at the sky from in front of the Maximo Nivel campus and saw the towering volcanoes jutting into the clear blue skies. It was so unexpected and so stunning that I didn’t realize I’d said “Oh my God” out loud.
“Right?” said the girl behind me, right before introducing herself. She was also participating at Maximo Nivel’s study abroad program and we ended up at the same internship placement. We got on really well and for the next 8 weeks, I was effortlessly meeting other international students from all over the world. I wasn’t shy, hesitant or nervous. On the contrary, I felt really light and carefree.
I thought that energy would vanish when I returned to the U.S, but it still lingered into my spring semester. I’m not saying that travel is an immediate solution to introversion at all, but my whole life completely changed in that first moment of meeting a really good friend 3,000 miles from home. And I’m glad it did.
Jessica M. – Business
I knew I wanted to study abroad before I even started college. My parents were adamant about me completing my freshman year with a B average before allowing me to go abroad, so I did. I also knew I’d be completing my semester in Guatemala because it’s where my grandparents are from. I wanted to experience the country and culture for myself since I’d never been.
As a business major, I wanted to focus my experience on understanding the culture to later establish a business in Guatemala that could employ the local population. I took 3 college courses; Marketing in Latin America, Entrepreneurship in Latin America, and intermediate Spanish. Then I interned at a small local business helping to develop marketing tactics and strategies.
I’m not sure of the kind of business I want to eventually open in Antigua, but I realized it’s really important to have a native English speaker take control of all written content including email campaigns, social media posts, and blog articles. The company also sold more products at the local markets if I was there to assist with negotiations and translation. During the tandem conversation program I met Marta, an advanced English student at the Maximo Nivel ESL institute and introduced her to my internship supervisor.
Today, she still works at my internship placement and helps at the stand at any of the markets typically attended by locals. She can confidently communicate with tourists and charge reasonable, fair prices for their unique goods. I’m really proud of how I was able to contribute to the growth of this micro-business and this experience has solidified my desire to do good as a businesswoman for the people of Guatemala.
Michelle H. – Gap Year
I spent 6 months with Maximo Nivel in Antigua, Guatemala, taking Spanish college courses, volunteering, and getting TEFL certified. It was an amazing trip and I’m so glad I was supported by my friends and family to have this experience. Having done so much makes it really difficult to choose just one memorable moment, but I think it has to be when I completed my TEFL course.
The credit bearing Spanish courses were accelerated courses completed in about 7 weeks. But, they were fairly similar to what I’m used to back home. The TEFL course, however, was so different. It was such an interactive class that clearly prepared you for a career. It reminded me of an integrated academic course and professional development workshop. It was condensed into 4 weeks of in-class assignments, homework, research papers, 3 short student-led English lessons and one week of conducting 1-hour English lessons to real English students!
I honestly can’t believe we all made it through! But then again, how could we not have? I’ve never seen a more engaged class and every student put their best foot forward. I also met some of the most amazing people from around the world. I will never forget this experience
Eduardo V. – Sea Turtles Conservation Volunteer
I came across a travel article online promoting volunteer abroad opportunities. I volunteer locally at least three times per year but have never volunteered abroad. I saw the opportunity to volunteer with sea turtles, one of my favorite animals, and clicked the link that led me to Maximo Nivel’s website. I entered my information and was contacted by a representative who helped me choose the best time to volunteer.
August-September are peak nesting time for the Olive Ridley sea turtles that come home to the Caribbean beaches in Central America. As a sea turtle conservation volunteer, some of our duties were to patrol the beaches day and night to protect the hatcheries, collect data on the turtles who returned and the eggs laid, beach clean-up, and light construction and maintenance as needed. The most memorable moment was when the team and I got to see tens of baby sea turtles hatch and make their way home to the ocean. Definitely top 5 lifetime experiences!
Olivia K. – Spanish Immersion
My main reason for visiting Guatemala was to study Spanish. I’d studied in high school, and minored in Spanish in college, but it’s really difficult to find opportunities to use it in my hometown. Sometimes, I watch movies in Spanish and read books and articles, but I have no one to really practice my speaking with. So, I decided to take some time off from work and really put my skills to the test with a trip to Central America.
Guatemala has some of the most affordable group and private Spanish lessons in Latin America. I decided to enroll in 2 hours of private lessons for 2 weeks. It was mostly to improve my confidence, pronunciation, and accent reduction so I could feel secure in traveling solo throughout Central America. My teacher and I worked endlessly. She was really patient, and repetition was key. She encouraged me to “mock” her so that I could get it perfectly.
I think the highlight for me was when after a long two-hour session ended at a cafe. Not only was it enjoyable to be out with my teacher and some local friends of hers, but the barista was actually surprised to learn I wasn’t a native Spanish speaker! I’m sure with a few more minutes of interaction he would’ve figured it out, but it was nice to know that my accent was coming along.