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Remember those bus-safety drills we used to have to do as children? The ones where they'd pile us all onto a bright yellow schoolbus one afternoon a year and we'd have to practice hopping off through the back door in case we ever rolled off a cliff and the front was blocked by a roaring fire? Seventeen years later, those drills have finally become useful. Don't worry, I haven't rolled off any cliffs (yet). But I have already had to hop off the back of my share of packed to the brim old schoolbuses while taking day trips here in Guatemala....

"This reminds me of a music festival," my friend Charlotte said to me as we sat on a color-stained curb with four brochures outlining the day's Semana Santa procession routes open in front of us. "We need to figure out where each procession will be so we can plan our day to see them all." Almost every day for the two and a half weeks I'd been living in Antigua I'd run into a Lent-induced procession somewhere in town. They grew in size and number during Semana Santa - Holy Week - the days leading up to Easter. Larger and larger...

Throughout Lent, and throughout Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, the streets would be covered in elaborate alfombras carpets, made out of colored sawdust, fruits, vegetables, and a wide range of other materials. Some were quickly thrown together. Some took hours upon hours of work. Some families would stay up all night preparing their own. Some of my favorites were my favorites because of their ornate patterns and delicate details. Some of my favorites were my favorites because of something clever. Using children's toys to reenact Noah's Arc. Little fluffy lambs. 3-d renderings of whatever religious whatnot you could think of....

Horns were bellowing a death march. A loud drum kept the beat. Boom. Boom. Boom. It was an eerie orchestration that had been the soundtrack to Antigua, Guatemala, throughout lent, throughout Semana Santa. If you weren't hearing the deific tones from one of the frequent processions that took over the city you were hearing them from a boombox in someone's window. The air was thick with smoke from lanterns of copal incense children swung in tune (and often out of tune. And often in any direction they chose). Men shrouded in purple tunics swarmed the avenida. My heart was racing. My...

I'm currently studying Spanish at a Spanish school in Antigua, Guatemala. Nearly every day the school offers some sort of free local activity. There was a walking tour, a bicycle tour, and a visit to a nut farm. Yesterday's activity was a Traditional Guatemalan clothing demonstration where, well, we went to see and learn about typical clothes worn by Guatemalans. The traditional Guatemala clothing demonstration was all in Spanish, of course, and let's just say my Spanish is far from perfect at this point so, really, most of the time I had no idea what was going on. No. Idea. But the...

I’ve been taking Spanish classes for a week now — four hours a day, five days a week, one-on-one — at a small Spanish school in Antigua, Guatemala. My Spanish is far from good, but, considering a week ago I could barely say “hola,” I think I’m doing pretty well. On Tuesday my teacher and I just talked for a half hour at the end of our class. On Wednesday, whenever she asked a question based on my lesson we’d start conversing on some random tangent. Today I explained the concepts of Starbucks, cafe mochas, and the Easter bunny. Mind...

I'd never seen a football match in person. Football, or soccer as we call it at home, has never really been my sport. Not that I really have a sport. I used to watch a lot of American football back in college. But, really, I just liked sitting in Block I: U of I's student section where we got to dance and make Gumby out of plastic cards and socialize. I now enjoy an occasional White Sox game. But really I like those more for the hot dogs and, again, the socializing, than the actually game. In Asia I ended up...

A year and a half ago I sat on a park bench in Berlin, crying. I was overwhelmed by it all. From being so far from home. From being alone. From the thought of long-term travel. I didn't think I could make it for three months let alone 12 let alone 15. I just wanted to go home. A few days ago, and really, the whole week before, I sat crying in my room. And on the couch. And in the bathroom. Terrified once again of the idea of being out on my own. Being in a foreign country where I...

My first ever camping trip got rained out, a malady that would plague every other camping trip I ever took with my college friends from that point on. It was the summer after my sophomore year of college, and we had crossed the state border to go white water rafting in Wisconsin. In truth, I was more than a little relieved when, on the second morning, we packed our bags and headed to my friend's cabin instead of hitting the rapids. I was scared....