Learn While You Don't Earn
Of all the things which happened to me in the past when I visited Guatemala on a holiday to study abroad, one incident sticks in my memory more than others: I had been standing close to the home of a poor woman on the outskirts of Quetzaltenango with some fellow Spanish language students. Obviously pleased to see us, she looked upward and told us, "Cuando los veo a ustedes, doy gracias al cielo." That's, "When I see you, I thank heaven." Learn while you don’t earn is a very rewarding experience.
What did we do to merit this sort of greeting? For us Americans and Europeans who has a lifestyle comparable to what this woman could barely imagine it didn't seem like much. Members of a volunteer group from a language school, built a low-tech stove that allowed her to burn fuel - used beverage containers on the day I was there, sticks carried from kilometers away on more fortunate days - doubly efficiently. This small project makes her life more manageable in ways that we foreigners wouldn't understand.
But we can easily understand her appreciation. Such gratitude is among the rewards of volunteer service. And for those who are learning Spanish or desire to use the language skills they already have, such volunteerism is an ideal way to spend a holiday or extended period of time. Volunteer for service in Latin America or elsewhere, and your work can make a positive change in people's lives. Furthermore, you will come to see you in a manner that most travelers are unable to.
I also remember a couple of years later touring Baja California in northwestern Mexico with a Spanish languages schools youth group, which contributed time to various projects in a large orphanage. Calling it an orphanage is somewhat a misnomer, because not only did it take care of children, it offered a clinic, classes along with other services, primarily to migrant farm workers residing in the region. Again, although my accommodations were much less plush compared to what they could have been on even a tight-budget vacation, the time spent was rewarding.
During my travels in and around Latin America, I have met many people who were there to give rather than to merely have a great time. They've included volunteer house construction workers for Habitat for Humanity, human-rights advocates, Peace Corps workers, missionaries, medical personnel, and school students on short-term projects. Without exception, they've told me that their time spent in service was both challenging and satisfying.
This is the beauty of the Spanish language culture in various countries around the world.