I recently read an article in the travel section of the Toronto Star about Guatemala, a country historically infamous for nothing more than its high levels of crime and poverty. This article took a different turn, and was intended for a tourist in its provision of details on what to do, eat, and see while in the country. She did mention that, as is the case with almost every country in the world, there are places one shouldn’t go and people you don’t want to see, but what was more important was her unique perception of Guatemalan life. Indulging in descriptions of a nation full of contradictions – a mix of cultures, religions, traditions, and landscapes – I found myself reading about a place that seemed very close to home.
It is sometimes easy to isolate oneself from the bigger picture. Especially at university, where time is precious and stress levels are high, one can adopt the mindset that the centre of the universe begins and ends with the person staring back in the mirror. Yet, in reading this article, I found myself marvelling at the scope of the world in which we live. While I often think that my problems and my experiences are unique, I fail to appreciate the nuances that define the human experience globally. That mix of cultures and peoples that can be found in Guatemala is also present in Toronto. While separated by thousands of kilometres and a completely different language, life in Guatemala is, at least in this one respect, similar to life here.
There are certain constants in life that affect us all equally, no matter our location, background, upbringing, or subject POSt. This does not mean that we should generalize our understanding of the human condition, for every life and land is nuanced in its own way. Nevertheless, it is comforting to know that there are many things that bind us together as humans.
If you ever feel overwhelmed with your circumstances or the stress that is inherent in life at U of T, I encourage you to step outside of yourself for a moment. Read an article about a place that to you seems totally different than where you are. You may be surprised by what you find. Better yet, to gain a real appreciation for the wider world, why not consider volunteering internationally with Peacework this summer? Coincidentally, we will be visiting Guatemala and volunteering with local NGOs over there to provide medical assistance – it is noteworthy to mention that we are NOT replacing the work of qualified doctors. In doing so, you will have the opportunity to see a world full of contradictions, and decide for yourself just how similar (or different) our countries may be. Either way, personal growth is guaranteed.
To read the article on Guatemala that so moved me, the link is provided here: http://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2014/10/24/guatemala_a_country_full_of_colourful_contradictions.html