Becoming a Global Citizen

Christine throws a ball to a young girl who is waiting to bat
For Christine Bélanger and her fellow volunteers, living with, working alongside, and learning from the local people and leaders of the host community in Guatemala elevated their experience from travel to citizen diplomacy exchange.

A graphic designer by trade and a humanitarian at heart, Christine participated in a volunteer travel vacation to Kenya years ago that changed her life. Her experience there left her itching to find new ways to engage with the world. She found the Global Citizens Network (GCN - now known as Xperitas) and embarked on a ten-day volunteer exchange to Guatemala. Christine is hard of hearing and uses hearing aids for access. She shares more about her exchange experience.

MIUSA: What motivated you to choose this particular program?

Christine: I discovered GCN at an event called the "Go Global Expo." The trip was exactly what I wanted. Not only was it in Central America, but it offered the opportunity to be integrated with and to live with the local people.

How did you fund your exchange?

Most of this trip was covered through my savings, but I also won an essay contest through GCN that put a good chunk towards the trip!

What kinds of things did you do to prepare for your trip?

In addition to the things you'd normally do before going abroad - collecting all necessary contact numbers, insurance, etc. - I also made sure I had made the necessary upgrades to my hearing devices prior to leaving.

Before I left for Guatemala, I made sure I knew how to say "hearing devices" in Spanish. This definitely comes in handy for when you really can't hear someone, and you need to explain.

What did you learn from the people you met in Guatemala?

My experience in the host country, Guatemala, was amazing, and the locals were very welcoming.

The essay contest that surrounded the trip to Guatemala was about spreading the word about what the Mayans believed would happen in December of 2012. For research, I interviewed and shared conversations with four prominent figures in the villages in Cantel, Guatemala, including Mayan spiritual leaders.

In talking to these individuals, I learned that the Mayan people did not consider the end of the Mayan calendar to be the end of time; rather, they considered it simply to be the beginning of a new era, one that centers around balance and peace.

Did you experience any communication barriers?

Although I studied and learned as much Spanish as I could before I left, this was not my first language so it can be a challenge. My biggest fear was being caught without my hearing aids or batteries and attempting to communicate in a foreign language. I am happy to share more about my experiences abroad, especially with people who wear hearing aids but might find it challenging to wear them in places where it doesn't appear to be common.

Having a hearing problem can be similar to a language barrier. The beauty of being in another culture, working with this language barrier, you are two sides with an equal compromise in creating a memorable human experience.