8 Things Living in Guatemala Taught Me
My daily life in Guatemala is sweet, natural, colorful, and educational. I’ve lived here for 12 years, including three in the capital (Guatemala City), and 9 at Lake Atitlan in the western highlands.
My mom often asks if I’ll live in Guatemala forever. Although I am a “permanent resident,” my answer is:
My main motivations for moving to Guatemala were adventure, work, and better Spanish. Living in Guatemala has taught me countless lessons, the 8 most prominent of which I’ll share with you today.
8 Lessons I’ve Learned From Life in Guatemala
Life in Guatemala is full of inspiration. As a longtime yoga practitioner and teacher, I find it natural to integrate mindfulness into my daily life in Guatemala.
I’m awestruck by the country’s stunning natural beauty and the heart-centered wisdom of my Mayan neighbors, the descendents of this land’s original inhabitants.
1. Contentment (El contentamiento)
On the whole, Guatemalans are jovial, kind, and content folks. Even people whose living conditions are meager are friendly and welcoming. They’ll invite you into their home to share a plate of eggs, beans, rice, tortillas, and a cup of coffee.
Passing people on the street in rural Guatemala, it’s customary to greet each other with eye contact, a smile, and a genuine buenos días. Life in Guatemala—with its lush gardens, idyllic scenery, kind people, and never-ending learning opportunities—is a life of contentment.
2. No Rush (No hay prisa)
Life moves at a slower pace in Latin America. All of it. Pretty much nothing starts on time, not even scheduled appointments.
Initially, this is maddening for a person from the U.S. who’s accustomed to a fast-paced, busy, and perhaps even overscheduled lifestyle. (It was for me, anyway!) It has taken years, but I’ve definitely adjusted to the slower pace of life here. Long ago, I let go of my attachment to to-do lists and a filled-to-the-brim personal agenda.
I enjoy the slow flow of daily life and have embraced my role as a quasi-hermit. The lockdowns in 2020 due to the Covid pandemic forced me (and all of us) to slow down to an even greater extent. Living in Guatemala, I am constantly reminded to slow down—it can wait.
3. Balance (El equilibrio)
When it comes to productivity, Guatemala and the United States seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. One of Guatemala’s unofficial mottos is mejor otro dia (“better another day”), whereas U.S. society equates productivity and material wealth to one’s individual worth.
Life in Guatemala has taught me to seek and find the balance between the two. I’ve learned how to accomplish things—and how to relax. How to balance doing (getting things done) and being fully present with whatever I’m doing in each moment (including lounging in the hammock).
I achieve this by engaging in part-time and freelance work that I enjoy, which enables me plenty of free time for reading, writing, family, and fun.
4. Gratitude (La gratitud)
Before I moved to Guatemala, I lived a relatively sheltered existence. I grew up in a routine middle class, suburban household. Although life is never without challenges, I was privileged and lucky.
When I was a teacher in Guatemala City, I organized and participated in community service projects. In the slums of the city, I saw heartbreaking poverty and squalor.
I volunteer taught yoga in la zona 3 (zone 3) of Guatemala City, near the huge dump. People pick through the trash for anything recyclable, striving to earn enough money to buy food and the most basic necessities.
My experience in Guatemala City helped me cultivate gratitude for life in all its complexity and simplicity. I am grateful to all the people, places, and experiences that have shaped my life into what it is today.
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5. Awareness (La consciencia)
Prior to moving to Guatemala in 2009, I knew little about this country, other than the fact that it was in Central America.
Through books, documentaries, lectures, and meeting people, I learned about the country’s brutal history. A 36-year civil war in Guatemala officially ended with peace accords in 1996. The worst atrocities were in the early 1980s, including state-sponsored genocide of indigenous Mayan communities.
This awareness of Guatemalan history has made me a more compassionate global citizen. I’m motivated to spread goodwill here as best I can through kindness, generosity, and sensitivity.
6. Wonder (La maravilla)
Guatemala is La tierra de la eterna primavera (the land of eternal spring). It boasts a year-round temperate climate. gorgeous tropical flora, and amazing biodiversity.
Since 2012, I’ve lived on one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, lago de Atitlán (Lake Atitlán). Each day, I gaze upon her sparkling blue waters and three volcanoes along the opposite shore. The sky is a spectacle of distinctive daily sunrises, cloud formations, and sunsets.
We live in a cabin on a wooded hillside, surrounded by birdsong, bright flowers, and lots of greenery. These splendid surroundings invite wonder into the mundane. My quiet family life in Guatemala is precious to me.
7. Natural Rhythms (El ritmo natural)
I no longer use an alarm clock. My life in Guatemala today involves waking up naturally, often with the sun, and going to sleep when I’m tired (which is, admittedly, usually around 8 p.m.).
Also, according to my husband,
Por fin aprendí a cocinar.
At last I learned to cook.
I’ll admit that I used to rely far too much on processed and packaged foods when making meals. The “cooking” I did usually involved opening jars and boiling pasta.
Life in Guatemala has taught me how to procure and prepare fresh vegetables and fruits from the market, many of which I didn’t even know existed before.
My family’s staples now include foods I never ate growing up in Texas: platanos (plantains), yuca (yucca), camote (sweet potato), granadilla (passionfruit), mango, and papaya.
8. Better Spanish (Mejor español)
Improving my Spanish was my number one reason for wanting to live in Guatemala. Even after five years of Spanish classes in middle and high school, I couldn’t really hold a conversation.
After my short-lived first career in advertising, I decided to become a bilingual elementary school teacher when I was 26. I dove back into my Spanish studies, went for a two-week Spanish immersion program in Mexico, and spent three years as a bilingual educator in Austin.
Even so, when I first moved to Guatemala, I was not a strong Spanish speaker. Living here has changed that, as has my partnership with a native Spanish speaker from Colombia.
My Spanish is still far from perfect, but I’ve come a long way. I’m proud to have reconnected to the language of my maternal ancestors, especially since that chain was broken in my mother’s generation. I speak fluent Spanish as a second language, and my daughter is fully bilingual.
Estoy tan agradecida a mi vida en Guatemala por todo eso y mucho más.
I’m so grateful to my life in Guatemala for all this and much more.
Speak the Language of Latin America
Get a head start to reaching Spanish fluency before you travel to or live in Guatemala! Becoming bilingual improves your cognition and decision-making abilities and makes travel to Spanish-speaking countries both easier and more meaningful. Learn to speak Spanish with our certified Guatemalan teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy. Take a free trial class today to try it out for yourself!
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