132 days in Honduras

8 May

AFS Australia asked me to send through a report to let them know how my AFS experience has been up until today. It’s been published on their website, but for posterity’s sake I thought I would cross-post it to my blog too.

* * * * *

I had the good fortune to complete an AFS high school exchange in 2000 to Brazil. I often describe this year as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that hasn’t stopped me from signing up for another AFS exchange, determined to turn once-in-a-lifetime into twice-in-a-lifetime.

Once caught the travel bug is an itchy little critter, so it was with a huge sense of excitement that I said farewell again to family and friends and headed overseas. This time I’ve landed in Honduras to complete a semester-long AFS Volunteer Abroad program.

I’m thrilled I can combine two passions of mine: travel and volunteer work. The idea of ‘seeing the world with purpose’ is a philosophy that very much appeals to me. An AFS volunteer program was the perfect way to realise this goal.

And Honduras certainly hasn’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating country full of contradictions and extremes. I often find myself surprised, elated and dismayed. Sometimes all three in the same day.

It’s difficult to single out just one or two highlights of my trip so far. I’ve explored ancient Mayan ruins, written press releases for UNICEF (my community project organisation), toured a volcanic island in a mototaxi (the Honduran version of a tuk tuk), visited families living in extreme poverty, been bogged in an airboat, and spent many, many hours lazing in my favourite hammock. And that’s just the tip if the iceberg.

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my birthday here. I had a fantastic party with all my extended host family. As well as tacos, tequila and cake, my fiesta included the violent destruction of a piñata. This was a lot of fun and the remnants made a great party hat!

Piñata party hats

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lived and travelled in Latin American countries before or because I’m now older (confirmed) and wiser (debatable), but culture shock hasn’t been an issue. I’ve settled into life here with an almost surprising ease.

However making friends can prove more challenging than you might expect. It can be difficult to express your personality when you’re working with a more limited vocabulary. I’m lucky that my level of Spanish is pretty fluent, but I still find it hard to joke around and banter like I would in English.

One of my host-mother’s friends actually thought I got my words mixed up when I told her I was an extrovert. We now have a running joke that I’m only extroverted in English. In Spanish I’m an introvert.

Introvert or extrovert, the way to get the most out of your exchange is to keep putting yourself out there. Always say yes to any opportunities that come your way. You’ll be surprised where saying ‘yes’ can lead you.

I’m really glad I decided to turn this particular travel dream of mine into a reality. Halfway through my 132 days in Honduras and there are no regrets, just lots of great experiences and happy memories.

If you’re contemplating going on an AFS exchange, I only have three words for you: take the challenge! You won’t regret it.

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