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    Service & Study Abroad
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"It's dangerous business Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might be swept away."
                                                                                           - Bilbo from "The Hobbit."

Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara
SAGE - Service and Study Abroad: A Guatemala Experience

Would you like to come to Guatemala to experience its natural wonders and beauty, to learn about its cultures, traditions and history, and, most importantly, to help build a more just and equitable global society?

With its experience, established Guatemalan connections, and reputation as a knowledgeable, fair and reliable organization,
Avivara is able to help groups or individuals plan and implement their visit to Guatemala so that it can be a meaningful and enjoyable experience. Whether coming to Guatemala for a week or for a year, consider taking advantages of the many services we offer, including:
Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara
  • Assistance with pre-trip planning (budgets, excursion options, housing options, medical issues, passports & visas, items to bring, etc.)
  • Assistance with placement in a Guatemalan community service project
  • Arranging housing with a local Guatemalan family, or with one of many local hotels
  • Helping arrange Spanish lessons with local Guatemalan Spanish schools
  • Classes and seminars in Guatemalan history, politics, economics and culture
  • Providing essential orientations regarding Guatemalan cultural norms, using its transportation systems, accessing money, general safety and security, health and food safety, bartering in the local economy, and basic "survival" Spanish phrases
  • Guiding or arranging excursions to popular tourist destinations, plus travel to locations rarely seen or experienced by non-locals
  • Providing assistance in emergency situations (medical, legal, etc.) 

For a more complete description of each of these services, please continue reading below.

Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara

By participating in our SAGE Program, people from the United States can gain a greater appreciation for the challenges faced by people living in poverty while also having the satisfying and maturing experience of serving others in meaningful and effective ways. Please read the comments below on how previous SAGE participants have described their experience with us.

"One of the first things one learns about Avivara is that the staff is universally excellent and distinctively gifted. They have found a way to blend their unique gifts into hospitality, education, service and justice. Also, we were well-equipped by them to be prepared for the process of discovery." (Pastor Erik Wilson-Weiberg, Ballard First Lutheran Church, Seattle WA.)

"There are many things I will never forget about this trip, but one of the most important was watching our children grow in understanding of the world and feel the joy of doing something for others." (
Eric Fahlman)

"The budget information given to us was very accurate. The costs were exactly what we expected and the value received for what we paid was excellent. We actually think you should charge more for your services." (Ballard 1st Lutheran Team)

Volunteer in Guatemala-Avivara
Pastor Erik helping build a new classroom in Don Pancho
"Gary, Ann and Gustavo were always very friendly and helpful. We thoroughly enjoyed our experience and look forward to returning. The  program and staff are amazing. We feel incredibly lucky to have found Avivara."  (Tanja Schuon, physical therapist, and Matthew Valeruius, USAID Intern, 2011.)

Read more reviews of Avivara and its SAGE Program on the Great NonProfits website.

Pre-Trip Planning Assistance
When considering travel in a foreign country, it is fine to gather information from the Internet. However, it is also important to find out what is really happening at your destination from people who actually live there and have an understanding of the culture you are coming from, as well as experience with the culture you will be entering.

In addition, especially when planning for a group excursion, it is important to have a clear idea of what to expect in terms of housing, travel and living expenses, and to be prepared for many of the situations that might be encountered while traveling in Guatemala. This is where the staff of Avivara can be of great assistance.

The services we offer in this area include:
Pre-Trip Budget Planning: When planning a trip it is good to have a clear idea of what things will cost.  Avivara can provide you with accurate and up-to-date cost estimates for all aspects of your visit to help you in plan a trip to Guatemala that is tailored to your budget.

What to Bring: How often have you taken a trip only to find that you brought too much, or not enough? Or that the credit or debit card you use so frequently at home, is not accepted in the foreign country where you are traveling. We can help you avoid those pitfalls. We can also provide recommendations for bringing things that are difficult to find in Guatemala, or to leave at home those things that are abundantly available here.

Planning for Accessing Money: Guatemala is primarily a cash-only economy. Therefore it is important to make arrangements prior to arrival for accessing money while here in Guatemala. We can help suggest the best ways to ensure that you will have access to cash while traveling in Guatemala.

Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara
Medical Issues: While we always encourage people to consult with their local travel medicine clinic to find out what shots or medical precautions are recommended for travel in Guatemala, we also have access to information regarding recent and local medical warnings. In addition, the drug prescription laws are considerably more lax in Guatemala than they are in the U.S. so we can help provide information regarding which prescription drugs can be purchased over the counter here in Guatemala. Also, if you have a particular medical condition that might require attention while you are here, we can, before your arrival, contact a medical specialist in that field, to help your family doctor and and a local Guatemalan doctor know of your situation and know how to contact with one another in case of an emergency.

Planning Excursions: Guatemala is an absolutely beautiful country with a number of different tourist destinations. We can provide first-hand information about some of the more popular sites (Tikal, climbing volcanos, Lake Atitlan, the market at Chichicastenango, etc.) In addition, we have the resources to also help you or your group plan excursions to locales that are rarely visited by tourists or foreigners, thus giving you the opportunity to see more of the "real-life" of Guatemala. 

Arranging for Lodging and In-Country Transportation: Having worked with over 600 people from the U.S. and Europe who have come to volunteer in Guatemala, our staff can help you or your group arrange for lodging and transportation that is an appropriate match for your budget and your level of need for certain creature comforts. Lodging can range from having a private room and eating meals in a modest (but clean) Guatemalan home to moderately priced hotel rooms. (For those with unlimited budgets, we can also arrange for lodging at a 5 star hotel, but we assume that the demand for that will be fairly small.)
Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara

Matching You With the "Best Fit" Volunteer Service:
Because of our connections with many other non-profits and NGO's in Guatemala, we know of a number of volunteer agencies that offer excellent opportunities for meaningful service. Part of our pre-trip planning help would be to acquaint you with these various agencies, what their criteria are for accepting volunteers, and an appraisal of how our staff and past volunteers have rated each organization.

Volunteer in Guatemala-Avivara
Antigua rooftops
Rooftops of Antigua
Arrival in Guatemala
You have obtained your passport and gotten all your shots. You have made it through all of the airport security, customs and immigration checkpoints, and are now exiting the Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City. WHAT HAPPENS NOW?

Not to worry. A member of our Avivara staff will be there at the airport to personally greet you,
along with a private car (or van depending on the size of your group) as you exit the airport terminal. After leaving the airport, our staff will answer any questions you might have as you pass through the towns and countryside on the one hour drive between Guatemala City and Antigua.

Once you arrive at your already arranged lodgings, you will be introduced to the head or the household, or the hotel staff and given time to get settled into your surroundings. Then, at a time mutually arranged between you and our staff, you will be taken on a walking tour of Antigua and shown how to access money, the location of various markets and stores, and how to find your way back to where you are staying. As part of this tour you will also be given an orientation on how the transportation system works, how to avoid potentially dangerous situations, eating and drinking safely, what to do in an emergency, and the basics of polite interactions with the Guatemalan people.

Antigua Market
The Antigua Market
Volunteering - The Heart of our Program
The central component of our Service and Study Abroad (SAGE) Program is to support the efforts of those people who have a strong sense of social justice and want to make a difference in their world.  We accomplish that by helping them locate meaningful volunteer experiences that address a variety of social issues in Guatemala.

With our history of working with over 600 foreign volunteers coming to Guatemala, we have found that the volunteer experience is often a mixture of hope, joy, challenge, frustration, and deep satisfaction. How a volunteer processes and works through all of those feelings depends upon the attitude of the volunteer, finding a good "fit" between the volunteer and the project or agency that he or she will be working with, and having a support system to help make sense of things when the volunteering becomes difficult.
Volunteer in Guatemala-Avivara
Some examples of projects where we can help to place volunteers include schools, after-school educational reinforcement centers, a hospital for severely disabled children, environmental projects, housing construction projects, and projects promoting community development and empowerment.

Before recommending a Guatemalan social service agency for volunteer placement to our clients, the staff of Avivara evaluate each agency on the following criteria:
  • Demonstrated benefit to and support from their local community
  • Standards and policies that ensure fair and equitable treatment of both clients and volunteers
  • Project leadership that is stable and supportive of volunteer effort
  • In a location that is not considered dangerous for foreigners
  • Within reasonable traveling distance from the student's housing and the Avivara facilities

Volunteer in Guatemala-Avivara
After consulting with our staff and reviewing the characteristics (and requirements) of the various volunteer placements offered, our clients may choose a particular agency or project that they would most like to work with. From that point, our staff will help facilitate communications between the client and the volunteer project. This would include:
  • Informing the client of and assisting with the agency's application process
  • Orientation and introduction to the leadership of the organization where the volunteer will be working
  • Ongoing consultation with clients regarding their volunteer experience (This would also include mediation services with the community agency in the case of misunderstanding or conflict.)
It is our belief that working with others with different cultural perspectives to solve common problems is one of the most growth-producing experiences that a person can have. It is not without its challenges however, and that is why the staff at Avivara will always be available to help volunteers work through challenging issues if and when they arise. One of the values that we hold to closely is that it is through service to others that we come to know more about who we truly are.
Volunteer in Guatemala-Avivara
Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara
Studying Spanish One-on-One
Academic Study - An Important Complement to Service
While volunteering is a powerful learning experience in its own right, it can be enhanced by having a more complete understanding of the context in which it occurs. For that reason, the  Avivara SAGE program offers a broad range of classes and seminars to deepen understanding of the situation in Guatemala, and to provide opportunities for personal growth and reflection.

First and foremost, we have found that being able to speak Spanish with a minimal level of fluency is immensely helpful when living and working in Guatemala. Therefore, Avivara can help each SAGE participant locate a local Spanish school in Antigua that will meet their needs and provide the appropriate level of Spanish instruction.

Avivara also offers seminars in the following areas:
  • Guatemalan history, economics and politics
  • Support for Independent Study & Research
Each of the areas of study can be tailored to fit the needs of a group or individual. They can be as short as one-day seminars, or extended to cover multiple weeks of study. They can be taught from secondary (high-school) to post-graduate levels of difficulty and depth of content.

Study Abroad in Guatemala-Avivara
Learning about the culture
All Work, No Play...Not Good for the Soul
When we originally came to Guatemala, we had no idea that we would fall so deeply in love with its natural beauty, its history and its people. We can't imagine someone coming to Guatemala and not taking the opportunity to experience its many cultures and natural attractions.

For that reason, we at Avivara can help groups or individuals plan personal itineraries that include visits not only the most popular spots in Guatemala, but also personally guided trips to locations where it would be rare to run into another tourist.

There are a number of popular tourist destinations in Guatemala. Within Antigua are a number our tour agencies that can arrange transportation, guides and other services for the less-experienced traveler. Our assistance would be primarily in helping people locate those agencies that we know from first-hand experience provide a dependable product at reasonable prices. For the more adventuresome and well-seasoned traveler, our staff can provide the information needed to plan your own self-guided visits to the many exciting and beautiful destinations in Guatemala. For groups, we can also plan and implement "custom-tailored" tours with a member of our staff accompanying the group as its personal guide.

A sample of the activities and destinations that we have visited and can recommend include Lake Atitlan (below center), climbing the volcano Pacaya (below right) and the kite raising traditions of All Saints Day in Santiago, Sacatepequez (below left).  In addition, there are the Pacific Coast beaches, the Mayan ruins at Tikal, the All Saints' Day celebrations in Todos Santos, a variety of museums in Guatemala City, and the festivities of Semana Santa (Holy Week) in Antigua, just mention a few.

However, we have found that many times, people also want to visit more out of the way places that are a little less "touristy" and where one is not completely surrounded by other "gringos."  The pictures to the right show you examples of places where our Avivara staff can take you or your group to obtain a more authentic experience of daily life in the smaller villages of Guatemala.

Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
The Pila in Alotenango
Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
Todos Santos Weaver
Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
1st Communion Procession in El Arado
Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
Raising Kites at Santiago on All Saint's Day
Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
The Beauty of Lake Atitlan
Visiting Guatemala-Avivara
Climbing to the active lava flows on Volcan Pacaya
Costs and Fees
Each person or group will have different needs and priorities. Therefore, the range of services that they select, the living arrangements that are most comfortable for them, the volunteer agency they choose to work with and the optional activities that they choose to engage in will all affect the overall cost of their Service and Study Abroad experience in Guatemala.

One of our most important services is to help each individual or group plan their experience so that all of the above factors are a good match to their budget and so that they have the confidence that they will not end up "stranded" in Guatemala with insufficient resources. However, as a general rule of thumb, we have found that it will realistically cost between $600-1000 for round trip airfare, ground transportation, and other pre-departure travel preparation expenses. Once in Guatemala, basic living expenses will generally range from $100-150 per week. Additional costs could include classes in Spanish which will range from $85-125 per week, plus the costs for any additional tours or special excusions that may be requested.

In addition, it is prudent to plan for discretionary expenses such as meals and entertainment (beyond basic room and board), purchasing traditional Guatemalan items for gifts, and visiting various tourist destinations. These of course would be highly dependent on each person's budget.

Avivara does have a basic registration fee  for assisting individuals and groups with the planning and arrangements necessary for a smooth and relatively "hassle-free" Guatemalan experience. (Remember, travel in a developing country is never completely "hassle-free." That is part of the adventure.)  Those fees are:

For an individual: $ 150.00
For groups of 2-5: $ 125.00 per person
For groups of 6 or more: $ 100.00 per person

This basic fee would be payable to Avivara after the completion of an informational questionnaire which provides us with your basic contact information and information regarding the scope of services you might need from us.  Once we have received your questionnaire and received payment of our basic fee, then all of our support services would be made available to you.

Other costs associated with the trip would generally be paid directly to the vendor providing the service (e.g., the airlines, ground transport, the homestay family, etc.) unless other arrangements have been made in advance with Avivara to prepay those expenses.

We hope that this information has helped  in your consideration of  participating in our Service and Study Abroad Program. If you have additional questions please Contact UsWe very much look forward to being of assistance to you.

Next Steps: More Information and Registration
If what we have described so far sounds like the program you have been looking for, you are probably ready for the next steps in our process. To the right we have two documents that can be viewed over the internet or easily downloaded. One is our Frequently Asked Questions document which goes into considerable detail about traveling to and living in Guatemala.

The second document is our SAGE Program Agreement to Participate which outlines some important aspects regarding personal responsibility while traveling in a developing country such as Guatemala, and what the limits are of our responsibility for your well-being while here.

After reviewing these two documents, you may ready to begin the registration process, the first step of which is completing our SAGE Program Application Questionnaire.

Once we have received a completed SAGE Program Application Questionnaire, we will contact you to answer any additional questions you might have about your upcoming visit to Guatemala.

"Frequently Asked Questions"
SAGE Agreeement to Participate
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