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Electives- Global Health

SLC-Guatemala - Service, Language, Culture in the Highlands of Guatemala

Elective Number: 1309 (International)

Rotation Supervisors: Dr. David Burt, davidrburt@virginia.edu

SLC In-country coordinator: Ms. Jessica Ohana Gonzalez

Designated signer: Penny Carlisle, (434) 924-8488; pc6yj@virginia.edu

Evaluation: Completed by Dr. Burt with input from in-country coordinator

Prerequisites: The SLC-Guatemala elective application process consists of several stages. First, the applicant completes an application form and then has interviews with Dr. Burt. This is followed by a phone interview with the SLC in-country coordinator in Guatemala. This multi-stage process insures that all questions are answered, that requirements for volunteering are met and that the elective structure is understood by all parties involved. Every effort is made to customize the elective experience for each participant, yet provide clear direction and expectations. At least a month prior to beginning the rotation complete the Elective requirements on the Forms page.

Available: All Rotations

Duration: 6 weeks minimum; 10 weeks maximum (4 weeks with permission)

Time to Report: TBA

Place to Report: TBA

Typical day: 8:00 am - 3:00 pm

Attendance: Attendance at elective activities is mandatory.

  • Anyone who is ill or has a personal or family emergency must contact Student Affairs and the Elective Director.
  • Students are allowed to take off up to 1 day per week to interview between November 1 and February 1.
    • Specific days missed must be approved by the Elective Director.

Number of students per rotation: 8-10

Course Description: SLC-Guatemala is a unique program developed to offer the opportunity to combine medically-related service, Spanish language immersion training and an introduction to Guatemalan culture. It is offered in partnership with participating Guatemala-based organizations. The goal is to facilitate development of sustainable, long-term relationships of benefit to all parties, in particular the indigenous cultures of Guatemala.

4 phases:

1. Pre-departure orientation, logistical preparation, reading and online Spanish instruction (UVA)
2. Spanish language immersion training and cultural orientation (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala)
3. Supervised medical service and learning (selected sites within Guatemala)
4. Post-elective debriefing, discussion and final write-ups (UVA)


Phase 1: (UVA) Interested students apply for the elective. If accepted, they are required to meet with the elective supervisor for initial interview. Prior to departure they will be expected to read selected information and articles on Guatemala and its people and discuss their thoughts in an essay. During this time, participants will email the UVA approved and vetted Spanish immersion school for beginning online lessons, a Phase III service site and complete UVA requirements for International travel through the ISO.

Phase 2: (Quetzaltenango, Guatemala) Students arrive in Guatemala City and will utilize prearranged transport to the city Quetaltenago (Xela is the indigenous language name), which is several hours from Guatemala City. This is the base for initial Spanish immersion training and an introduction to Guatemala. Student language lessons will be taught by native Guatemalan instructor(s), tailored to their individual language level and preferences. During their time in Xela, students will meet with the SLC-Guatemala in-country coordinator, who will be available to help them during their time in Guatemala and who will also continue their orientation.

For approximately two weeks (depending on an individual's initial fluency) the students will attend immersion school, focus on acquisition of basic Spanish language skills. Most schools provide 5 hours of immersion Spanish instruction daily as well as cultural activities. In addition, SLC-Guatemala students also will receive additional medical vocabulary training and an introduction to Guatemalan medicine and health.

Housing arrangements and food are provided by all schools. Internet cafes and inexpensive cell phone coverage to the US are available. For the length of their rotation, students will be expected to purchase/rent a cell phone and make that number available to UVA, as well as our in-country coordinator.

Phase 3: (various sites within the highlands of Guatemala) During their final weeks in Guatemala, students will travel to various sites within the Guatemalan highlands for health-related service, instruction and training. Students will be matched to a site on a case-by-case basis. Sites vary in exact setup and structure, but all have the following in common:

  • a well-developed model of partnership and culturally beneficial exchange with the populations they are serving
  • a dedication to delivering long-term quality health care to the Mayan people
  • a pronounced interest in collaborative relationships with UVA
  • a willingness to teach and mentor visiting US volunteers
  • proven successful past experiences working with US medical personnel
  • Guatemalan and/or American health care providers dedicated to teaching
  • a concern for the safety of visiting volunteers

During this latter period, the majority of UVA students will work under the supervision of Guatemalan health care workers. They will deliver hospital and clinic-based medical care to indigenous Mayan populations. Other students will be working on community health-related projects. Emphasis on intercultural interaction and long-term partnership formulation will continue.

Phase 4: (UVA) Students will return to Charlottesville upon completion of their elective, where they will have a collective or individual debriefing to discuss their time in Guatemala. They will also have the opportunity to review their final evaluations, offer input on their experiences and provide suggestions for improvement. A final essay exam (based on their individual experiences) will also be completed.

Elective Costs: Since this is an international elective, there are additional associated costs. These include plane flight, Spanish school for 4-6 weeks, in-country logistical costs, pre-departure vaccines and pre-departure materials. Approximate costs will be discussed carefully before students are accepted into the elective, but usually run from $2100-$2650. It is noted that costs fluctuate, are dependent on site and school chosen and are somewhat subject to change