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Volunteer experience in Guatemala changes WSU grad’s perspective on life

  • Written by Shannon Michael

For a young woman who had never traveled outside of the United States, the thought of traveling to Guatemala where Maren Talcott would live and volunteer at a Montessori school for three months was daunting.

Talcott, an ’09 WHS alum who graduated from Washington State University in December with a degree in elementary education and a minor in Spanish, fully admits she has lived a sheltered life, free from any major wants or worries. She knew going to Guatemala would be out of her comfort zone.

Maren TalcottMaren Talcott is sitting in a tuk tuk, a small vehicle Guatemalans use. Talcott said she’s seen as many as 20 children squeezed into the vehicle. (Photo courtesy of Maren Talcott)Former Eastside residents Dr. William Boegel and his wife Diane Boegel, who followed a calling from God to serve the poor in Guatemala as medical missionaries, operate Opal House, a sanctuary for women and children. Talcott knew about the Boegels’ experiences in Guatemala from following their blog. She reached out to them and asked if she could come help at the preschool they run so she could help improve her Spanish.

Despite years of studying Spanish, Talcott had no confidence in her ability to speak the language. “I was scared to death to speak the language,” she said, wanting to look for an opportunity where she’d have to force herself to speak Spanish.

When Talcott arrived the first week of January, she came with three goals in mind: improve her Spanish, impact the lives of others, and appreciate a diverse culture.

Improving her Spanish was the hardest goal for her. She had to break through the barrier of not wanting to speak Spanish. It took her about a month to force that wall of resistance to come down so she could converse with the people around her and fully participate.

Diane had Salazar move into the guesthouse to live with Talcott so she would have a friend. “It’s because of Jackeline that my Spanish is a world’s difference right now,” she said.
While Talcott knows from her five years of working at Evergreen Academy’s Montessori preschool classes that she’s made an impact on lives, it was a preteen class for girls taught on Fridays at Opal House where she felt she made a profound impact.

At first, Talcott just observed Salazar teaching the class before eventually taking the lead. “It was unreal the relationship I built with these girls. We talked about sex, boyfriends, relationships, and education. We talked about all those things that women in Guatemala are so uneducated about,” she explained.

She told them she would return someday and that when she did she wanted to see them in strong relationships, with intelligent men, and that they’d continued their education, maybe becoming a doctor or a teacher. She told them, “I want to be so proud of you when I come back.”

It’s inspired Talcott to want to start a preteen class for girls here in Woodinville where girls can come together and talk and have frank discussions they may not feel comfortable having with their own parents or friends. She wants to give girls a safe zone.

But it was the diversity of culture that seemed to change her the most.

Before Talcott went to Guatemala, she described herself as a selfish brat in a way. She didn’t appreciate what she had, from leaving the lights on when she’d leave a room to all the material things she had. “All those little things I overlooked are like now so black and white, so obvious to me now, and one of the most rewarding parts of the trip to me,” she said.

“My garage, where we keep our car is bigger than the majority of homes I saw in Guatemala. My bedroom is about the size of a home in Guatemala. My full-size bed is bigger than any of the beds I saw in Guatemala. And, most homes only have one bed, and the entire family sleeps on it,” she described.

“Until you really have to live like them and see what the majority of the world is like, you can’t help but change, not only as a person and appreciating things, but the way you talk to your parents, the way you help around the house. I literally feel like I can do anything now because I have so much confidence and passion.”

Having returned to Woodinville on March 29, she’s submitted applications to surrounding school districts. “I want to be a kindergarten teacher. That’s where my heart is,” she said, adding that’s where her passion and true teaching talent shines.

Talcott’s goal is to travel to Guatemala during summers off from teaching every couple of years to volunteer. She just doesn’t know when, but she is confident she will go back. She promised those preteen girls she would.

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