Hi, I’m Ali, a third-year student in Latin American Studies. I spent my year abroad in El Salvador, researching for my dissertation and undertaking a voluntary placement with the Fundación Quetzalcoatl in the capital, San Salvador.

I have to admit that the place scared the hell out of me when I first arrived; reading up on the country beforehand didn’t help as people generally don’t paint a pretty picture of the place. However, I have thoroughly enjoyed my year and definitely have a good picture of El Salvador painted in my head, especially of the people, beaches and the pupusasthe typical regional food  (see right).

I worked on a project called Jóvenes Constructores, a violence prevention project working with youth in high risk areas, primarily between the ages of 18 and 25. The project was full time from 8am to 5 pm, five days a week, and lasted five months per cycle. It provided life skills workshops and training across a range of activities, including cosmetology, mechanics, motorcycle training for courier jobs, and art and design. At the end of the project, the foundation was committed to helping the young people in finding employment, providing them with loans to start businesses, or helping them back into education.

The Fundación Quetzalcoatl have been a great support for me throughout my time here: they have helped me with my Spanish and my research, and most importantly of all, have helped me to become comfortable in the country by being so welcoming, for which I am extremely grateful.

I saw turtles giving birth (three times), saw crocodiles in tropical Mangroves, surfed with sharks (only little ones, which were two-metres long), went volcano boarding, celebrated New Year’s Eve on the beach in shorts, learnt to dance a wee bit of salsa, a bit of Latin American guitar, as well as learning another language and culture. But without meaning to sound
like a hippie,  the highlight of my year abroad has been working with the young people, who have an extremely bad reputation both nationally and internationally, and I’m going to miss them incredibly.

They helped me to speak Spanish, which has improved immensely throughout my time here. Also, thanks to them I’m reasonably adept in caliche, the local slang, so I can now swear with the best of them.  The downside is that I have a sinking feeling that my final year of Spanish lessons is going to be spent trying to relearn Spanish, so that I don’t talk like a Salvadoran youth anymore.