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University of Pennsylvania | School of Medicine | GHI | Activities | Preparing to Go

Preparing to Go


You must be proficient in spoken and written Spanish; all communication among the staff, rounds, and charting takes place in Spanish. Most patients speak only Tz’utujil, and Spanish-Tz’utujil interpretation is provided by the Atiteco members of the hospital staff.

If you would like to sharpen your Spanish language skills before you arrive, we can recommend the following language schools in Guatemala:

Before you go

  1. Browse through the information on our website and the links from our site.
  2. Read over the Hospitalito Atitlán volunteer letter [pdf] and volunteer orientation [pdf].
  3. Listen to the audio diaries of Drs. Bernie and Jack Page, two US physicians who volunteered at the Hospitalito for two years.
  4. Read over past reports from Penn medical students who worked at Hospitalito Atitlán (2005, 2006 - pdf). E-mail them to get tips on getting to and living in Santiago Atitlán. Print out a copy of Phil Lederer’s map of Santiago Atitlán [jpg].
  5. Read Health Information for Travelers to Countries in Mexico and Central America from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no malaria risk around Lake Atitlán. Click here for vaccine costs at Penn’s Student Health Service.
  6. Read up on Guatemalan history, politics, and culture. Watch the movies El Norte and Men with Guns.

Suggested reading

Guatemalan history and politics

Santiago Atitlán and surrounding towns

Language books

Travel guides

Medical volunteering