Whenever I travel to a Spanish speaking country, I re-realize that I know more Spanish than I give myself credit for and can get by in the most common travel situations. I can order food in a restaurant, check in at a hotel and order a taxi to the airport. What I can’t do, however, is engage people in normal, casual conversation beyond my name, where I am from, how long I am travelling and how much I love their country/city. This frustrates me greatly, as my grasp of the basics leads people to believe I understand more than I do. They start sharing stories and information with me, asking me questions about myself and my life, and then I find myself lost. Completely. What starts out as small talk and smiles, ends with me nodding stupidly saying I don’t understand, and the other person full of disappointment.
So, while on my SoleJourn, one giant goal of mine is to greatly improve my Spanish. The opportunity to do just that is one of the main reasons I have decided to travel extensively in Central and South America rather than doing more hopping to countries in Asia & New Zealand for example. I know just being in that world and hearing Spanish spoken all around me will help tremendously. Being solo will also push me to engage people and fend for myself in Spanish. But, lately I have started thinking, why not take it one step further? I have heard of people going to Spanish language school while traveling in Costa Rica, Peru, and Bolivia. Maybe I should consider something like that!
My plan is to start my trip in Belize, but the first language there is English, so it is obviously not the best place to try to learn Spanish. The next stop would logically be Guatemala, where they most definitely speak Spanish. If I took some time to formally jump-start my vocabulary and brush up on my conjugations (which are horrendous by the way) early on in my journey, I could then utilize what I learned for the remainder of my trip. Sounding more and more like a great idea I embarked on some serious Google research about Spanish academies in Guatemala.
Thirty minutes in, I could not contain my excitement! Using a few sites including Guatemala 365, I discovered that not only was Spanish school an option, but there were a great number of choices: some small, some larger, some in the city in Antigua or Flores, others on Lake Atitlan or even on the beach in Monterrico. The model in Guatemala seems to be 20-25 hours a week of one on one instruction at an academy where students can also engage in other cultural activities or borrow books and movies in Spanish. Some schools also organize trips or will have a teacher take you to the market to shop en Espanol (at an extra cost). Most exciting, however: almost all schools include a home-stay (room & board) in the weekly fee to help with immersion! After learning about so many amazing possibilities, seeing the price per week to attend such a school seemed too good to be true: fees range from just $145 to a rare $310 per week with most prices in the range of $160-$210!!
To put this into perspective, I have a budget of $350/week. So, for less than I expected to spend, not only will I have a place to stay and have meals prepared for me, but I will also get 20-25 hours of Spanish instruction to boot! The school that is my first choice pick at this point is located on Lake Atitlan where students can practice while overlooking the water! The academy, San Pedro Spanish School, also has a non-profit organization that it helps to fund where students can volunteer in their spare time. It costs just $170 per week and seems like the best combination of all the things I am looking for 🙂 !
At this point, I am thinking that I would like to attend the same school for about 6 weeks, with a possibility of shorter stays in other cities or countries along the way, to help advance my knowledge. This way, not only will I bolster my Spanish, but I will also get to satisfy so many of my other goals: I will get to stay in one place for an extended period of time (a place that others I know have raved about! And just LOOK at it!!) really getting to become familiar with it and the people who live there. I will get to engage with locals, volunteer, and spend very little money. I can’t think of a more perfect way to spend my time and funds!! Really looking forward to this.