Spanish School in Guatemala (March 2 – April 20, 2009)

On Language School
Guatemala… for many travelers it’s about visiting Antigua, Lago Antitlan, or Tikal, for others it’s about experiencing indigenous cultures, and for those who are extending their travels through Latin America, it is the place to study Spanish.  For just 150 U.S. dollars a week, you can enroll in a school, receive 25 hours of private instruction, school activities, internet, a homestay, and all of your meals. I chose to study in the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), a high-elevation town with plenty to do, but much more relaxed, livable, and safer than its big brother, Guatemala City.  A high concentration of competitive Spanish schools has made Xela probably the cheapest and highest quality place to study Spanish in the world.  Conveniently located at the beginning of my journey, choosing Xela was a no-brainer.
I arrived by chicken bus late on a Sunday night in Xela, without a place to stay, nor a clue what school I was to attend.  No matter… I had a map, I found a six-dollar room and the next day I would go for a morning run to scout out a nice-looking school.  I immediately found Celas Maya, a big school, located in the city center, and a conservative choice.  By 8 am, I had enrolled in Celas, had a private teacher, a family to stay with, and was about to start classes.  That’s how things roll with Spanish school in Guatemala.
That afternoon, I moved into my new home for the next two months.  Marisol, my host mom (who is actually about my age), introduced me to her partner Juan, and their three children Shania, Juergen, and Jimi, ages six to fourteen.  While they all crammed themselves into bunks and one bedroom, another student and I had bedrooms of our own.  I tried to conceal my sense of guilt with the fact that the $35 a week that they were getting from me was their main income.
Xela turned out to be an easy place to live in and my daily schedule was surprisingly very similar to my life in Corvallis, Oregon:
6:30 a.m.  Wake up to freezing temperatures and go for a run.
7:30          Breakfast/shower
8:00 School starts
10:30         Break
11:00         Resume classes
1:00 p.m.    Return home for lunch
Afternoon   Study, homework, nap, internet, eat ice cream
6:00            Dance Rueda de Casino with friends from Xela
7:30            Dinner, workout with the kids
9:00            Go out, dance, or watch tv in Spanish
Repeat…
Two months flew by, and I became very close with the family.  I built enough trust with Marisol that we shared our personal lives at the dinner table, I would babysit the kids, was invited to fiestas with the extended family, and was asked to kill the duck for her father’s birthday.  The Spanish progressed and I was extremely pleased with the several teachers I had at Celas Maya.  And the Guatemalan friends I made along the way (i.e. Los Guarijos),  that’s another chapter in itself.
My Host Brother and I looking for cheap used clothes in the local Xela market. These second hand items are sent from the U.S. and include some real gems. Although I couldn't find any clothes that I had donated in years past, I did find 2 nice sweaters for 12 cents each!

My Host Brother and I looking for cheap used clothes in the local Xela market. These second hand items are sent from the U.S. and include some real gems. Although I couldn't find any clothes that I had donated in years past, I did find 2 nice sweaters for 12 cents each!

Guatemala… for many travelers it’s about visiting Antigua, Lago Antitlan, or Tikal, for others it’s about experiencing indigenous cultures, and for those who are extending their travels through Latin America, it is the place to study Spanish.  For just 150 U.S. dollars a week, you can enroll in a school, receive 25 hours of private instruction, school activities, internet, a homestay, and all of your meals. I chose to study in the second largest city in Guatemala, Quetzaltenango (aka Xela), a high-elevation town with plenty to do, but much more relaxed, livable, and safer than its big brother, Guatemala City.  A high concentration of competitive Spanish schools has made Xela probably the cheapest and highest quality place to study Spanish in the world.  Conveniently located at the beginning of my journey, choosing Xela was a no-brainer.

At 2,200 meters Xela is actually quite cold.  I'd often wake up to freezing temperatures and frost in the morning.

At 2,200 meters Xela is actually quite cold. I'd often wake up to freezing temperatures and frost in the morning.

I arrived by chicken bus late on a Sunday night in Xela, without a place to stay, nor a clue what school I was to attend.  No matter… I had a map, I found a six-dollar room and the next day I would go for a morning run to scout out a nice-looking school.  I immediately found Celas Maya, a big school, located in the city center, and a conservative choice.  By 8 am, I had enrolled in Celas, had a private teacher, a family to stay with, and was about to start classes.  That’s how things roll with Spanish school in Guatemala.

That afternoon, I moved into my new home for the next two months.  Marisol, my host mom (who is actually about my age), introduced me to her partner Juan, and their three children Shania, Juergen, and Jimi, ages six to fourteen.  While they all crammed themselves into bunks and one bedroom, another student and I had bedrooms of our own.  I tried to conceal my sense of guilt with the fact that the $35 a week that they were getting from me was their main income.

On Volcan Santa Marta, overlooking Xela

On Volcan Santa Marta, overlooking Xela

Xela turned out to be an easy place to live in and my daily schedule was surprisingly very similar to my life in Corvallis, Oregon:

6:30 a.m.  Wake up to freezing temperatures and go for a run.

7:30          Breakfast/shower

8:00 School starts

10:30         Break

11:00         Resume classes

1:00 p.m.    Return home for lunch

Afternoon   Study, homework, nap, internet, eat ice cream

6:00            Dance Rueda de Casino with friends from Xela

7:30            Dinner, workout with the kids

9:00            Go out, dance, or watch tv in Spanish

Repeat…

Defeathering the duck at Grandpa's house

Defeathering the duck at Grandpa's house

Two months flew by, and I became very close with the family.  I built enough trust with Marisol that we shared our personal lives at the dinner table, I would babysit the kids, was invited to fiestas with the extended family, and was asked to kill the duck for her father’s birthday.  The Spanish progressed and I was extremely pleased with the several teachers I had at Celas Maya.  And the Guatemalan friends I made along the way (i.e. Los Guarijos),  that’s another chapter in itself.

Climbing nearby Volcan Tujamulco, the highest point in Central America

Climbing nearby Volcan Tujamulco, the highest point in Central America

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