How To Choose a Spanish School in Guatemala

Central and South America, City Travel, Dispatches from the Road, Studying Abroad — By on August 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm

Blair Hickman is spending six weeks in Guatemala–traveling, learning Spanish and strengthening her chakras–before grad school starts in September. Catch her dispatches from the road every other Tuesday.

In high school, I took two years of Spanish. Our teacher was actually from Spain and, I think, hated himself for landing in a crappy public high school in Tennessee, so instead of demanding we learn pronunciation, he let us collapse into giggles when we learned the word for pool was “piscina.” As in “piss-in-a-pool.”

Enter Guatemala. With pure accents and dirt-cheap tortillas, Guatemala is one of the best places in the world to study espanol.

In an attempt to be less of a twat and become bi-lingual, I booked a ticket to the land of the Maya. Though I spent my two weeks of study in Antigua, I explored schools in both  language school hubs–Antigua and Quezaltenango, aka Xela (shayla).

Each school mas o menos offers the same type of instruction, with one-on-one lessons, free daily activities and homestay with three meals per day for between $100-$200 USD per week. Spend some time studying Spanish before you come, but if you aren’t happy with your teacher or homestay, speak up! My teacher spoke as much English as I spoke Spanish, so we spent half the day scrounging through dictionaries so she could understand my questions. Needless to say, I switched.

Obviously if you pay more, you’ll get a little more, but in the end, the factors that differentiate the schools are social life and location. If you want a more serious study environment, go to Xela and choose schools whose websites don’t include the words “fun” or “happy hour.”

For more information on the cities, their schools, pros, cons and recommendations, see below.

QUETZALTENANGO

The schools in Xela are a tad cheaper and offer more opportunity for social work. Xela is in the Western Highlands, about four hours away from the airport in Guatemala City airport, and is Guatemala’s second-largest city. It feels very metropolitan–a bit European, a bit gritty and very Guatemalan–but a bevy of Mayan villages surround the town. As a result, volunteer opportunities have popped up everywhere. Xela can show you an intimate, gritty view of Guatemala, but you’ll get the most out of this city if you can come for a month or more.

Recommended schools in Xela

Sakribal: An intimate, flexible school founded and run by women. They have strong ties to the community, and the most impressive video and book library I’ve yet to see.

-INEPAS: One of the most well-organized, instructive schools I found in Xela.  They offer a two-week service training program before you go into the field, in addition to a variety of daily activities for those solely interested in learning Spanish.

Pop Wuj: A tad disorganized , but popular and social. They offer profession-specific classes and offer a solid, three-week excursion program that will take you to the heart of Guatemala.

ANTIGUA

Antigua is  a fairyland. Just 40 minutes away from Guatemala City, it’s an UNESCO World Heritage site, an expat hub and the center for most travel to the rest of the country. You will make friends quickly and easily–some who speak English and some who speak Espanol–and your experience here will be, in a word, fun. It’s easy to see why people come for vacation and accidentally never leave.

And another note–Antigua is considerably warmer than Xela. Maybe I’m a princess, but it’s my summer vacation, and Xela is at a higher elevation.  June-November is their winter and rainy season, so if you want to enjoy warmth on your break, consider this.

Recommended schools in Antigua:
Spanish Academy Sevilla: A social, beautiful school that will make it easy to meet other travelers. They offer varying levels of instruction and intensity, depending on what you want to pay.

La Union: Heavy focus on service

Academy Antiguena: A good budget choice, with flexible homestays and teaching options. I studied here for one week, and the staff was incredibly accommodating. And if I’ve learned anything these three weeks, it’s that I’m far more indecisive and demanding than I thought. If they can help me, they can help anyone.

FURTHER RESOURCES

Xela Pages

123teachme

Guatemala365. (I like this one; it’s like Yelp for Spanish schools.)

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