Back to School
One of the main goals of this trip - in fact, the reason we moved abroad in the first place - is to learn Spanish in an immersive environment.
Though you wouldn’t know it based on his pale complexion, Michael is half Mexican. His grandparents emigrated to the United States from Veracruz, Mexico, and his father is a first-generation American born in Chicago. Throughout his life, Michael has always wanted to identify and connect with his heritage more, and becoming fully fluent has been a huge priority for him after several years of high school and college Spanish courses.
For my part, I have always wanted to learn a second language. Growing up in Arizona made Spanish an obvious choice, and when I chose journalism as a career, the little that I could speak came in handy for stories involving immigration or agriculture (two of my favorite topics). But I always wanted to learn more, so when Michael asked me how I’d feel about dedicating several months to immersing ourselves in the language the answer was an obvious yes.
On our first day in San Pedro we set out to tour several local schools. Our first stop - Orbita Spanish School - made an immediate impression on us (and I’m not talking about the many flights of stairs it takes to get to the top!). René, the school’s founder and director, was very welcoming and answered every question we could think of. I was encouraged by the clearly thought-out curriculum and the system of textbooks René has created. It didn’t take long to decide that Orbita was a great fit - we came back the very next day to start our education.
Michael and I each study with a private tutor, as does every student here. Though the standard class is four hours long, we opted for an extra hour of lessons each day because we are determined to become as fluent as possible, as quickly as possible. We’re also here for nearly 12 weeks of classes, while other students generally stay for a week or two as they pass through town.
We have school five days a week, Monday-Friday, from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Michael works with Susana, whose AirBnB we stayed in our first few nights here and who recommended Orbita to us in the first place. I study with Manuel, and both he and Susana are San Pedro natives and about the same age as us (late 20’s). They are excellent teachers, often combining a few hours of conversation about current political and social issues with our coursework.
We’ve found that one of the best parts about having a one-on-one tutor is the ability to stop and review a topic until you’re really sure that you understand it. Michael and I both remember being in classes in high school and college and feeling frustrated when we didn’t fully understand the topic while the class moved on to the next subject. Here, when we struggle, we are able to spend as much time as needed reviewing the grammar or vocabulary in question.
Every day at 10:40 a.m. there is a half-hour break where the school provides a fresh-brewed cup of coffee or tea and a homemade snack. We’ve had pancakes with local honey, chips and guacamole (made from the school’s very own avocado trees!), and tamales made with local herb chipilín, just to name a few. Every week the school hosts a variety of activities, from movie nights (in Spanish, of course) to local hikes or outdoor sports with the other classmates and teachers. Our early morning hike of Nariz del Indio was one of these excursions.
What does all of this cost? Our weekly total of Q1,663 ($215) each covers 5 hours of lessons with a private tutor 5 days a week, as well as a private room in the home of a local family and three meals each day. We had originally planned on renting an apartment and cooking our own meals, but after realizing how affordable a home-stay was (Q600/$78 each/week) we felt like the choice was an easy one. We are so happy that we picked this option as we can’t say enough good things about the Ixmata family, from their delightful company to the home-cooked meals our host mother Maria makes - more details about our home-stay to come!