guatemala

Xela and Proyecto Linguistico Quetzalteco de Espanol (PLQE)

Greetings from Guatemala!

I can’t believe my first week here is halfway over–the time is flying! I admit, I was a little nervous about coming here, especially as a solo female traveler–anything you read about Guatemala, these days, mentions the high crime rate and all the scary potential dangers that come with being here. But, I feel quite safe and definitely believe I made a great decision to study in Qutezaltenango (Xela) with PLQE.

Xela is four hours away from Guatemala City, up in the western highlands. To get here, I (along with another student and a guide from the school) took a winding bus ride along the Interamericas Highway–which was really gorgeous. The road weaves through the mountains–up into the clouds at points–passing hills and valleys, grazing farm animals and little roadside stores and food stands. I was surprised at how smooth and wide the road was. The ride was more comfortable than any other I’d taken in Latin America. (Granted, I wasn’t on a chicken bus; I’ll get my first taste of that in the coming days. I took a “first class” bus which was basically an old Greyhound.)

parque central, xela

Xela is Guatemala’s second largest city, but doesn’t feel large or overwhelming. It’s a sprawl of low, colorful buildings and seems more like a small town. Plus, volcanos and hills flank the city, which make for dramatic scenery.

parque central, xela

During the day, people of all ages are out and I feel comfortable wandering and taking pictures (like these of Parque Central) by myself. But we’ve been warned not to walk alone after 9:30 at night–and, really, not to stay out much later than that.В (I’ve only been freaked out once: Early yesterday morning, around 5 a.m., explosions right outside my house woke me up. It sounded like a gun battle in the streets. After several rounds went off, I heard my host mom rustling around outside and popped out of my room to ask what the noise was. Apparently, Guatemalans shoot firecrackers in the wee hours to ring in someone’s birthday. Who knew?)

parque central, xela

As for PLQE, the school I’m attending–I’m loving it. They set me up with a wonderful homestay (more about that in another post) and they run a great program.

plqe

I have classes five hours a day (one-on-one instruction with my teacher, Arecely) and the school offers movie screenings, lectures and field trips every day.

plqe activities

As for the language learning part? The instruction is really good, but also tiring and, at times, frustrating. It’s hard to commit so much to memory and not feel dumb/hopeless in the process!

On my first day, Arecely, gave me a short oral and written test to determine my proficiency. Then, we developed a lesson plan based on what I wanted to review and focus on. After having taken group lessons with 9 other students in the States, private lessons seem like a luxury. Arecely is very patient when I repeatedly ask her to explain a grammatical point so I can fully understand it and therefore be able to use it. (Like why you’d use indirect object pronouns and the actual words they’re supposed to replace in the same sentence–isn’t the point to avoid redundancies?!) Or when I’m fumbling for words that just won’t come to me. В We’re moving at a good pace and covering lots of concepts, but not so fast that I’m not retaining what I’m learning.

Despite my struggles, my Spanish is improving. I can speak and understand a little more every day. But I still have a loooooooooong way to go. I’m jealous of the students who are here for a month or longer. It makes me wonder if/when I’ll have the opportunity to travel for that amount of time. And, if not, if Mal and I should do another program like this, in another country, for our next sister trip.

plqe

More updates to come!

Off to Guatemala!

Xela a noche

I’m about to depart onВ my end of summer trip–two weeks in Guatemala to learn Spanish! I’ll be studying atВ Proyecto LingГјistico Quetzalteco de EspaГ±ol (PLQE), spending one week in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second largest city, and one week at La Escuela de la Montana, their other location on a coffee farm in the mountains.

Earlier this month, I felt a little nervous about going–mostly about the mountain school. As a city girl, I’m never quite at ease in rural areas. I feel safe in big urban areas where there are lots of people and noise. When I’m surrounded by nature and the unfamiliar sounds that come with it, I’m always a little on edge. Even suburbs kind of creep me out!

But now I’m just so excited to go. I’m really looking forward to meeting my host family and fellow students, improving my Spanish and exploring two new places. (I only wish that Mal were coming with me–and already can’t wait for the next trip we’ll take together!)

(Photo of Xela at night by Harry Diaz)

Music Love: Gaby Moreno

gaby moreno

In less than a week, I’ll be in Guatemala. But despite my efforts, I still don’t have a strong grasp on Spanish. During the past few days, I’ve been trying to cram in as much as I can, and was thinking that it might help to listen to some Spanish music. (Especially since I’m plugged into Spotify all. day. long. at work.)

As luck would have it, while browsing through NPR’s First Listen albums, I stumbled upon an artist I’m really loving. And she just happens to be Guatemalan.

While I can’t understand most of Gaby Moreno‘s lyrics (though I’ve been translating some!), I can’t stop listening to her new album “Postales.”В She has a gorgeous, soulful voice that’s so authentic and full of emotion. Plus, many of her songs have a quirky, bluesy, folky sound that’s similar to other female artists I love, like Regina SpektorВ and Jenny Lewis.

NPR is streaming Moreno’s album for a limited time, and I’ve embedded the second track, “Tranvia” here. Give it a listen and let me know what you think!

(Photo via NPR)

End-of-Summer Trip, Booked: Guatemala

I’m so excited. This weekend, I booked my end-of-summer trip: I’m going to study Spanish in Guatemala! I’ll spend one week in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala’s second-largest city, living with a family and taking classes at Proyecto LingГјГ­stico Quetzalteco de EspaГ±ol. Then, I’ll be up in the mountains for another week, at their second campus, the aptly named La Escuela de la Montana, on what used to be a coffee plantation. (I would love to spend a month or longer there, but I do have a full-time job–I was lucky enough to get two consecutive weeks off!)

I’ve wanted to take a Spanish immersion trip for years. In fact, one of Mal’s friends recommended to me the school I’ll be attending…two years ago. I’ve studied Spanish a little on my own and with a tutor (i.e., my friend Glenn), and taken a few lessons on trips to Central and South America. But my proficiency–or lack of–is still abysmal. I can only semi-understand people if they speak extremely slowly. And then I can barely respond–and when I do, it’s in the present or future tenses. I actually think it’s pretty sad that I’m almost 30 years old and can only hold a conversation in one language.

Two summers ago, Mal went on a month-long trip to Bolivia to work in children’s hospitals and learn medical Spanish. Her proficiency was way better when she returned. I’m not expecting to become proficient or even conversant after my two weeks in Guatemala. But I would like to come back with a better grasp on the language–and then continue to build upon that at home and on future vacations.

This will also be my first solo trip in years–my last one was Hong Kong, six years ago. Due to Mal changing jobs and moving back to NYC, she’s unable to take vacation time off. (We’re postponing Slovenia and Croatia, our original end-of-summer trip, for next year.) And most of my other friends had booked their vacations ages ago. (Confession: I did consider crashing a friend’s three-week trip to Ecuador.) I was initially a tad nervous about traveling on my own again, but mostly I’m just very excited. Over the past few months, I’ve been shaking things up. I’ve started working on several personal projects and supplementing my already-enjoyable daily routine of ballet and hobbying with activities that I’m rediscovering–like running that 10K and just running, in general, andВ taking myself out to dinner afterwardsВ (thereby eating up all the calories I worked off). Embarking a solo trip seems like the next logical step.

I am sad that Mal won’t be coming with me, though–and I’m trying not to feel too bad about that. A few years ago, we decided to visit all of Central America together. So far, we’ve taken week-long trips to Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama. It’s going to be strange going to Guatemala alone, but I likely won’t have enough time to do much traveling. So I’m hoping we can return together and really explore the country.

…and by that time, hopefully I won’t have to rely on her to do all the talking for us!

Have you taken an immersion trip? Or traveled in Guatemala? I’d love to hear your experiences!

(Image via Wikipedia)