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.)
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.
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. (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?)
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.
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.
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. 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.
More updates to come!