Welcome to Guatemala!
I promise I will tell you about what to expect if you want to study at a Spanish school in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, as well as what it is like to stay at a local homestay. But first you need to read a little insight what life is like in San Pedro. It’s the 6th of January 2020, el Dia de los Reyes – The Day of the Kings. A day which means nothing to the majority of people in the UK. Here in Guatemala however, it’s another celebration of Christmas. Equally as important. It’s 22:47 and I’m laid in bed, in the house of the family who we are homestaying with. We are deep in local living here, far from the tourist strip. A whole 10 minutes walk away, San Pedro is not a big town, rather small and vibrant.
Very vibrant, I’m laid listening, still, to the sound of Guatemalan music. Blaring out of one of the many churches. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many churches in such a small town. Every so often the music will be overshadowed by a bomba explosion. We should be used to them by now. At first we thought the worst and that it was gunfire, but no, just the Guatemalans wanting some attention. I didn’t know you could even get fireworks with no light. I mean, what is the point of fireworks with no lights!! They may never plan to stop this evening, I think I may have to get my headphones out. Forgot my earplugs so headphones are a great alternative – top travel tip!
Brief Introduction to San Pedro
San Pedro is one of the beautiful towns that surrounds Lake Atitlan. We choose San Pedro as it’s has more of a buzz than the other towns. Plus we wanted to go to a Spanish School and San Pedro had the biggest choice of schools. Arriving in San Pedro you may think you’re in Asia with the amount of tuk tuks tearing up the streets. I found them irritating. You’d be walking down a cobbled small street, not wide enough for cars and bam you’d have to jump out of the way for a tuk tuk. Also I really do believe they need the Cambodia tuk tuk app ‘Pass App’ here in Guatemala. Hands down the best app we used in Cambodia.
San Pedro is a place I grew to like the longer we spent here.. In total we will have spent 10 days here and we saw two sides to the town. First we arrived for New Years and spent a few nights in a hostel next to the lake. We had the perfect view to wake up to every morning. New Years Eve by the lake was an amazing evening and one I will not be forgetting any time soon! We had met some people from a hostel down the road from ours and ended up joining them on the lake in an 8 man boat at midnight to watch fireworks explode in all the villages around the lake.
For 7 days we lived with a local family whilst we attended Spanish school. They lived uptown, literally up the massive hill, back away from the lake. Our walk to school was through the bustling food market, and we both got woken up countless times by the street vendors, music blaring from the streets and cats having the angriest of cat fights! What I loved most about staying in this part of town was our morning walk to school. Seeing women and girls in the street wearing their traditional top, skirts and belts. They are the most colourful pieces of clothing I’ve seen anywhere. It’s lovely to see so many locals wearing these clothes with such pride but also modesty. This is what they wear out, it’s not for show.
What to expect when staying at a homestay…
If you decide to do a homestay, you will be allocated a family in San Pedro. The family we had got selected to live with had been hosting students from this Spanish School for over 21 years – we were in good hands. We each had our own private bedroom, which was lockable. The bathroom was shared with the rest of the family. There was a rooftop we could use for washing, and the rest of the house was at our disposal.
We were served a delicious selection of 3 meals a day by Maria. Breakfast was at 7:20, Lunch at 13:00 and dinner at about 19:00. These weren’t set times, if you wanted them moved Maria was very happy to feed us when it was convenient to us. However eating at these times meant that you were sat with the rest of the family and could have a chat and practice your Spanish. They spoke no English, why would they, so you really do need to know some Spanish, My friend found it challenging as she was just learning Spanish – beware!
Food at our Homestay
Breakfast – fruit and yogurt, french toast and fruit, cereal, porridge, pancakes!!
Lunch – chicken leg and salad (guacamole), pasta and vegetables, cauliflower, veg and rice.
Dinner – tamales (rice and papas), chicken in sauce with rice, papas eggs and fried beans, banana fried soft cheese and fried beans. Vegetable soup, All accompanied by tortilla of course.
Spanish School Costs
For 5 days of classes at Cooperativa Spanish School we paid 925Q per person and the homestay was 655Q per person for 7 nights, 3 meals included. Shared bathroom, WIFI and unlimited opportunity to speak Spanish.
First Day at Spanish School
As we walked through the doors to Cooperativa school, I saw a sea of green and flowers and instantly I knew this was going to be a good week. The school is beautiful, it’s a garden full of tiny classrooms and it that doesn’t motivate you to learn Spanish I don’t know what would. At the Cooperativa school you have one on one lessons with teachers, which is perfect as you can work to your own skill set and pace. Also they speak amazingly clear Spanish in Guatemala, slow and precise – perfect for learning.
First day at school, didn’t think I’d be saying that at 28, was a bit nervy. Karen was my teacher and we headed off into the garden to our small open air classroom. I already have learnt some Spanish, therefore Karen gave me a test to do quite quickly to gauge what areas I needed to relearn. The test was 4 pages long! I soon discovered how much I had forgotten and was shocked. Soon she knew exactly what areas I needed to go over and I had my schedule for the week set out. Perfect for me to get the most out of my one week at Cooperativa school.
Daily Schedule at School
Each morning would start with a chat about things, just to get my brain working and thinking in Spanish. Then onto the hardcore learning, where Karen would teach me grammar rules. We would practice with my reading, listening and answering and writing.
Every day we had a morning break, with a snack! Yes! You definitely need that snack after 2.5 hrs of solid concentration. Normally it was something sweet like fried plátano (now my favourite snack in Guatemala) cake, biscuits or tamales (traditional Guatemalan corn based food).
After break it’s back to lessons until midday. We studied for 4 hours a day so our school times were 8-12. For me this was perfect, mornings are so much better for taking in information.
Extra Activities at School
The school provides weekly activities too for students to participate in. Such as visits to a chocolate factory, showing of Guatemalan films, hikes, football, visiting projects which the school supports, a student bbq and of course salsa on Thursdays. Always take a free salsa class wherever you can!
You also have the opportunity to make friends with other students, whatever their level, as of course, the majority of people speak English! If you’re living in a homestay having other people you know at school is really beneficial as you can go and explore after class or head out in the evenings rather than thinking you have to stay indooors all day.
Conclusion to attending a Spanish School in San Pedro
After my week at Cooperativa I was feeling fustrated with myself for forgetting so much Spanish but also really pleased and satisfied that I had re learnt things that I needed to. Keep practicing is what Karen said, every day! Thanks for the second chance Cooperativa. Although I must add that my friend was at a very basic level and she did find it quite challenging starting the classes. The teacher spoke no English, her vocabulary was minimum so struggled with understanding the teacher explaining some grammar rules to her.
The Guatemala school year runs from January to beginning of November. The kids have November and December off school to help their parents with the harvesting of food like corn and coffee. So they have two months off then school for the rest of the year.