While I enjoyed my time studying Spanish in Antigua, when my week was up I was looking forward to a change of scenery.
Most people will tell you that the highland town of Quetzaltenango (Xela) is where the ‘serious’ people go – those serious about Spanish, about hiking in the surrounding hills and those serious about giving back by participating in the volunteer programs on offer in the area.
I arrived early for my Spanish classes at Pop Wuj, on the border between Xela’s Zone 1 and Zone 3 on a Monday morning. Each week, the school holds a meeting to introduce new arrivals and discuss the activities and volunteering opportunities on offer for the week.
I was a little disconcerted when it turned out that out of 30 or more students I was the only student not from North America. I was also amongst the oldest.
Don’t get me wrong. North Americans are amongst some of the friendliest people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.
But engulfed by a rush of TV-set accents discussing politics, their college programs and speaking Spanish one thousand times better than me, I felt a little…at sea.
I became a bit of a circus freak, frequently asked to repeat things in my funny accent. But of course, the friendliness won out, I had invitations to dinner and sight-seeing, and soon I was just as comfortable at Pop Wuj as I’d been at my school in Antigua.
And I quickly began to look forward to break time, when one of the local Donas would arrive with some cheap and tasty home cooked treats.
Speaking, learning or both?
I was also initially a little disconcerted by my teacher’s method. On that first morning she talked at me for a good two hours and while I understood most of what she was saying I couldn’t form any sentences in response.
‘Si. Si. Si!’ I agreed with her.
But sometime after the morning break, something clicked. Suddenly I was speaking back, and we conversed about the differences between Australia and Guatemala, my past travels and where I was going in Central America.
I was making myself understood in Spanish. And although later in the day the staff at Pollo Campero screamed with laughter at what I was saying, I was getting through to people.
Xela felt like a bit of a breakthrough for me, both in the way I travel and of course with my Spanish.
I’ll be writing more about the volunteer opportunities offered by my Spanish school, travel with a purpose and the people I met in and around Xela in future posts, so subscribe to the RSS feed to stay in the loop.