Adventure, Central America, Guatemala

Studying Spanish in Xela, Guatemala

July 25, 2011

Streets of Xela, Guatemala

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.

Spanish school in Xela, Guatemala

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.

Home cooked Guatemalan food in Xela

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.

My teacher and I in Xela, Guatemala

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


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  • Reply ella July 25, 2011 at 5:24 am

    Sounds like you had a lovely time, it’s great that you overcome your fears so easily, well at least that’s what it looks like from reading about it, i know it must have been difficult to do in reality.

  • Reply Kris Koeller July 26, 2011 at 10:56 am

    Stick with it, and give us North Americans a chance. 😉 (the food looks terrific, too btw).

    • Reply MeganRTW July 27, 2011 at 10:13 am

      The avocados in Guatemala were incredible!

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