Our time on the shore of Lake Atitlan has been busy. We have explored several of the many villages dotted above the clear blue water, played soccer and basketball with local children, eaten incredible food, learned about the travesty of the Guatemalan Civil War, helped build a farming terrace, learned about permaculture and its connection with the region’s communities and Mayan heritage, and much more. And, alongside all of this, our students and teachers have learned a lot of Spanish.
By the end of the day tomorrow, our group will have completed around 300 hours of Spanish (~15 hours x 20 learners). Each of our 15 total teachers is from here. They are locals who have taken up Spanish teaching as their fulltime occupation. Some have been teaching for decades and others are not much older than the students on this trip. During our five days with them, they have taught all levels of Spanish (to a few who had never taken Spanish before and also to the entire Spanish department). They have also taught us a lot about this place and its history.
Lessons here are different than what most students experience in language classrooms around the world. First, the setting is different. We have done most of our lessons from our own Airbnb, with intimate sessions spread on the front lawn, inside the beautiful house, on the porch, or even under the cover of large palm leaves. The setting has made everything feel more real and relevant. Then, the resources for teaching. Here, we can have tiny groups. The largest is made up of just two students and a teacher; many have one-on-one custom guidance. And here our students are trying to use Spanish every day, so they really want to learn certain things. This really helps!
Prone to exaggeration, some of our students have gone as far as saying they’ve learned more in these five days than in an entire semester of learning in a traditional classroom. I don’t think that’s true, though I do believe that language learning happens in fits and bursts and that everyone here has experienced real, legitimate bursts in understanding. Regardless of the comparison, we are lucky. Our Spanish department has been teaching differently than traditional programs for a long time. Our students were ready to learn this way. And our Guatemalan partners are excellent. They teach for the same reasons that our school exists – to inspire future learning and curiosity as much as to complete checkpoints in the short term. It’s a great match.
I know that all of us look forward to sharing more about this experience, especially since it is new for our school. For now, enjoy some images!