It is November 2005 and I am now in Antigua Guatemala. I am enrolled in a Spanish Instruction and Immersion Program. I am also living with a local family in a home stay situation. I like my Spanish family and I like my School. At my school most students are from the various European countries but more Germans than others. I met one couple from the US and they are from Vermont like me. They are missionaries , here to work with indigenous people and they will be at the school for at least six months as their responsibilities require a high degree of language competence. Another American is a NY city resident who has decided to leave an unrewarding job in NYC and just move here to Antigua for at least six months, perhaps permanently.
We spend every morning, with our respective personal teachers and we work hard at vocabulary, pronunciation verbs expressions etc.. .... My teacher, Miriam,
only speaks a little english so it forces us to speaks Spanish... Afer a big lunch with our respective families, we spend most afternoons in local interactive activities... like tours, visits to meuseums, learning with local artisans. Last Monday, was a tour of the village of Antigua... Thursday, we went to see the famous Pacaya volcano-- a real active one--- about 1.5 hours drive from here...I did not climb to the rim like the younger set, I would not have made it. However those who went to the top said it was very cold with 100 km/hr winds. But they were about one meter away from the lava We also visit local ruins here in Antigua on Fridays and today was not exception with a visit to the ruins of Las Capuchinas, the nuns who settled in Antigua in the 17th Century to educate the local population... Some students are here for a few weeks and some for many months,... some people come back every year and find language immersion a great way to vacation and experience the local culture...
The town of Antigua has about 42,000 people--- It has wonderful old Spanish architecture and cobblestone streets. There is a strong Conservation and Preservation organization that enforces a strict code about keeping the old look in Antigua and they have been effective in making this area a special place that draws tourists from around the world. There are tourist groups coming through Antigua regularly, many from the US and Canada. In response, Antigua has many shops catering to free spending foreigners... Many are jewelry shops --and shops featuring the Guatemanlan artisan goods and textiles. There is Jade mining activity here featuring the Mayan mode of extracting and working the jade so Jade jewelry is a specialty of this region. Antigua is surrounded by three volcanoes. One volcano is semi active but no fire...The beautiful cones make this area a very beautiful place... (I have read that Guatamala has some 33 volcanoes!) There have been earthquakes here that have leveled the town but they keep rebuilding and keeping the old look. it is quite a neat place and even Guatamala city people come here on the weekend to shop and enjoy themselves.
In all, it is not hard being here for four weeks... even when the studies are hard and you don't feel like you can conjugate another irregular verb and you continue to grasp for that spanish vocabulary that is on the tip of your tongue. But the Guatemalans people are wonderful with their smiles, their hospitality and friendship.