Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part II of III: Maximize Learning)

Now that you have selected the language school that is right for you, find out:

How To Make The Most Out Of Your Language Classes

Learning a new language is tough work and your task will be more challenging if you don’t put into practice effective strategies that facilitate your learning. Based on my experiences studying Spanish in Guatemala, I have developed a list of must-know tactics that will maximize your learning both inside and outside of the classroom.

How Much Is Too Much? Maximizing Your Potential For Learning

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala -- April Beresford

Week one: Scrambled Brain. Guatemala — April Beresford

After consulting with the owners of several different language schools, it appears consensus recommends 4 hours of conversational language classes per day. If you are a beginner, any more than 4 hours will be excessive as your brain can only take in so much new information. Studying a little extra on your own every day is better than pushing too hard in a classroom, leading to burn out.

Lesson Planning For Conversational Classes

Make sure that you come to class prepared knowing exactly what you want to work on. Conversation classes are completely different than studying a language in high school or college. Your teacher will not take complete charge of what you learn and when. Instead, for the most part, you will lead the discussion and determine the focus of each lesson. Come to class having prepared specific questions concerning grammar, verb conjugations and topics of conversation that interests you.

Keep it Interesting

Learning how to communicate with locals is the best way you can position yourself to connect more deeply with the local culture.  I found it fascinating to learn about local values and traditions from my teacher. After we grew to know one another better, she would tell me funny stories of her childhood which we both found to be very entertaining. Remember that you will be chatting with this person for hours throughout the day. It won’t be productive for either of you if the conversation becomes dull. Continue reading

My Encounter With A Celebrity – Blue Ridge Parkway, USA

Falcor, the actor. Thanks to www.icanhascheezburger.com for reading my mind! This photo was too perfect to not share!

Falcor, the actor. Thanks to http://www.icanhascheezburger.com for reading my mind! This photo was too perfect to not share!

For those of us who were raised in the 80’s, the movie, “The NeverEnding Story” contains some iconic images that have been burned into our brains for life. For me, the heroine of this tale was Atreyu’s mighty Luck-Dragon, Falcor. I had countless dreams as a child where me and my white dragon-dog were soaring high in the clouds, fighting evil doers the world abound. Tell me he wouldn’t be the best pet ever?! Remember that scene at the end of the movie when he was chasing the bullies through an ally in New York? I can think of a few people I wouldn’t mind hunting down with a flying dragon. Can you?

I never really expected to find an actual live creature, who embodies all of my deep seated dragon fantasies, while road-trippin’ across the USA. I am happy to report that I had the pleasure of meeting a real Luck-Dragon in the flesh. As it turns out he doesn’t actually have the ability to fly and he is neither dog, nor dragon, but man, is he ever cute!

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway: America's Favourite Drive. USA -- Karina Noriega

Entering the Blue Ridge Parkway: America’s Favourite Drive. USA — Karina Noriega

Karina and I were making our way through Virginia down the famous Blue-Ridge Parkway when we decided to follow a sign that lead us to a little alpaca farm called Peaceful Heart Alpacas. The owner Linda was kind enough to give us our own private tour of her property, and she even introduced us to a friend of hers who made my dreams come true. Continue reading

Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part I of III: Selecting the Right School)

Choosing the right environment for learning is one of the top priorities. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Choosing the right environment for learning is one of the top priorities. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Part One:  Selecting The Best Language School For You!

The Best Way To Learn A New Language

April's Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala

April’s Spanish School in Antigua, Guatemala

I hopped on a plane heading for Guatemala knowing that complete immersion is my best chance to fulfill my aspirations of learning Spanish.  I had pre-scheduled my language classes and arranged airport pickup through a reputable organization, so when I arrived in Guatemala all I needed to do was focus on was my education. I learned a lot throughout this experience and I am happy to share my knowledge to help support others in their quest to converse in a new language.

First-Timers

If this is your first time taking conversational language classes in a foreign land, I know how daunting it can feel.  I want to help set you up for success so you can tackle the language immersion experience, with efficiency and enjoyment.

How Do I Select The Best School?

Do your research online. You need to first define “the best” school, based on your individual priorities. For example, the more formal education and years of experience the teachers have, the more you will pay for their teaching skills. School’s located in larger cities will charge more because overall, the cost of living and running a business in this location will be greater. Is it a priority for you to study somewhere easily accessible and centrally located? Look to language schools in smaller, off-the-beaten-path towns to help you keep costs down. It will also minimize the opportunities to speak your native tongue therefore strengthening the immersion experience. Continue reading

Capital Punishment: A School Room Lesson on Route 66

We pulled off the historic route 66 in the tiny Oklahoma town of El Reno, to explore an old school house that had been standing since the late 1800’s. Karina wandered about the building in awe of all the authentic antiques while I took video footage, documenting the experience. The heat in the schoolhouse was oppressive so I quickly snapped my camera shut and proceeded to hop over a row of two-hundred year old desks, making my way back outside. This should have been a straight forward goal to accomplish; however, I ended up complicating things a little with my clumsy nature.

In the schoolhouse there was a sign posted which highlighted numerous rules and regulations that applied to students and teachers. One rule specified that female teachers were unable to be married and retain their job. (Very interesting!) A story for another day! El Reno, Oklahoma, USA – Karina Noriega

In the schoolhouse there was a sign posted which highlighted numerous rules and regulations that applied to students and teachers. One rule specified that female teachers were unable to be married and retain their job. (Very interesting!) A story for another day! El Reno, Oklahoma, USA – Karina Noriega

These hateful, wickedly archaic style desks have the chair mounted to the table with a thick metal bar. I understood, mistakenly, that the two were connected with no moving parts between them. The chair appeared to be sturdy with a seat capable of supporting my body weight.

The evil, pain-inducing desk. El Reno, Oklahoma, USA – Karina Noriega

The evil, pain-inducing desk. El Reno, Oklahoma, USA – Karina Noriega

Ultimately I learned that the desk was in fact, a trap, and I was dead wrong to take my safety for granted. When I stepped on the seat it suddenly folded up sending my foot launching toward the floor seconds after I slammed my leg hard into the backrest of the chair. My whole body let out a howl likely resembling mating calls typically sounded off by wolves and coyotes. Although, I will say that no pack animals came to my rescue.

Wow, did that ever hurt! Continue reading

A Child’s Perspective on Semana Santa: Collaborative Project in Antigua, Guatemala

Some of the kids were visibly nervous at the beginning. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
Karina, April and Alex document the childrens' stories during a collaborative project in Antigua, Guatemala. Photo by Kerstin Sabene

Karina, April and Alex document the childrens’ stories during a collaborative project in Antigua, Guatemala. Photo by Kerstin Sabene

The idea behind embarking on this journey around the world had always been that the world is full opportunity. To find it though, we must be completely open to it. I don’t mean searching through a job site. I mean doing what you are passionate about. For April and I, it is travelling, writing, filming, learning and experiencing local culture. Since our arrival in Antigua, Guatemala we have found so much support for our work featuring local places, people and events. We’ve already had our articles shared on huge social media platforms, been on television and networked with amazing people who respect and admire our choice to put our faith in the universe. Most recently, April and I were invited to partake in a collaborative project creating a traditional alfombra with local school children from Escuela Luis Mena. The project, a yearly tradition sponsored by George’s Travel Club, is intended to educate and encourage participation of children. It also gave us an opportunity to learn a new perspective on the activity, normally a labour of devotion, gratitude and penitence. (More on the cultural understanding of alfombras here.) We teamed up with talented videographer Alex Jones for a new channel called Antigua Cultural. The mini-documentary will feature a complete birth to death time-lapse video of this temporary work of art by the children, through the moment where the single anda Santa Ines procession carries Jesus Christ and the Virgin Mary over the alfombra offering. We also had the opportunity to interview the children and their teacher, Alejandro, about the meaning of their project and get first-hand insight into how their young minds attribute significance to this beautiful tradition.

Sponsor George Sansoucy with Teacher Alejandro and his students. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Sponsor George Sansoucy with Teacher Alejandro and his students. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

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The Charm of Street Vendor Culture: Antigua, Guatemala transforms for Holy Week

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In the weeks leading up to Semana Santa, entrepreneurs from all over Guatemala have been eagerly anticipating the explosion of local and foreign tourism that occurs in Antigua every year during the Lent celebrations. As the population rises in Antigua with each passing day, vendors flock to the city in search of potential customers. With nothing but a small pile of charcoal, a rusty grill and a slab of cast-iron, women begin preparing food in the streets. Over open fire they make fresh tortillas, grilled meats, guacamole, rice and beat-salads which they market to passers-by from the side of the road. Observing the incredible resourcefulness of Guatemalans is nothing short of impressive.  Small cash businesses seem to emerge overnight as vendors flood the streets marketing heaps of textiles, elaborate rosaries, small toy sized replicas of the cucuruchos, and of course, typical Guatemalan food and candy. Continue reading

Perhaps You Need a Little Antigua Guatemala

San Bartolo Becera Procession turning into Parque Central. Thousands participate in the procession, thousands more in attendance. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega
San Bartolo Becera Procession turning into Parque Central. Thousands participate in the procession, thousands more in attendance. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

San Bartolo Becera Procession turning into Parque Central. Thousands participate in the procession, thousands more in attendance. Antigua, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

I’m overwhelmed with excitement. Semana Santa (Holy Week), the most important week of the Catholic calendar, is nearly upon us. And I am in the place where it is celebrated with more colour, more vigour, more tradition and more sacrifice than any other! I want to take a moment to share (and brag a little) about Antigua, Guatemala. This is where April and I are living out our dream, exploring, networking, learning Español, and witnessing the magnificent displays of pure faith by devout Catholics and penitents for an entire month leading up to Easter.

Antigua is romantic! Antigua, Guatemala - -Karina Noriega

Antigua is romantic!
Antigua, Guatemala – -Karina Noriega

Antigua is the former capital of Guatemala, and was once the unrivalled mecca of the Kingdom of Guatemala! Destroyed multiple times by massive earthquakes, the city was eventually abandoned.

This small valley city at the base of 3 towering volcanoes is now reborn as a premier tourism destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can walk through the ruins of history. Literally.

Colonial preservation. Antigua, Guatemala - -Karina Noriega

Colonial preservation. Antigua, Guatemala – -Karina Noriega


Perhaps you need a little colonial heart, by Guatemalan artist Ricky López Bruni, is a dramatic introduction to the heart of Antigua. This short film, from the series Perhaps you need a little Guatemala (on Facebook #Perhaps you need a little Guatemala). Both are worth checking out. Continue reading

Obeisance & Alfombras in Guatemala

The first steps taken onto the alfombra by the procession bearers. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

 

Alfombras made of coloured sawdust and flowers adorn the streets of Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Alfombras made of coloured sawdust and flowers adorn the streets of Antigua, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

The first article in the series devoted to the Lent celebrations of Antigua, Guatemala introduced the Velaciones, honouring the Catholic icons within their church home.

This week, I explored the concept of the alfombras or carpets created before each procession. These elaborate but temporary works of art are some of the most beautiful displays that can be observed colonial Antigua and the surrounding towns on a weekly basis throughout the 6 weeks of Lent.

I took to the streets to learn how the long-lasting tradition began and why it continues to be important for local people.

Alfombras range widely in design and materials. Each carpet is unique and changes for every procession. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Alfombras range widely in design and materials. Each carpet is unique and changes for every procession. Antigua, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

What are alfombras?

Alfombras are large hand-made carpets normally created out of brightly coloured sawdust, flowers and vegetation.

When are alfombras the created?

Alfombras are expressly created prior to the arrival of a procession. Depending on the hour the procession will pass, people may spend an entire sleepless night preparing the alfombra.

The bearers of the procession’s andas (the massive display platforms) will then carry the image of Christ and the Virgin Mary over the alfombra, completely destroying it.

Alfombras - First steps

Who makes each of the alfombras? Who covers the costs and labour? 

Continue reading

Semuc Champey, Guatemalan Heaven on Earth

Lower pools, panoramic @ Semuc Champey, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

~ It’s only paradise until discovered! ~

Bliss, high pools panoramic @ Semuc Champey, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Bliss, high pools panoramic @ Semuc Champey, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Semuc Champey has been known about to locals and few nationals until the last few years. Once a few hearty explorers and adventurous backpackers made the precarious trek deep into the remote valley of Alta Verapaz, the secret began to spill out slowly. Nowadays, it’s the absolute premier destination in Guatemala, if you are enduring and venturesome. Though infrastructure near the area has been vastly improved as far as the town of Pajal, the last 22 kilometres remain a steep and beaten path impassible to anything less a 4X4 machine with high clearance and horsepower.

Good!

I not so secretly hope that it never improves.

Extraordinary places like Semuc Champey should require tremendous efforts to be reached.

Semuc - LowPool

And an extraordinary place it is!

Cascading pools of Semuc Champey, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Cascading pools of Semuc Champey, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

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Velación at Santa Inés, Guatemala

Veladora PanoOur arrival in Antigua, Guatemala has been punctuated by fascinating, religious celebrations corresponding with the 40 days of Lent in the Catholic religion.

On the second Friday of Lent, we joined thousand of people making the pilgrimage to a hilltop church outside of historic, colonial Antigua, Guatemala. The church was packed with wall-to-wall parishioners who came to honour the ‘Venerada Imagen de Jesús Nazareno, Aldea Santa Inés del Montepulciano.’  We were calmly sucked into continuous rotation of Guatemalans trying to reach the pulpit. The altar has been replaced by an exquisitely adorned handmade ‘carpet’ of coloured sawdust, flowers, fruits and vegetable, a cultural staple of Easter in Guatemala. Above the carpet, a nativity scene is set depicting a story from the bible. They come to pray, to ask for forgiveness and to give thanks. And they come to take pictures of the stunning display this year. (Changes every year)

We found ourselves easily funnelled back out to the celebratory atmosphere of the night. Live music, food vendors and revellers gave out spirited joy and sugary sweet aromas. Veladora Combo

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Hotter Than Hell – Death Valley, California

Zabriskie Point, Death Valley, California, USA -- Karina Noriega
The Devil’s Golf Course is a huge salt pan on the floor of Death Valley, located in the Mojave Desert. The area was once covered by Lake Manly and when the water evaporated all that remained behind was salt chalked full of minerals. Because the area now remains dry, the salt flat is subject to weathering and erosion processes which sculpt the salt into magnificent formations. Quite the sight to behold. Death Valley, California, USA -- Karina Noriega

The Devil’s Golf Course is a huge salt pan on the floor of Death Valley, located in the Mojave Desert. The area was once covered by Lake Manly and when the water evaporated all that remained behind was salt chalked full of minerals. Because the area now remains dry, the salt flat is subject to weathering and erosion processes which sculpt the salt into magnificent formations. Quite the sight to behold. Death Valley, California, USA — Karina Noriega

We arrived in California’s Death Valley National Park just in time to watch the blazing sun fade away behind the mounds of rock and sand. We opted to sleep in the car rather than pay for accommodations as we had done without issue for most of our five month road-trip across the USA. Our extensive experience traveling through deserts in Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Colorado, had proven to us that the oppressive heat produced by the desert sun is always replaced by cool, comfortable air following dusk. We had yet to experience a desert which continues to roast its inhabitants the whole night through. The inferno formed in California’s infamous Death Valley produces record temperatures so high that it would leave Lucifer himself climbing the walls in search of an escape. It is located in Mohave Desert where the rain shadow produced by the Sierra Nevada mountains blocks all wind and weather systems from reaching the valley. This land is renowned for being the hottest place in the entire world and the driest in all of North America.

We didn’t want to overheat our engine so we only ran the air-conditioning intermittently. Basically we endured the heat until one of us begged the other to be released from the torture chamber. Death Valley, California, USA -- Karina Noriega

We didn’t want to overheat our engine so we only ran the air-conditioning intermittently. Basically we endured the heat until one of us begged the other to be released from the torture chamber. Death Valley, California, USA — Karina Noriega

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Lost My Face

Monument Valley at Sunset, Utah, USA -- Karina Noriega

Monument Valley at Sunset, Utah, USA — Karina Noriega

For nearly a decade, my dark tinted, thick framed Oakley’s have become a part of my face. I wore them everywhere I went, from down to the store to across the planet. Those sunglasses have dominated the foreground in nearly every photograph taken of me around the world. I even wonder if people would recognize me without my beloved Oakley’s. I love those sunglasses.

For a traveling nomad, my worldly possessions have come down to owning only what I can carry on my back. That minimalism creates certain bonds with particularly important items; like my passport and those really good underwear’s! You know the ones, they dry really fast and protect you from the awful humidity induced chaffing. (Travellers relate?) My Oakley’s, hair ties, pens that work and excellent shoes often make the list as well. I love those sunglasses.

My sunglasses didn’t just protect my eyes from harmful UV rays. Those glasses had blending powers! Due to the glorious colour of my skin, it’s not difficult for me to pass as a local in a multitude of cultures. That helped me move safer and unnoticed in many places where I could otherwise experience some harassment. I even got the local prices! (Not the inflated tourist rate.) That was only until I removed my sunglasses of course… or opened my mouth. Ha haha! I love those sunglasses.

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In fact, I could not face parting with my Oakley’s despite the fact that the plastic frames would no longer stay fixed on my head and the lenses where irreparably scratched. Every time I turned my head, leaned over, or if the wind blew, I had to hold on to them, or new scratches would appear from repeated escapes. I hated those sunglasses!

This weekend – almost 10 years since they were gifted to me – while exploring terraced gardens over the mythical Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, my Oakley’s simply evaporated! Hours of searching yielded nothing. They truly vanished. It’s a mystery. I even applied superstition to the cause given the recent discovery of a sunken Mayan city below the lake –  perhaps my very distant ancestors are telling me that time has come. My heart aches for the loss. My brain sensitively reminds me of the years now spent cursing those lenses.

I feel like I lost a part of my face. I have long hidden emotions like wonderment and fear behind the impenetrable darkness of my Oakley’s. Perhaps, it is time for a change.

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