Teaching An Old Dog New Tricks; Backpacking Guatemala

The first and only time I went sky diving, my Dad was my partner in crime. He planted the seed of interest when I was a little girl telling me stories of how he had always wanted to try the sport. My imagination would whirl wondering how amazing it would be to tumble through the sky feeling completely weightless. I envisioned this type of adventure to be the perfect daddy-daughter activity, for a couple of dare-devils like us. Continue reading

It’s Never Too Late To Become An Explorer

Dad and I in the parque central. Antigua, Guatemala -- Karina Noriega

Dad and I in the parque central. Antigua, Guatemala — Karina Noriega

Adventures with my Dad were always kept pretty close to home when I was little. He would often help me collect gardener snakes to wrap around my neck as I played about in the woods nearby our house. He sat me on his lap when I was 9 years old and taught me how to drive our family van. When he was doing small repairs on the roof of our house, if my mother wasn’t looking, he would allow me to join him. To this day I will never forget the rush brought on by the impending sense of danger, as I hung my legs over the eaves trough and stared down at my friends on the ground below.

From the beginning he always understood the adrenaline junky in me.

Now the tables have turned and I am the one introducing adventure into HIS life. For just over a week my Dad joined Karina and I on a wild excursion in the tropical jungle of Livingston and the Rio Dulce, followed by our exploration of Guatemalan traditions in Antigua. We had the time of our lives together and in order to showcase our little expedition I created a 3 minute video summary of my Dad’s very FIRST backpacking trip.

He is living proof that it’s never too late to become an explorer.

~ An Extraordinary Story by April Beresford ~

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Making the Most of Your Foreign Language School Experience (Part III: Homestay vs. Hostel)

My bedroom in Xela was a concrete addition added on to the rooftop of the family home. When I stepped outside of my bedroom, this was the view overlooking the city. Xela, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Choosing the best language school accomodations for you: Homestay vs Hostel

Out for a night on the town, eating typical Guatemala food at a local restaurant, La Cuevita De Los Urquizu. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Out for a night on the town, eating typical Guatemala food at a local restaurant, La Cuevita De Los Urquizu. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

The big question you will ask yourself, once you have selected the best language school for you , is “Where am I going to live while I am studying?” If you don’t have friends or family who are able to host you, you are likely to go with one of two options:

  1. Stay with a local family (which can be arranged through your school).

OR

  1. Live in a hostel.

I spent three weeks living with a family and three weeks living in a hostel. Both options are relatively low cost but each option has its own benefits. Here are 6 helpful tips I learned from first-hand experience that can help you decide which environment is right for YOU!

Three Advantages To Living With Locals While Attending Language School

1. Peace of Mind

The homestay experience allows language students to pay a reasonable fee to live and eat with a local family.  When I signed up for language classes in Xela, Guatemala I opted for the homestay experience as it was my first time living in a foreign country. I appreciated the peace of mind I received paying one fee to have all of my food and shelter arrangements taken care of. This relieved significant weight from my shoulders so I could concentrate my energy on my studies.

The weekly fee of US$155 included 25 hours of private classes at the Celas Maya school plus the homestay package with a local family. Meals were provided by the family 6 days a week. On Sunday, students must make their own arrangements for meals which is a common practice for most homestay contracts in Central America.

2. Meals Are Prepared For You

Spending time with my host family. Xela, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Spending time with my host family. Xela, Guatemala — April Beresford

The meals prepared by my host family were very basic and there wasn’t much variety from one day to the next. I found them to be hearty enough that I did not need to purchase additional food.  Students eat whatever the family eats and while each household is slightly different, a staple in most Latin American homes is beans and rice which was served at least once per day by my host family. Families are open to supporting dietary restrictions but in order to ensure the cost benefit ratio serves their interest, they will not increase your food budget.  If you want to increase your meat intake or eat extra veggies every day, you will need purchase those items yourself and the family will cook them for you.

3. Socializing In Your New Language

The best way to create a more authentic immersion experience is to live with a local family. This increases the opportunity for engaging with locals in your immediate environment.  Every time you sit at the dinner table for example, you will have the opportunity to practice your new language. You can’t help but pick up a language faster when everywhere you turn, you are forced to communicate in that new language.

Also, living in the same space as a local family will allow you to connect more deeply with their culture.

Homestay families will provide the quiet environment necessary for you to study and get your required rest so you can maximize your potential for learning.

Three Advantages to Staying in a Hostel While Attending Language School

1. Paying For What You Want

Hostels provide basic services to customers and in turn, provide very inexpensive accommodations to travelers. Most travelers only stay a few nights while they are passing through town, so hostel managers are willing to negotiate a deal on the price when customers are able to commit to a longer stay. While pricing out hostels can be more time consuming than paying for a homestay, in the end you will have more selections to choose from. Also, hostels often provide customers with free wifi access. Your homestay family is unlikely to provide this so your internet access would then be limited to being on-site at your language school. Many hostels will provide free coffee, tea and water throughout the day whereas in a homestay situation, you will be limited as to when and how much you can use of these items.

2. Preparing Your Own Food

Messy Hostel Kitchen- Unfortunately when you are staying in a hostel, some patrons fail to clean up after themselves. Maid staff will clean up the mess when it bottlenecks but I encourage you to be a respectful traveler and clean up your own mess. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Messy Hostel Kitchen- Unfortunately when you are staying in a hostel, some patrons fail to clean up after themselves. Maid staff will clean up the mess when it bottlenecks but I encourage you to be a respectful traveler and clean up your own mess. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Often guests have access to a shared kitchen space where food can be prepared and stored. You can eat whatever you want, when you want (as long as you respect the kitchen’s hours of operation). When committing to a homestay on the other hand, you must respect the families designated meal times and this creates obvious barriers to your freedom if you prefer to come and go as you please. Living in a hostel, if you purchase food at a local market and prepare it yourself you can stay healthy, and keep costs down or you can choose to attend restaurants as you please. The point is, that by utilizing a hostel for accommodations you operate on your own schedule at all times.

3. Immersion Diversion

Learning a new language will be mentally draining. Staying at a hostel will open you to the opportunity of potentially interacting with people who speak the same language as you do. This will give you a break from the immersion experience if you are finding this type of environment too isolating. Lots of new people from all over the world come and go from hostels every day which will expose you to a diverse range of cultures. The hostel environment does however, run the risk of diverting your attention from your studies as they often cultivate a party culture. This can be very distracting as you might be easily swayed to stay out late, getting to know a stranger, when you need to wake up early for school the next day. If you possess unwavering discipline, you will remain a step ahead of the game.

Browsing through local shops with some new friends. Antigua, Guatemala -- April Beresford

Browsing through local shops with some new friends. Antigua, Guatemala — April Beresford

Still have questions?

The strategies presented in mind will definitely help set you up for success as you take on this new venture. If you have any additional questions about selecting language schools , or creating strategies to optimize your learning, please feel free to comment on one of the 3 articles in our Language School series. We are happy to help support you on your quest to learn a new language.

~ An Extraordinary Story By April Beresford ~

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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

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

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

Continue reading

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