Friday was our last day at Cooperativa Spanish School in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala, as much as it shocks me to type this! We had four wonderful weeks there, met so many people we now call friends, and of course, learned a ton of Spanish! We just got to Antigua yesterday to explore the big city for a couple of weeks before our housesit in Costa Rica. We had a bit of grueling journey to Antigua, but we’re happy to be here now! For details on that, check the A(Broad) With 4 Kids Facebook page.
I’ve had some requests for details about our experience studying Spanish as a family at Cooperativa Spanish School. Thanks for the suggestion, and here’s you go! And for another family’s experience at Cooperativa, check out Warmer Than Canada, which is the blog where I first learned about the school.
I know cost is a huge factor, especially when you have to pay for several people. Cooperativa is one of the most affordable schools I found. Their fees are clearly listed on their website in Guatemalan Quetzales, but it gets complicated when you add in a homestay for several people, some of whom are kids and are charged at 50% of the adult price. Here’s what we paid for:
*4 weeks of Spanish language instruction for 4 hours each day, Monday-Friday
*Individual instructors for myself, John, and Bird Nerd; a shared instructor for The Boss and The Entertainer for the first 2 weeks, then individual instructors for the next 2 weeks (more details on this, plus my recommendation, below)
*Homestay for 2 adults and 3 kids with a local family, including 3 meals/day Monday-Saturday (no meals on Sundays)
TOTAL: just under $4,000USD
Shared teacher or 1:1?
As I mentioned in the cost details, three of us had individual instructors the whole time. I knew that The Entertainer would not go for class on his own in the beginning, so even though he and The Boss have completely different skill levels, I went ahead and put them both with one instructor. Even though The Boss is only 8, she reads and writes at about a 5th grade level, and The Entertainer doesn’t read or write much at all. It became apparent after the first week that neither of their needs were really being met by sharing an instructor, and after the first two weeks, we split them up. I wish I had done it from the start and figured out how to encourage a just-barely-turned-5 year old to attend school on his own for four hours/day. They both would have learned more and had a better overall experience. And to be clear, we all classes are held in the same courtyard/garden, each in our own little tucked-away corners. He wouldn’t have been off on his own in a school away from his family.
My recommendation is, unless you have 2 people with very similar academic skill levels, learning styles, and Spanish language experiences, I would always choose individual instruction. The cost difference is worth it–$123USD/week for 1:1 instruction, $185USD/week for 2:1 instruction.
We stayed with a lovely couple, Teodora and Matias. They have three sons–two are grown and live on their own (one with an absolutely adorable little girl who turned two while we were there!), and one who attends secondary school in another town, due to the lack of schooling opportunities nearby. Teodora and Matias were so gracious, and Teodora is a true caretaker. From the minute we arrived, a harried, exhausted, overwhelmed group with a screaming 5-year-old who refused to get out of the van, we were welcomed with open arms.
We were offered three rooms, but opted to use only two, because we knew the kids would feel more comfortable, at least in the beginning, with a parent in the room with them. We split up: John with a kid in one room, and me with the other kids in the other room. One of the rooms had a bathroom en suite which was only for our use, the other room had a shared bathroom nearby. The rooms were two floors apart, and all doors open to the outside, which was another reason why we had a parent in each room in the beginning, while the kids adjusted to all the new-ness.
Meals at Teodora and Matias’ are served on a strict schedule: breakfast at 7:30am, lunch at 1pm, dinner at 7:30pm. We had to get used to eating dinner quite a bit later than we usually do, with the kids going to bed directly after dinner. We were told most people eat later here because the kitchens get too hot earlier in the evening (many people use wood fires for cooking, so you can imagine how hot the kitchen can get). Teodora and Matias have a wood fire, as well as a propane stove/oven, and usually use the stove for cooking, though Teodora does use the fire for cooking tortillas occasionally.
Teodora washed our sheets and towels and cleaned the bathrooms weekly. Teodora also usually insisted on not letting us help clean up after meals, but sometimes John out-stubborned her. We were on our own for clothing, which we washed by hand in the lavadora (wash sink-type area). The house had wifi, which they upgraded while we were staying there. It wasn’t exactly high-speed, because all internet at Lake Atítlan is via satellite, which tends to be at the whim of the clouds and other types of weather. John’s work was a struggle at times, when the speeds wouldn’t stay steady enough for him to complete his teletherapy sessions with clients.
Teodora is definitely la jefa in the house, and what she says goes. This includes insisting on dressing me up in traditional clothing (corte and huipil) for church every Sunday, as well as for my graduation from Cooperativa. I really didn’t mind, although it was really hot at times in those clothes! The Boss has been in love with the clothing here since seeing some pictures from Guatemala before our travels, and Teodora was more than happy to take us to buy some, and to help us negotiate a price with the shop owner. She pointed out that it would have cost double if we hadn’t been with her, which is true of a lot of things in San Pedro.
What about the kids?
The teachers at Cooperativa did their best to engage the kids with games, songs, and other activities. True to the “nerd” part of his name, Bird Nerd learned the most Spanish, because he focused on his lessons and generally enjoys learning new things. The Boss was rather resistant, as I mentioned in my last post, and The Entertainer was, well…The Entertainer. I think four hours every day was too much for the younger kids, and I’m not sure if more could have been done to engage them. As it is, I’m not sure if a school exists that can teach all ages really well, and I’m happy with our decision to attend Cooperativa. It was most important for us that John and I learn as much Spanish as possible so that we can teach and reinforce the language with the kids outside of school, and we definitely learned A LOT!
Another aspect of Cooperativa that I really appreciate is their community outreach. Of course our tuitions support the teachers themselves and our homestay families, but they also support over 30 families in the San Pedro community with food and other essentials. Cooperativa also builds a house for one family every year, with the money from students’ tuitions.
Each instructor has one or two families that they personally visit bi-weekly. Students of the instructors are invited to attend these visits, as well, to get to know the families that their tuitions are supporting. At these visits, instructors bring food and other essentials to the families. Cooperativa’s support of their local community, as well as the fact that the school is founded, run, and staffed by people from the community (as opposed to teachers who are recruited from elsewhere), was one of the main factors in our decision to study there.
Cooperativa organizes excursions/activities outside of classes, as well. These include weekly salsa dance lessons (free!), hikes to various locations (tip: ask someone who’s actually been on the hike for details about how far, how steep, how strenuous, etc.), cooking classes, tejido (weaving) demonstrations, coffee tours, dinners/fiestas at the school, and others that I can’t remember right now! We attended many of the extracurricular activities, and enjoyed all of them, even when they weren’t quite what we expected.
I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend Cooperativa. We’ve loved our time here, and are sad it’s over. But who knows? Maybe we’ll come back and study again in the future!