It’s always interesting to hear about each students’ motivations to learn Spanish, hear about their backgrounds, and why they chose Panama specifically as a destination to study Spanish. Since a good amount of our students come from professions where knowing Spanish enables them to do a better job (think teachers, doctors, nurses, social workers, etc.) I though it would be cool to interview a teacher and find out more about her experience.
So let me introduce you to Kate, whom I had the chance to spend some time with during her 7 week program. I met Kate at the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu Academy in Bocas del Toro, where we trained together a couple of times.
Kate is 28 years old, and currently works as a 7th grade teacher in Portland.
Kate with her Spanish teacher Iveth, at the end of her 7 week Spanish immersion program in Panama
Here is what she has to say...
1. When you started your course, you were pretty much a complete beginner. How do you feel today, at the end of your program?
I can’t get over how much I learned in seven weeks. I had taken two years of required Spanish years ago, but really didn’t remember much at all, save a few words like “agua” and “gracias”. At the end of my trip, I stayed a couple of days in Panama City and was able to navigate, get taxis, and communicate with the hostess at my hostel fairly easily.
2. Which course did you choose, and would you recommend it to future students?
I chose group lessons for the time I was in Panama. I added private lessons two weeks while I was there to work on specific language skills for my job. The group lessons were small, so I felt that we were able to practice a lot and ask questions about the language, Panama, or other. Because they were small, the teachers were attentive to my needs as a language learner, and I learned a lot from them. For private lessons, I am a teacher by profession and want to learn Spanish to communicate with my students and their parents (the majority of my school population are immigrants from Spanish-speaking countries). In private lessons, my teacher practiced role-playing parents with me and worked on other skills specific to a school environment, which was very helpful.
3. What are the things that you liked the most of Panama, and what did you like the least?
Panama is beautiful, the people are friendly, and the food is good – what is not to like? I spent time in both school locations, and experienced two different cultures of Panama. I loved the peaceful environment in Boquete, but also enjoyed the laid back feel and the variety of activities in Bocas del Toro (including beaches, hikes, salsa lessons, cacao tour, and trying out Brazilian Jiu Jitsu for the first time). As for what I liked the least, the rainy July in Bocas limited activities sometimes, but that’s what I get for visiting during rainy season! Plus, the rain is what keeps Panama so lush and gorgeous, so I really liked everything in Panama.
There is never a shortage of things to do in Bocas del Toro. I gave Jiu-Jitsu a go a couple of times. Here's me rolling with a fellow Habla Ya student.
4. What motivated you to study Spanish abroad, and why did you choose Habla Ya?
I wanted to be a non-English speaking environment when I began studying Spanish. I’m from the States, and in an area where realistically, we don’t need to speak any other language than English. Additionally, in my previous travels, English has been enough. However, in my school community, we often have families that arrive knowing little to no English, and I wanted to experience the ups and downs in order to “walk a mile in their shoes”, so to speak. This proved to be one of the most valuable parts of the experience for me. It was humbling to start off. I am an educated, independent woman in my country, but was unable to make simple requests without relying heavily on a dictionary and the incredible patience of the other person. Sometimes it was unsettling, sometimes it was embarrassing, and sometimes it was frustrating, but with practice, I improved, and earned a deep appreciation for both the Spanish language and my own language. After a couple of weeks, I could converse with my host family, and enjoyed talking with people that previously I had been unable.
I found Habla Ya by searching for conversational Spanish programs on Google, and then chose it because of the raving reviews and the responsiveness of the Travel Consultants. Mary Beth and Evelyn were overwhelmingly helpful with answering my questions before traveling and the program is well laid out. I also compared it to other programs in Central America, including others in Panama, and felt that it was the best fit for my Spanish goals. For however long you are able to stay, I definitely recommend the Immersion Program. Nowadays there is lots of talk about Spanish immersion programs in the US, but nothing really compares to actually being in a Spanish speaking country. This is true immersion.
5. Did you make friends during your program here?
Yes, from all over the world! There was a group of us that would do activities together and practice Spanish while hanging out. It was a really encouraging environment to practice too because while we were at different speaking levels, we all had the same goal, and we would help each other with what we were learning in our classes.
Kate and fellow students during a hike in Bastimentos
6. You mentioned to us that you needed Spanish for work, because you have many Hispanic families in your region. Do you feel more confident speaking to them now?
While my grammar and vocabulary are still a work in progress, I definitely have a lot more confidence. I used my school’s summer break to study Spanish, so I was able to be in Panama for seven weeks. I’ve been back to work the past two weeks and have communicated with all of our Spanish-speaking staff members – all of whom were impressed, because they knew how little Spanish I spoke before the summer and were thrilled by how much I learned. Additionally, I’ve spoken in Spanish with some of my students from last year and also with some parents.
Even though my language isn’t perfect, the result has been the same every time – their faces light up, because I am able to speak to them in their native language. With the parents, I sense relief; many times, the language barrier leaves these parents timid in the school environment. I’m looking forward to the ability to connect with my students’ families more in the coming school year.
Me having salsa lessons with my Spanish teacher and fellow students
If you would like to see your own story featured on our blog page, please don’t hesitate to let us know! I am sure that your experience too is worth the read, and we are always happy to share it with our readers =)