A few weeks ago, we had the great privilege to receive 2 special guests at Habla Ya in Bocas del Toro. Giovanni and his lovely girlfriend Sonia both work as Language Travel Consultants at the Swiss language travel agency ESL Sejours Linguistiques in Italy. Back in Milan and Verona respectively, both Giovanni and Sonia specialize in advising language programs to adults who would like to acquire a new language abroad.
They listen to their clientsâ€™ wishes and preferences, and will make objective recommendations regarding language schools and destinations all over the globe. Habla Ya Spanish Schools acts as a partner school for them, and we are always happy to meet and welcome our partners who work so hard to bring us students from all over Europe. For them, visiting partner schools is also very helpful, because they will get to experience the goods first hand before offering it to others. There is no better way to advise a student to visit a certain destination, than by having been there yourself.
From our side, it is always important to hear feedback, and even more so when coming from a colleague who works in the same industry. ESL works with many Spanish schools all over the world, and their opinion is crucial for us, because they help us understand what is essential to our clients. Every business has room for improvement, and Habla Ya is no different. Feedback is always welcome, whether it is positive or negative, so it is needless to say that we wanted to impress Giovanni and Sonia, or at the very least not disappoint them. But most of all, we wanted them to truly experience what it is like to be an student at Habla Ya in Panama, so that they can accurately describe it to their potential Italian customers.
Sonia, Giovanni, Carlos and I hanging out one evening in Bocas
Significant to us is also knowing what really matters to an Italian student, compared to a German or North American student for example. Sometimes cultural differences will surprise you, and it is very interesting to look at how our Spanish programs will be perceived by different nationalities.
Hence, after 2 weeks, I asked Giovanni to spill the beans and tell me his honest opinion about us. I wanted to hear the good, the bad and the ugly without any sugar coating. So here are the questions I asked him with his honest/unedited answers.
Giovanni, what was your primary objective during your trip to Panama?
I had two main objectives. First of all I wanted to discover the country by trying as many things as possible: visit different places, meet local people to see their lifestyle and culture, taste new meals...anything! The 2nd objective was more personal, since I wanted to help the local community by doing some volunteering activities.
Sonia, you took 2 weeks of Spanish lessons with us. Can you tell us a bit more about what you thought about the class structure, your teacher, and most of all your progress in Spanish?
I enjoyed my 2 week course a lot! Before taking it I was able to read and understand Spanish, but I could speak it only a little. Now I am much more confident and I can speak more fluently, and I made this progress thanks to the small class size and the ability of our teacher! The small number of students (2-3) was ideal for learning, as the teacher could give a lot of attention to all of us. During the lessons the conversation was focused on the Panamanian culture, traditions, food, etc.. and on our personal interests and everyday life. These topics were very interesting and they stimulated the discussion: we found out differences but also a lot of similarities between our countries Even if the primary focus was on conversational Spanish, we did a lot of grammar too, and I'm impressed by the number of rules we learned in just 2 weeks! In a few words, I would absolutely recommend a Spanish course at Habla Ya!
Sonia with fellow Habla Ya students.
Is there an aspect of Panama that you werenâ€™t aware of before traveling, and that it's important to tell your clients while telling them about the destination?
We can't say that we weren't aware of something: we have friends living here, some others have been here on vacation, and then we read many useful things thanks to the feedback sent by our ESL students. The reality might be slightly different from our expectations, but we believe that this is the beautiful aspect of traveling with curious eyes: we knew something before our departure but then our eyes judge and live it. After 3 weeks spent here, we can say that our knowledge of the destination is now good enough to advise the clients adequately, or we hope so at least
What is, according to you, the most important aspect of this program for an Italian student from Milan? For instance, a French student may give more importance to the food, while a North American may insist on having air conditioning. What do Italians insist on the most?
Generally speaking Italians do insist on the accommodation, which is often the key topic of our counseling activity. Is it the same for Bocas? We believe it's not. In our opinion the most important aspect of this program is the atmosphere: our students have to feel it through our words, understanding that Bocas is something special and different... a new experience in their travel portfolio. Then all the questions on courses, activities and accommodation will be considered differently.
What did you particularly like about the school, and what do you think needs improvement from our side?
We liked the atmosphere a lot: it's a smiling school! Teachers and staff were always friendly and very helpful, we felt a positive vibe and everything was easy-going. Then the courses: I (Giovanni) didn't take any course, but I saw how much Sonia progressed during the 2 weeks, thanks to the great teacher she had and the mini group classes. Some improvements can be done and these are our suggestions: limit the use of English during social activities as much as possible, even if we understand that there are many A1-A2 students; have a person taking part in the activities, because his or her presence would encourage the use of Spanish between the students; and maybe more focus on the volunteering projects which are very useful for the local community. You're already doing a great job, and we saw how difficult can be to deal with some realities of the organization.
Would you recommend our program to your clients, after living the experience yourself?
Sure, to the right clients! And who are the right clients? The ones traveling to feel a place, not to see it only; the ones looking for something new, not scared to live in a different way or try new things; the ones who know the difference between a tourist and a traveller, because they will come back from Bocas del Toro & Panama as richer persons! And this is how we feel now, grateful to Bocas because we had feelings which will stay forever with us! Thanks!
Well, thank you so much Giovanni and Sonia! We really enjoyed having you =). All the very best back in Italy and we look forward to paying you back the visit one day...