Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Spanish Schools in Costa Rica: Frequently Asked Questions

Costa Rica is one of our most popular locations in which our students choose to study Spanish. Spanish Abroad has been sending students to multiple Spanish schools in Costa Rica since we first started in 1996 and we typically receive similar questions in regards to our Spanish programs. Most of our customers are traveling to a foreign country for the first time, so it is only natural that they have multiple questions, and since this is their first time studying abroad, they will need to learn the basics quick. 

Our staff have all have travelled abroad and visited different spanish schools all over the world, so we are able to give fast and accurate information to provide the proper expectations for any given location. Below you will find some of the more commonly asked questions for our Costa Rica Spanish schools, which tend to carry over for most locations.

Costa Rica Spanish School Programs FAQ's

1. When can I start a Spanish Program? 

You can start your program on any Monday of the year unless it is a holiday. Accommodations at a host family or student residence will start on Sunday. Extra nights are available based on a first come first serve basis and typically cost around $20-$35. 

2. How do I get to my accommodations? 

Upon arrival at the San Jose airport we offer free airport pickup for any of our Spanish programs in the San Jose area. This includes Heredia, San Pedro, and San Jose. We offer private shuttle transportation for $35-$40 to any of our beach locations. Typically you will need to arrive by 11AM to catch a shuttle in time. If not you will need to stay the night in San Jose, which we can arrange at a local hotel that provides airport pickup and a one night stay for $35. The Spanish school in Tamarindo also offers airport pickup from the Liberia international airport which is only 1 hour from Tamarindo for $60. 

3. How do you screen your host families?

We have sent students to our Spanish schools in Costa Rica for a minimum of 5 years and for some over a decade. They have pre-screened families based on providing clean and comfortable homes. Over the years, our Spanish schools have narrowed down their pool to the best families possible based on student feedback and continual visitation reviews. 

4. How much are the Spanish courses in Costa Rica? 

Our entire Spanish programs range from $250-$500 per week depending on the length of time you study and the location you choose. The Spanish schools in the San Jose area are more affordable due to the lower cost of living and range from $250-$350 per week for a standard program including Group classes 4 lessons per day, Host family accommodations, and 2 meals per day. The same program in beach locations come at a higher cost due to their higher real estate costs and higher prices for food, wages, etc. 

5. Will I have time to have fun while studying Spanish?

The standard Spanish course in Costa Rica at any of our Spanish schools is 4 hours per day. You will typically have classes in the mornings, so you will have plenty of time to explore this beautiful country. There are many outfitters for any location in which you study that can arrange canopy tours, atv trips, volcano tours, hiking, biking, kayaking, and any outdoor sport you can dream up. 

The schools also offer onsite activities for students which typically consist of city tours, dancing, cooking classes, movie nights and much more. The schools also arrange excursions to popular sites of interest including Arenal, Monteverde, Manuel Antonio, Tortuguero, and much more. 

6. How far are the accommodations from the school? 

For our Spanish schools in the San Jose area, host families are within 30 minutes walking distance from the school. In Heredia for instance, we have families within a 3-10 minute walk. These families are assigned on a first come first serve basis, assigned at the time of registration. Beach locations have host families within 20 minutes by ground transportation. The Tamarindo Spanish school provides a free shuttle to and from the school each day. Other beach locations have very affordable public buses that are easy to use. 

7. Can I receive University Credit while I study abroad? 

We offer academic credit through Brookhaven College for our Spanish school in Tamarindo if you study for at least 3 weeks. This is arranged at an additional cost and the credit is transferred directly to your school from Brookhaven via an official transcript. 

8. Can I bring my children? 

We have a specific family program in Tamarindo, Costa Rica where you can take Spanish classes, while your children study Spanish with other kids around their age. We offer the opportunity to stay together as a family with local hosts or we can arrange an apartment style accommodations at a local hotel. We also have a children's camp during the month of July that incorporates lunch and specific activities for children. 

9. When is the best time to study Spanish in Costa Rica? 

May to November is rainy season, however the North American Summer (June to August) is when we tend to receive the most students due to Summer break and key vacation times. The rain is typically a tropical down pour that only lasts a few hours. December to January is also a very popular time to visit and is ideal due the the dry warm weather. 

10. Why should I choose a Spanish school offered by Spanish Abroad? 

Spanish Abroad has offered Spanish schools in Costa Rica for over a decade, and only choose those which have a great reputation and maintain the best feedback from our students. These schools choose the highest quality instructors, host families, and provide activities for an overall once in a lifetime experience. We only want the best for our students, so we only recommend schools that we know will fulfill the expectations we develop for our customers. 

Feel free to contact Spanish Abroad with any questions you might have. This may be your first time studying abroad so we understand how you can be apprehensive. We want you to have the right expectations and understanding before you travel abroad, so you have the best experience possible. 

Monday, November 15, 2010

Puerto Vallarta Offers a Great Beach Getaway for a Warm Winter

Puerto Vallarta has long been a popular destination for Americans, Europeans, and Canadians looking to escape their cold winter environments from December to February, and enjoy the warm Pacific beaches of Mexico. Our Spanish students have seen this as a dual purposed opportunity for an amazing vacation while being immersion in Spanish. 

Learning Spanish in Puerto Vallarta has several advantages over other locations. As a large modern city it is quite easy to get away from touristy areas and be immersed by conversing with locals. The host families for our Spanish school are typically 10-20 minutes either by walking distance or public transportation. This means you are just outside the city center where most tourists congregate for shopping, visiting the popular beaches and restaurants. These neighborhoods where the host families live are middle class by local standard and the bus system is amazingly efficient. You can pay around 50 cents for a one way trip anywhere in the city and the major bus line seems to have a bus coming by every 5 minutes. 

While many locals do speak English due to the large tourism industry, you will find that many are quite happy to speak to you in Spanish, so that you can practice the language. The school strictly enforces a Spanish only classroom environment. The host family option provides you with a direct support system through your daily conversational lessons in a practical setting. These experiences will prepare you to speak spanish in everyday environments anywhere you are conversing with colleagues, customers, family members, or any native Spanish speakers. 

The city is full of modern amenities including shopping malls, major grocery stores, and a variety of restaurants with amazing Mexican or international cuisine. I personally tried to stick with Mexican food since I am such a big fan, however I did come across a great French restaurant which had fresh bistro style meals that were world class. I also loved walking around the different markets and seeing many hand made goods that you just don't find back home. 

Puerto Vallarta offers some of the most affordable flights to Mexico from many locations in the US, as well as many directly flights from major international airports. Our Spanish school also offers free airport pickup direct to your host family accommodations. You can opt to stay with a local host family or we can simply arrange your classes while you book your hotel separately. We can reduce the cost of accommodations from our program cost if you opt to stay at a hotel or condo. This is a popular option for those that want the comforts of some of the amazing resorts that are in this major beach city. 

While Mexico has suffered drastically from a decline in tourism due to safety concerns, Puerto Vallarta has not received any reports of an increase in tourism related crime or safety issues. Our students have currently provided great feedback in terms of their overall safety while studying Spanish in Mexico. As always any of our students should travel with caution, but be open to new experiences and cultures. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Beginners Can Study Spanish Abroad Too! ~ FAQ Answers

Even if you are a complete beginner in learning the Spanish language, you can still start from scratch and study abroad. We have classes of all levels at all locations. The majority of our programs in Latin America allow complete beginners to start classes any Monday. For Spain, the schools tend to have more specific start dates, but these are typically twice per month and usually every Monday during the high Summer Season.

Beginners have to start somewhere and it doesn't have to be in a classroom where full immersion is not utilized. Spanish Abroad also offers one month of free online courses with any registration. You could warm up with some go at your own pace Spanish classes on your home computer prior to the start of your study abroad experience. You can also just save the month and use it upon return as a carry over from your full Spanish immersion experience. 

Many of our students never had the need to learn a foreign language until later in their professional life. As the world grows into a more global marketplace, it has become more apparent that learning Spanish can provide a huge plus on a person's CV/Resume. It is the third most spoken language in the world, so jumping in head first and learning the language with any time you have available can increase your overall appeal to potential employers or clients. 

Spanish immersion is the quickest means of learning a language as it is a natural process that you utilized to learn your first language. It may feel like you are going to back to kindergarten at first as you learn the basics such as numbers or colors, but you have to build a base in order to fully incorporate new vocabulary and progress to more advanced levels of proficiency. These basics work as good reference points when moving through a curriculum and help students follow the course materials given in a full immersion courses where no other languages are utilized for teaching than Spanish. 

You certainly did not have an instructor speaking to you in a different language in kindergarten to teach you these basics, so it follows a similar logic but with more advanced methods to allow you to progress quickly as a professional with limited time. You have to start any new subject somewhere and you are never to old to gain proficiency in a new language. Certainly don't say otherwise to our 80 year old retired Spanish students that simply enjoy gaining new knowledge. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Top 5 Best Beach Spanish Immersion Programs for Winter

Beaches of Uruguay
Many of our students study during the Winter break in order to best take advantage of the amazing weather that Central and South American can offer during the months of December and January. Many families also have the advantage of the school break, in order to combine their Family Vacation with a Spanish immersion program. 

Central America is moving out of their rainy season come mid-November, and it is Summer in South America, so overall you can't beat the differential in weather, especially for those of you living in the Mid-West, North, or East Coast. 

Not all beach location are ideal for every student, so it is important to consider your options and choose the one that best fits with your interests. We have provided 5 top choice beach locations to consider for your winter Spanish Immersion program. These locations are known to book up in advance so start considering the right location now to ensure availability. 

1. Tamarindo, Costa Rica
Great North Pacific Beach location with an outstanding Spanish school only 5 minutes walking distance from the beach. Three major beaches close by and a great nightlife. Offers host family, onsite residence, and private bungalow housing. Full service family programs for adults and children. This program attracts all ages and also offers an amazing surf program. Easy transfer options from Liberia Airport. 

2. Bocas del Toro, Panama
Enchanting island location off the Caribbean coast of Panama. Great beach area for those looking to vacation in  a quaint rustic town and lower cost program prices. Host family, Student Residence, and hotel options. Amazing snorkeling, scuba diving, and other water sport activities within the vicinity. There are also water taxis to visit the various islands in the chain. Easy connecting flights from Panama City.

3. Malaga, Spain 
Close to the Southern tip of Europe right on the Mediterranean. Birthplace of Picasso and houses one of his museums in the city center. Within close distance to some of the cultural hot spots of Spain including Sevilla, Granada, and Cordoba. Close proximity to Morocco by ferry and a decent bus ride to Gibraltar. The city provides world class golf courses close by and is a stones throw from the top rated resorts of Marbella. Malaga is a moderate sized city, which is great for Spanish immersion. 

4. Playa del Carmen, Mexico 
With the many bad headlines hitting Mexico, Playa del Carmen which is 45 minutes South of Cancun has proven to be a bastion of safety for our students looking to learn Spanish in Mexico. Laying claim to the 2nd largest reef in the world, you can find some of the best scuba diving and snorkeling in the world. This beach location on the Mayan Riviera has long been a popular spot for Spanish immersion and a cultural gold mine given its Mayan roots and amazing ruins within close distance to the town.  

5. Montevideo, Uruguay
Perhaps a little off the beaten path, but this is a much overlooked option that offers an amazing immersion experience, as it is far less touristy than its neighbor of Buenos Aires, Argentina. We receive many students that are 30+, since they know it will attract less of a college crowd. There are some great city beaches within close proximity to the school and some more stunning beaches further afield in more natural settings. You are also a quick ferry ride for a weekend excursion to the big city of Buenos Aires that dwarfs this South American Capital. 

Monday, November 1, 2010

Pan de Muerto: Mexican Recipes (Oaxaca)

Photo by Gicela Morales
Halloween is now over, however you can continue in the ghoulish Mexican festivities tomorrow with Dia de los Muertos (November 2nd). Food is representative of some of the greatest aspects of Mexican history and culture. 

We can see many cultures that have put their stamp on Mexican food today, including Mexican recipes influenced by Indigenous peoples, Spanish, and French. Here is a classic recipe from Oaxaca, Bread of the Dead that is made for the holiday. This is a very tasty bread to celebrate the day, and to honor loved ones that have passed on from the living world.  

Bread Ingredients: 
2 Tablespoons Sugar
2 Beaten Eggs
3 Cups Flour
1/4 Cup Milk
1/4 Cup Butter
1/4 Cup Water
3 Cups Flour
1 Package active dry yeast
Pinch of salt
2 Teaspoons anise seed
1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest
1/8 cup Raisins
1/8 cup Chopped Walnuts

Glaze Ingredients: 
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup orange juice

1 Teaspoon Orange Zest
1 Teaspoon Lemon Zest

Dough Instructions: 

Combine the dry ingredients in a large bowl including the yeast, anise seed, sugar, and only 1/2 cup of the flour. In a sauce pan heat the water, butter and milk over low heat till lukewarm. Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour in the warmed wet ingredients. Mix for 30 seconds. Add the eggs, raisins, walnuts, lemon zest, and orange zest. 

Mix lightly just until all ingredients are mixed together. Mix in another 1/2 cup of flour. Keep mixing in additional flour until you have a soft wet dough ball that is not soggy and holds its shape. Do not mix too vigorously. Put the dough in a bowl and cover with a dry cloth.  Let the ball rise at room temperature. The dough should double in size after 2 hours. 

After it has doubled in size. Lightly flour if needed to keep it from sticking to your hands and counter. Knead for 5 seconds and shape into loaf.  Put the dough on a dry cookie sheet and cover with the cloth. Let it rise for 2 more hours. Gently poke eyes, 2 nose holes, and shape a mouth on the loaf like a skull. 

Cooking Instructions: 

Pre-Heat Oven to 350 Degrees just before the 2 hour rising process has completed. 

Bake for 35 Minutes or until lightly brown. I typically check after 30 minutes just in case. 

Before the bread is done combine all of the glaze ingredients in a sauce pan and bring just to a boil. Lower heat to low and reduce by half. Once bread is done lightly brush half glaze onto hot bread. Keep syrup warm while bread cools for 5 minutes. Brush on remaining glaze. Put bread back into 350 degree oven for 1 minute. 

Quickly sprinkle on a pinch of sugar all over bread after pulling out of oven. 

Feel free to decorate with colored sugars, powdered sugar, or strings of icing. Make it your own!

Enjoy with Coffee and Milk. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Recordando Dia de los Muertos - Recalling Day of the Dead

Day of the Dead Photo by Loren Javier
License Terms

"The cult of life, if it is truly profound and total, is also the cult of death, because the two are inseparable”  ~ Octavio Paz

The “Day of the Dead” and Halloween are my favorite holidays! Not to confuse these holidays, Halloween is celebrated on the 31st of October and the Day of the Dead, the 2nd of November.  Both holidays, however, are centered around death. In Mexico, the Day of the Dead is a ritual practiced by the indigenous people before the Spanish conquest. Still today, this ritual is celebrated in modern Mexico.

I remember that a week prior to this celebration, the people in the streets of Ejutla, Oaxaca, Mexico were always very busy making preparations. People were going into town, to blend the cocoa beans for the savory hot chocolate, purchasing fresh corn to prepare the tasty tamales, and stocking up on chili in order to make our Oaxacan specialty, “mole”.  Since everything was made from scratch, it was necessary to start the preparations well ahead of time.  This was a special time for me as a child because during visits to my neighbors and friends I would always find special snacks.

In our family, we prepared the altar on the 1st of November.  My dad and I would take a trip to the market to buy the fruits and flowers for the altar. Because of all the wonderful fruits and vegetables in the stalls, I remember the markets to be very colorful and exciting. Even today as I close my eyes, I still can see the marigolds, the fruits of the season, and the delicious bread.  I can even smell the various aromas that permeated the whole town.  An important part of the altar was a simple but beautiful sugarcane arch. We would take two sugar cane sticks  (each about 6 feet high) and attach them to each leg of a table. The sugarcane would then be connected to form an arch over the altar. Later, we would decorate the arch with marigolds and fruit. On the table we would place the favorite foods and beverages of anyone in our family who had passed on. 

I thought setting up of the altar  with goodies, beverages and memorabilia was fun, but my father's  intent was to encourage the souls to visit our home. The belief of the Day of the Dead is to ensure the souls of the departed know they are still remembered. Pretty creepy I thought but it is a major part of the Mexican culture during the Day of the Dead.  

As is customary, on November 2nd we would take a trip to the cementary to clean the graves of my departed family members. We would pray and put some flowers on the graves. I must admit when I was young all this tradition seemed so boring, except for the goodies. Now, I appreciate the meaning of this holiday: A time for remembering the departed and a time to think that life and death are inseparable and part of life experiences. 

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Spanish Immersion in San Juan, Puerto Rico: No Passport Needed!

With the added requirement for a passport to travel to Mexico, Puerto Rico has become our only location for Spanish immersion where a passport is not required to travel for U.S. Citizens. As a U.S. Territory, Puerto Rico has many comforts of the mainland, while distinctly having Spanish as the major language of the island. This allows for great Spanish immersion experience while living in the safe capital city of San Juan. English is spoken by many inhabitants, but locals would much rather communicate in Spanish.

San Juan is a large enough city to live and study Spanish for many weeks, without becoming bored with your surroundings. There are many different neighborhoods and sites to visit that can keep you busy for a long term study program. Old San Juan presents an amazing historic view of colonial times on the island under Spanish rule. The fortifications of La Muralla and Fuerte San Felipe del Morro are stunning examples of the Spanish conquest that have stood the test of time. You can also spend a great amount of time relaxing at the city beaches including Condado right near the city center as well as Isla Verde. 

Our Spanish school is located right in the center of the city in the upscale financial district of Hato Rey. The school is a few steps away from the train line that runs through the center of the city, as well as many major bus lines. You can reach Old San Juan from the school in about 20-30 minutes depending on traffic. The courses take place in a modern executive office building and provides the necessary facilities to hold small group class sizes, as well as private instruction. We receive students with a wide range of backgrounds, ages, and proficiencies who have raved about the quaint class room settings that allow for close interaction with their Spanish instructors. 

The school offers host family accommodations. You have the choice to choose 2 meals per day with your host family or a no meal option. We can also arrange courses only if you want to stay in a hotel near the beach in Condado or another neighborhood. We strongly recommend the host family experience for the added advantages of the immersion experience and good value in terms of comparable cost. 

Our standard Group Course includes 3 Spanish lessons per day from 9AM to 12PM, Monday to Friday. Conversation is the major focus of our program however reading and writing is utilized as a tool to guide the curriculum. It is also possible to add private instruction to the Group program or you can choose to only have private instruction through morning or afternoon sessions. 

Our Spanish school offers many additional services that are included with any program. These services include Free Wifi, coffee, water, and tea selection, walking tours of Old San Juan, cooking classes, as well as 1 visit per week to sites of interest including: the Botanical Garden, Rum Distillery, and art museum. Additional services can be arranged at an added cost for airport transfers, and excursions such as: kayak tours in the bay, horseback riding, visits to the jungle, snorkeling trips, and much more. 

San Juan, Puerto Rico is just one of the many destinations offered by Spanish Abroad for our Spanish Immersion Programs. However, we have found that it is becoming more and more popular due to its safe  travel record, close proximity to the mainland, and wide cultural appeal. We know that our Spanish school in San Juan can provide you with an amazing experience abroad and ultimately an increase in your overall Spanish proficiency

Contact Spanish Abroad for addition details or answers to your questions via phone at 1-888-722-7623 or by email at: 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Learn Spanish Abroad and Receive College Credit

Many students study with Spanish Abroad each year and earn academic credit, which can be applied to fulfill their general study requirements as well as their major in Spanish. The value involved with studying abroad through full immersion can be clearly seen through the quick advancement of a student's language proficiency. The ability to apply this experience towards a tangible achievement such as your undergraduate degree just adds more benefits to our Spanish programs. 

A select amount of our Spanish immersion programs are accredited through Brookhaven College based out of Dallas County Texas. The college is accredited through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. We help our students arrange for registration with the college prior to the departure for their Spanish immersion program and in turn they receive the academic credit by transcript transfer to their home university. 

Some of our most popular Spanish course locations are available for study abroad with academic credit including: Tamarindo, Costa Rica; Antigua, Guatemala; Buenos Aires, Argentina; Cusco, Peru, as well as San Sebastian and Malaga, Spain. You can choose the location of your choice. The program price will be dependent on the cost of the Spanish immersion program for that given location. Full Spanish program prices including courses and accommodations are available at: Spanish Immersion Prices

All students will need to study for a minimum of 3 weeks in order to receive academic credit. You can receive at least 3-4 credits depending on the course in which you would like to apply your program. We have many students taking 12 week programs and earning 14 credits to complete 4 college Spanish courses. We provide long term program discounts on our standard programs  prices so that students can get the best value for these longer stays. The average program cost for the 12 week Spanish course including the college credit and housing can range from $3000-$4000 for many locations. This is far below the typical in-state college tuition and you can easily complete your Spanish credit requirements in less than a semester, while studying abroad in a foreign country. 

I can now only wish I had such opportunities when I was completing my undergrad degree at Arizona State University. It would have made things a lot simpler in completing my course load. I could have easily fit this in to a summer break, and have completed a semester's worth of required Spanish credit courses. Spanish Abroad wants to make this arrangement easy for you so that you can easily obtain the Spanish credit needed to take the best advantage of our Spanish immersion courses. Feel free to contact our offices to discuss the options available to you at 1-888-722-7623 or by email at: 

Friday, October 15, 2010

Surf Program in Tamarindo, Costa Rica

Alex - Surf Program Director
A great feature of our most popular Spanish school in Tamarindo, Costa Rica is the in-house Surf program.

Students can pre-arrange surf lessons along with surf board rental for the entire length of their program or for select weeks out of their study abroad program.

Tamarindo is known world-wide as one of the hottest surf spots. The beach was featured in the "Endless Summer" sequel, when the world-class surfers visited the town on their trip to Costa Rica.  

Alex Hazell acts as the dedicated Surf program director and suggests that students start with at least a 2 Week Surf program. He notes that during the two week program, surf students not only receive 2 formal lessons each week, but also time to practice what they are learning while not taking their Spanish courses. This allows them to become more self sufficient in their surf skills and discover what weaknesses they need to work on during their next lesson.

The surf program also includes a video analysis session that is crucial in helping students improve quicker. The slow motion playback is always great for a laugh too! Most of the surfing takes place at several sweet spots within walking distance of the Spanish school in Tamrindo, but every Friday, with surf conditions permitting, the surf instructors take all of the students to Playa Avellanas to try out new skills on more advanced waves.

The surf program typically has 5-10 students training each week, with many more during the Summer months. There is typically a 5 to 1 student/teacher ratio. The Surf instructors have all been surfing for many years and love teaching their passion for surf to others. They are bilingual, so they can help you practice your Spanish during lessons, but also make sure you are understanding the basic concepts and safety aspects. 

You can add the Surf program to any Spanish Course arrangement for $185 per week. You may also include this with our Family Spanish Program in Costa Rica for any family member that is interested in learning how to Surf. The surf classes are scheduled so that they do not interfere with Spanish classes, and coincide with the tides.

Alex states, "In the end its all about having fun, trying something new, meeting some new people and having a great vacation in the sun."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

New Spanish School: Viña del Mar - Valparaiso, Chile

Spanish Abroad is proud to announce our newest location with the addition of the Spanish school in Viña del Mar -Valparaiso. The Spanish school directors has many years of experience with several branches through Latin America including Buenos Aires, Argentina; Santiago, Chile; and Lima, Peru.

Viña del Mar and Valparaiso are a right next to each other and are growing in leaps and bounds. These are beautiful youthful coastal cities on the central coast of Chile and with easy access from the Capital of Santiago by train service. Beyond the stunning beaches, you are also in close proximity to the expansive wine vineyards of Chile as well as several world class wineries.

The cities are connected by an amazing metro train system combined with bus service, funiculars for the steep hills, and trolleys for an extensive, easy to use public transportation system. The Spanish school is located at a stone's throw from the Viña del Mar metro stop and is within walking distance to city beaches. 

We will be offering both group and private Spanish instruction as well as host family and shared student housing. You will have a private room with either option along with 2 meals per day with the host family. The school will feature introductory rates for the remainder of the year as shown below. You can start programs on any Monday. The school will feature Wi-Fi Internet access as well as 4 activities per week including cooking and dance classes, city tours, fiestas, volleyball, wine tours, and much more. We will also have weekend excursions to major points of interest including Santiago, Isla Negra, and Mendoza, Argentina.

We will be adding full details for our new Viña del Mar - Valparaiso Spanish program to Spanish Abroad shortly. If you are interested in this location feel free to call us during business hours to discuss the program at 1-888-722-7623 or by email to: 

Discounted Spanish Program Pricing: 

Viña del Mar, Chile

1 Week Group Classes 4 Lessons per day/ Host family/ 2 meals per day: $355
Each Additional Week: $295

1 Week Group Classes 4 Lessons per day/ Shared Apartment/ Private Room: $315
Each Additional Week: $255

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Best Spanish Immersion Locations: Heredia, Costa Rica

Costa Rica is thought of by many as one of the best countries in the world for Spanish immersion. It is by far one of the safest locations in Latin America, and the people are some of the most warm and welcoming in the world. Many Americans have moved to Costa Rica over the years for its magnificent beauty and laid back lifestyle. 

Spanish Abroad  is always happy to recommend the Spanish immersion program in Heredia due to its small town feel and few tourists in the vicinity. This combined with amazing host families and modern amenities, makes the Spanish program in Heredia, Costa Rica one of our most popular Spanish schools overall.

The Spanish school is located in Santo Domingo de Heredia, which is a small residential area located half way between Heredia proper and Downtown San Jose. There is a small central park, some restaurants, banks, and grocery stores, as well as  few other businesses, but the majority of the town is residential housing. In a town of just one hotel, you can really feel immersed by seeing few foreigners around to use English as a crutch. 

This small town feel is welcoming in providing the best opportunity for students to practice their Spanish skills in an everyday environment. Your host family is friendly of course and is very open to your needs as a student studying their language, however local Ticos are quite welcoming to conversation as well. 

Given that you are in a large metropolitan area, you are also only 3 minutes from Down Town San Jose which provides more of the hustle and bustle that you may be looking for in terms of some afternoon outings and activities. However, you can retreat back to the smaller town for a more simple everyday living. 

Being in the center of the country, and having access to several means of transportation, you can easily go on excursions to many different parts of the country. You are only 3 hours from Arenal Volcano or some of the most beautiful beaches in the country. You are also just an hour to several nature parks and areas where you can truly experience the outdoors, which Costa Rica is best known for. There are quick flights from San Jose to parts far north such as Tamarindo Beach on the Pacific Coast or far south with Puerto Viejo on the Caribbean. You can now also catch flights to Bocas del Toro, Panama on Nature Air at an affordable rate. 

The Spanish school in Heredia is world class and has three locations though out Latin America including one in Mexico and one in Ecuador. The instructors and director hold many years of experience and know how to provide the students with a well rounded experience. The school provides afternoon activities when Spanish courses are over including dance or cooking classes, movie nights, fiestas, visits to different areas around the metropolitan area, as well as overnight weekend excursions to major locations of interest. 

With all the bases covered, Heredia, Costa Rica is an easy recommendation as a location for many students to study Spanish in an immersed environment. Continued positive reviews from past students has secured the Spanish school as one of our top choices list when someone asks, "Where should I learn Spanish"? There are many options out there, but if you have not been to Costa Rica yet and want to venture somewhere new, I definitely suggest booking a flight to San Jose! 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Lupe's Corner ~ Language Immersion in a Foreign Country

It is quite common to feel awkward on the first day of Spanish classes when studying in an immersion environment. However it is important to embrace the unease you feel in struggling with your communication skills and understand it is part of the learning experience. 

You must force yourself to overcome the difficulty when it comes to speaking only in Spanish if you never have before. This is essential in the classroom, while speaking with your host family members, and also locals around town. Lupe's story discusses her experience learning a language through immersion and real life experiences while in school. 

There I was, like a fish out of the water, in the middle of the classroom with about 60 English speaking students. It was my first college semester and it was my first law class in the United States. My English was rusty and my confidence low. The thought of participating in class or having to give a speech was beyond my dreams.   When I decided to move to the United States, I never considered cultural differences. Luckily for me, I learn fast and the first semester in college proved to be beneficial.

As customary, the first day of classes the teacher passed out the syllabus, reviewed the information and laid out the rules for the class. I was terrified and I was overwhelmed. Everything seemed to be going so fast.  I did not want to ask questions like everyone else because 1) I had never been encouraged in the Mexican schools to participate in class and 2) my English was pretty basic.  A week went by and the teacher gave us a quiz  in class which I flunked. I remember feeling embarrassed.  

All classmates were comparing their results with each. I however was not about to show them  my "2 out 10" good answers. I also felt like the unluckiest person in the world. How could I not manage to at least guess 50 percent of the questions? I was so down on myself that I decided to talk to the teacher and explain my situation.

told him about my basic understanding of English.  He looked at me and said “Ignorance of is not an excuse. Your responsibility was to read the syllabus  and learn the material. ”  At that point I felt like I was about to strangle the teacher, but I knew he was right and I had to get over my fear of speaking in front of class when I had questions or to make sure to read all information I received from the teachers.  

If my school life was complicated, my social life was more confusing. I wanted to have friends who only spoke English but I did not know how to talk to them. Most of my friends from the US were interesting, I thought, but I had nothing in common. I always admired Americans because from very young ages they learn how to swim, ski, etc. I on the other hand with my very traditional Mexican background I learned to be afraid of almost anything that moved. 

Thankfully, I was eager to learn and I had good teachers. My American friends taught me the value of coming to this country to go to school. I was also able to complete my language immersion experience and learn another language other than Spanish. At the end of the semester, I finally begin to open myself up to other experiences and with more confidence I was able to continue school successfully.  

All in all it has been an amazing ride. The first semester in school was pivotal for my personal growth. I learned quickly the value of the American culture, as well as my own Mexican culture, and how to combine the best of the two, despite my fears.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Patatas Bravas: Spanish Food Recipes

Photo by Alpha

This is a great dish now that it is cooling down and you can warm up your house with this healthier roasted potato version of Patatas Bravas. You will also love it as the smell of roasting potatoes fills the room. I make these at least once a week as it is an easy recipe with few ingredients, to have cooking while you prepare the rest of any meal. These potatoes are amazing as a side or as an appetizer with some Spanish beer and other assorted Spanish tapas.

Cooking Tools:
Large Casserole Dish or 2 Small Casserole Dishes
Measuring Spoons and Cups
Kitchen Towel
Cutting Board
Oven Mitt
Metal Mixing Bowl

Patatas Bravas Ingredients: 
2 Large Potatoes
Cup Kosher Salt
2 Table Spoons Spanish Smoked Paprika (Pimenton, Dulce or Picante)
2 Table Spoons Olive Oil
1 Table Spoon Butter

Patatas Bravas Sauce: 
White Wine Vinegar
Hot Sauce

Total Time: Approximately 1 hour

Patatas Bravas Preparation:
Preheat your oven to 425 Degrees Fahrenheit (218 Celsius). Put your casserole dish(es) in the oven. Wet your potatoes with water and coat with Kosher salt. Rub the potatoes to scrub the any dirt off. The salt will help scrape the potatoes clean. Wash off any residual salt and dry the potatoes with a towel.

Cut the potatoes lengthwise along the side and then quarter each half. They should be around 1 inch cubes, but consistent size is most important for even cooking. Dry the potatoes quickly.

Take your casserole dish out of the oven and put in your olive oil. Put the pat of butter in the olive oil and swirl the two together around the base of the dish. Put your potatoes cubes in the casserole dish and coat them with the oil/butter mixture. If it is too hot to use your hand, use a spoon. Arrange all of the potato cubes skin side down. Make sure there is some space in between the potatoes and do not stack them. You don't want them to steam themselves. If it is too packed, get another dish and repeat the process for the remainder of the potatoes.

Put the Casserole dishes in the oven and set a timer for 25 minutes. Once this time is up, stir the potatoes around with a spoon to re-coat with the oil and put the dish back in the oven for another 15 minutes. Just make sure they are in a single layer when they go back in to avoid steaming. Once this time is up take the potatoes out and coat with about a table spoon of salt or to your taste. Put back in the oven for another 10 minutes or until golden brown, crispy on the outside, and soft in the middle.

Smoked Paprika- Pimenton
While the potatoes are cooking you can mix your sauce together. I just mix catsup, white wine vinegar, and Frank's Red Hot together. You can try different measurements of each, but I just throw the three together to thin out the catsup slightly. This helps it coat the potato with a subtle flavor. Truthfully these potatoes are so good, you don't need the sauce. You could also mix in some Mayo if you want to go crazy.

Place the potatoes in a metal mixing bowl and coat with the table spoon of Spanish Smoked Paprika. You can use hot or sweet pimenton depending on how brave you are. I also like to mix it up from time to time and add fresh chopped rosemary, garlic powder, or simply throw garlic cloves in the dish for the last 10 minutes of cooking. Once you do this a hundred times, you will want to make variations, since they are so tasty in multiple ways.

Patatas Bravas Side Note: I also cooked these on the grill by placing the casserole dish over indirect heat on top of a caste iron skillet. The key is to keep an eye on the temperature and try to keep it consistent so your grill will act like an oven.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spanish Abroad: Repeat Spanish Student Review

Spanish Abroad receives many repeat customers, as we offer multiple locations and not everyone can meet their Spanish proficiency goals within one specific study abroad experience. Janice was one of these students that continually returned to study Spanish Abroad with us on several different occasions. She has studied at 5 different Spanish schools and has travelled to 3 different countries while learning Spanish through Spanish Abroad. She was kind enough to write a review about her Spanish immersion experience.

I have been teaching French, German, and a little Spanish at the high school and college levels for the past 25 years. My job entails recruitment and evaluation of foreign language teachers in the US, so I've approached my Spanish Abroad experiences with a critical eye. All the schools I attended employed professionally trained teachers with excellent teaching skills. The emphasis in all schools is on real, day-to-day communication and practical Spanish that you can use the minute you walk out the door of the school into the street. Many teachers take their students around town to practice shopping and to taste local specialties and visit marketplaces. 

The materials provided in all Spanish Abroad schools have been thorough and well explained. All teachers did their utmost to motivate students to communicate in Spanish. My husband, a beginner, really enjoyed the cooking classes in Oaxaca and cultural excursions in Antigua. 

The schools I have attended in Costa Rica (Manuel Antonio), Guatemala (Antigua), Mexico (Playa Del Carmen, Oaxaca, and Mexico City), all had excellent and professional instruction, as well as welcoming home stay hosts who were great cooks. The accommodations have been clean, modern, and quiet, with charming hosts who were always willing to engage in conversation and even to help with homework assignments from the schools. 

Small class size in all locations was a real plus. Daily conversation classes, grammar drill, and cultural lessons provided a well-balanced approach to learning Spanish. All schools had Internet for student use between classes. Many teachers used film, music, and cultural documents to enhance learning and to stimulate conversation. The coffee breaks and snacks were also first-rate - especially the tropical fruit in Costa Rica and the yummy juices in Mexico City. It was very easy to get to know other students and to arrange evening or afternoon get-togethers and excursions.

Spanish School Locations Visited

Playa del Carmen Spanish School - Mexico

Playa del Carmen, is in a beautiful outdoor setting near the beach with easy access to the town, shops, and good restaurants. The days are hot, so plan to take your intensive classes in the morning and early afternoon and save
the rest of the day for beach-combing. It's a quick and easy boat ride to Cozumel, where you can experience some of the best snorkeling in the world.

Manuel Antonio Spanish School - Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio offers a breathtaking view of the ocean and provides delicious fresh fruit and juices at snack time. You are close to the beach, the rain forest, and plenty of outdoor activities. We especially enjoyed our guided tour of Manuel Antonio National Park as well as an afternoon snorkeling tour. The school organized excursions and cultural events which were well-organized and fun. The teachers were very creative with games and group activities that stimulated conversation and were also a lot of fun.

We went to Manuel Antonio in March, and the weather was HOT!  We took classes from 8 - 1, then headed for the beach to cool off and have lunch at the fabulous and inexpensive beach barbecues. One note of caution: Quepos is not a good place for night life. Stay close to the park and take the local bus to the language school.

Antigua Spanish School - Guatemala

The school in Antigua offers one on one instruction with very interesting and inexpensive afternoon excursions to the surrounding areas. We even participated in the Semana Santa tradition of making "alfombras" from colored sand - a wonderful way to feel part of the drama and pageantry of the many parades and preparations for holy week. My husband got to play the role of the groom in a Mayan wedding when we visited one of the outlying villages. Thanks to the Spanish language school's friendly staff and interesting outings we really got a chance to experience the local culture and traditions first-hand. We also took free salsa lessons at a local dance school and, to our surprise, we were not the worst dancers in the class!

Mexico City Spanish School - Mexico

Mexico City's school employs university-trained instructors who offer challenging and personalized instruction. One of the most interesting classes there was a conversation class taught by a young university graduate who gave us many personal insights into Mexican life, culture, and language. We also learned a lot of street slang, which was fun and which surprised our host families.

Teachers in Mexico City are willing to talk about any and all topics and love to digress from the lessons to chat about music, politics, history, film, food, or any topic the students are interested in. The give and take in these lessons was fantastic. The 6-hours per day that I spent there seemed to fly by with the variety of teaching styles, themes, and activities. Plus, Mexico City is a hotbed of culture, history, and the arts. 

The public transportation system makes it easy to get around this huge metropolis. I felt safe taking the metro every day to class. The Chilangos (residents of Mexico City) were consistently friendly and patient when I asked for directions or advice. Mexico City is full of life and energy. I can't wait to return there!

Oaxaca Spanish School - Mexico

The Spanish school in Oaxaca emphasizes small-group instruction with a variety of teachers throughout the day. Films and music were used to introduce vocabulary and cultural themes. There was a very good balance of listening, speaking, reading, and writing activities. The city of Oaxaca is extremely safe and pleasant for strolling (pasear) at all times of the day. In the evenings, the Zocalo is full of families, couples, young and old, who come to the center of town to eat, listen to music, and chat. There were numerous free dance and music performances that we enjoyed. People are friendly and very willing to strike up a conversation at any time. The craft shops and food markets in Oaxaca are sensational - a MUST if you come to this area.

Our host "mother" served us fresh tortillas every morning delivered straight to her doorstep. My husband is now an expert on mole and sopa azteca, thanks to the school's cooking classes. Oaxaca has a great variety of evening activities and is safe for strolling at all times of the day. One of my favorite activites was watching the evening "Telenovela" with the host family and writing down loads of new vocabulary and useful phrases.

Spanish Student Pointers
My recommendation for beginners is that you enroll in a small class. It's fun to interact with other students and also to hear new words and phrases several times. One on one tends to be pretty intense for beginners, but excellent for intermediate or advanced levels. You will need to learn some grammar, so be prepared to do some memorization and drill. It's a good idea to carry a vocabulary notebook with you at all times so you can keep track of the new vocabulary you learn while shopping and touring the area.

It's been fun staying in families with children because they are so cute and energetic, although they tend to speak pretty fast. Older people are really great to learn from because they are patient and speak more slowly. I learned the most from my hostess in Mexico City, who spent a lot of time at home and looked forward to hearing me tell about everything I had done and seen that day. I really learned to master the past tense during that two-week stay!

Why Choose Spanish Abroad?
Spanish Abroad has been a great option for my husband and me. Our typical vacation consists of a few nights in a very nice hotel at the beginning of vacation, just enough time to relax and transition to the new climate and culture. Then we go to our homestay location to experience real family life and to practice our Spanish. Spanish Abroad has been a fantastic source of information regarding shuttles, airport connections, local customs, climate,
food, money exchange, and everything we needed to know to make our trips safe and pleasant. Judy even told us the length of the walk or bus ride from our host family to the language schools and gave us great advice on hotels and B&Bs for before and after the home stay.

Thanks to my vacation experiences over the past five years with Spanish Abroad, I was able to pass the New York State Teacher Certification Exam for Spanish Teachers and enjoyed teaching a section of beginning Spanish 1 at my local high school last year.