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.