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Immerse Yourself in a Culture while Learning Spanish, Photography, or Surfing

The Growing Market for Experiential Vacations

Costa Rica has been an increasingly popular destination for American travelers and transplants for more than a decade. The peaceful nation’s 34 parks and reserves make it a nature-lover’s dream. The landscape from one side of the small country to the other is diverse, with volcanic mountain ranges, rain forests, fertile valleys dotted with coffee plantations--and of course the warm waters of both the Pacific and the Caribbean.

The stunning tropical beauty, abundance of nature and friendly people present the perfect canvas for photography, a hobby enjoyed by most travelers. Taking photographs allows travelers to bring their experiences back home while providing a near-perfect combination of learning, practice, and vacation.

The School of the World in Playa Jaco in Costa Rica

The School of the World in Playa Jaco offers a digital photography classroom in the midst of this paradise on earth. The one-to-four week programs are designed to offer students a working knowledge of key elements of photography including lighting, composition, apertures, shutter speeds, and basic photo editing. Learning how to improve photo shots is a major goal, and students are taken on excursions in search of great locations.

“The digital photography revolution has made it easier for people to experiment and learn how to improve their photography skills, without the cost or waiting time of film,” says Brian Phelps, Director of School of the World.

But the learning opportunities do not stop there. The school combines its photography courses with your choice of surfing, yoga, or Spanish lessons – their motto is “Educating Travelers in Inspirational Environments.” It opened in 1997 with the goal of taking a creative approach to learning by combining aspects of a language school, surf school, photography workshop, and adventure travel in order to create an unforgettable experience.

“Surfboards are more common than cell phones in this small town,” says Phelps. “Due to the fact that the Playa Jaco area is well known to have great waves and warm water year-round, it is only natural that so many people come here to learn how to surf.”

School of the World provided one of the first options available for studying Spanish near the beaches in Costa Rica, “The school's Spanish courses incorporate international Spanish teaching guidelines with Costa Rica's local variations of the language,” Phelps explains. “Studying in a Spanish-speaking country allows students to immediately practice what they have learned with native Spanish-speaking people.” Yoga is the newest program of the school, rounding out a truly unique combined learning experience available nowhere else.

Lodging is included for all students, but homestays are also available for those wishing to stay with a local family. Breakfast and dinner are included and the cost is the same as the programs that include accommodations at the school.

Learning a New Language

It is often easy to study a new language, but difficult to actually speak it. The magic of acquiring language skills while in a foreign country lies in the complete immersion in an entire culture. The native-speakers surrounding you provide not only constant opportunities for practice in real daily settings but also a much deeper insight into the history, government, arts, and even the pop culture and slang of the host country.

The Language Immersion School in Mexico

Mexico, of course, provides Americans a convenient neighbor for learning Spanish in an immersion environment. About a thousand miles north of Costa Rica lies Veracruz, a port city living the traditional life of old Mexico. The tourists are Mexicans from around the country, and it is possible not to see another American during your stay. Here, The Language Immersion School prides itself on an accomplished track record of helping its students become conversational in days – while supporting the local culture and offering students a taste of life in Veracruz. The unique approach combines classroom learning with Out-And-About Labs to provide hours of daily practice with locals.

“Think back for a moment about all the people you’ve known who studied Spanish in high school or college,” says Eric Langner, co-owner of the school with his wife, Linda. “How many of them can actually speak the language? Traditional instruction is fine for learning grammar, structure, and vocabulary, but it almost never succeeds at getting you talking.”

The Language Immersion School believes equally in its second goal of active participation in the local culture. Additional learning available includes cooking, ecotourism, folk dancing and guitar making. “Good immersion school takes you to the markets and shops, the little restaurants and museums and parks,” adds Langner. “Good immersion has you visiting with the locals and joining them in the activities of daily life.”

The school’s philosophy is that everywhere is the right place to speak Spanish. Imagine learning the secrets of Mexican cooking from the school’s kitchen staff as they prepare the day's meals, from standard dishes and regional specialties. Students shop in the old central market and pick up fruits and vegetables at the sidewalk stand down the street, or from the donkey cart that passes by.

And all of happens in laughter-filled Spanish with Senora Elia, who does not speak English. Cooking and enjoying a good meal is universal and the words and ideas, just like the meals prepared, go hand in hand. The school does not charge additional food or supply costs, and the Langners encourage all students to participate in as many local activities as possible.  Their Mix and Match program allows each participant to pick and choose which activities to enjoy, from visiting archeological ruins or scuba diving, to learning Ballet Folklorico – even working out at the local gym with a trainer.

“We will arrange your Spanish study around the trips you choose to take,” says Eric Langner. “You'll have full strength schooling with as many fascinating and enchanting outings as you wish to enjoy. Without even leaving town there is so much to do. The Veracruz Coral Reef System is an adventure and ecotourism dream come true.”

The Language Immersion School’s way of doing business truly supports Veracruz residents and their culture. All providers are independent small businesses owned and operated by Mexicans, and the school is highly supportive of grassroots conservation. “We have no financial interaction of any sort, at all, with the providers,” stresses Langner. “We receive absolutely no payment of any sort from the providers in our organization (or from any other providers.) The friendly people of Mexico will open their tiny businesses and their homes to you. You’ll be able to see more than just places; you’ll be able to participate in the lives and culture of the regular people.”

For More Information

School of the World, www.schooloftheworld.org, offers 1- to 4-week courses.

The Language Immersion School, www.veracruzspanish.com, offers all-inclusive classes, accommodations, meals, Out-and-About-Labs, all texts/school materials, and much more.

Costa Rica surf reports: www.crsurf.com.

Rainforest Action Network: www.ran.org.

Spanish For Students: www.spanish4students.com.

Veracruz Coral Reef System: www.explorandomexico.com/about-mexico/11/163/.

See Language Vacations in Latin America and Cultural Travel in Latin America on this site for more examples.


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