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A Warm School in a Warm City

Study Spanish through Immersion in Arequipa, Peru

The moment I set foot on the tarmac at the Arequipa Airport I knew I wouldn’t regret my last-minute decision to study Spanish in Peru’s second largest city. I had arranged language classes, a week-long homestay, and a free airport pickup only three days before my arrival. When I stepped off the plane after a 24-hour journey, the two highest mountains I had ever seen greeted me with snow-glazed summits gleaming in the tropical sun. And as soon as I reached the baggage claim area, I heard a man playfully chanting my name.

Jose, the representative for Centro de Estudios e Interacción Cultural Arequipa (CEICA), whizzed me off on an informal city tour en route to my host family’s home. From that moment on, I didn’t speak a word of English for two days.

While getting to know my host parents over fresh bread and mate de coca (a traditional tea made from the leaves of the coca plant), they invited me to a gathering of their extended family that evening. I was delighted with this opportunity to not only practice my Spanish but also experience Peruvian family life. By the end of the night, I had learned all seven of my host father’s siblings’ names, sampled local pisco and Arequipeña beer, sang along to classic Peruvian songs, and learned, above all, that Peruvians take family very seriously. I had also become a little overwhelmed by all the Spanish I needed to learn.

During my week in Arequipa, my only respites from Spanish-language immersion occurred during the short coffee breaks every morning at school. Then I enjoyed the chance to compare notes on host families and travel destinations with the five other students at CEICA that week, all from Western Europe and Australia. When coffee breaks were over, however, my teacher, Elvira, quickly swept me back into non-stop Spanish conversation.

I have been to several other Spanish schools in Latin America, and CEICA is without question the most professional. I never once heard teachers speaking English with students there, and the school provides each teacher with outstanding handouts and worksheets. The building itself is bright and clean, and most of the tables are outdoors in a garden courtyard or covered balcony. All of this also comes at a very reasonable price. Twenty hours of one-on-one instruction (four hours, five days a week) costs $144. Cheaper group classes ($108-$120) are also available in July and August, when the school is busiest.

If your Spanish homework isn’t enough to keep you busy when you’re not in class, CEICA also offers classes in Peruvian history, literature, dancing, music, and cooking for an additional fee. The prices depend on whether you take them alone or in a group and range from $14 for three group dance lessons to $51 for three individual cooking classes.

CEICA’s teachers are also eager to extend learning outside the confines of the school, and they take an active interest in helping you make the most of your stay in Arequipa. One morning Elvira proposed that she and I take a walk to the nearby Mercado Altiplano, where I could try countless kinds of fruits I had never seen before. As we explored the crowded alleys of the market, Elvira taught me the names of everything in sight, including local specialties such as a locust-bean-shaped fruit called pacae and chicha, a ubiquitous alcoholic beverage made from corn.

We returned to the school with bags of fresh figs, lucumas, pepinos, pacae, and prickly pears, and then covered the language of eating as we sampled all the fruit.

Later in the week, a local guide took us on a 3-hour car excursion through the colonial villages surrounding the city, bringing us to historic sites and vistas we wouldn’t have been able to access on our own. The most memorable part of this tour was simply the landscape. The contrast between the area’s lush, irrigated river valleys and barren desert hills is breathtaking. And behind it all, those two Andean volcanoes are always there reaching into the clouds.

Curious to get a little closer to the mountains, I asked Arturo Soto, who runs a tour agency called Mystic Peru with Patricia Galarza, my host sister, if he could take me on an excursion into the countryside. After lunch Arturo drove me to his aunt’s tienda on the outskirts of the city, where we swapped his truck for two mountain bikes. Then the hard work of climbing 3,000 feet out of the city began. With every hairpin turn views of the sprawling city behind us, and the high, open grassland ahead opened up.

Arturo and Patricia are both young and energetic and speak some English and German. They can arrange trips anywhere in Peru and know the canyon country around Arequipa especially well.

The Colca and Cotahuasi Canyons near Arequipa, the deepest in the world, are just two sources of pride for the justifiably proud Arequipeñans. In Peru, Arequipa has a reputation for being a self-appointed independent republic. Its Plaza de Armas is reputed to be the most beautiful in South America. The city is famous for its traditional cuisine, and Arequipeñans are said to be among the most educated and politically-impassioned people in the country.

These are all good reasons to study Spanish in Arequipa. But CEICA’s genuine welcome and high-quality, Spanish instruction are what really made spending a week there one of the warmest and most worthwhile learning experiences I have ever had.

For More Info

Costs for homestays with a CEICA-affiliated family in Arequipa depend on whether you are alone or with a partner and how many meals you eat with the family. The cost for a week’s accommodation and breakfast for one person is $90, for two people including breakfast $157. A week’s full board for one person costs $119; a double room with full board costs $215.

To learn more about CEICA, get the latest prices, and see pictures of the school, visit the school’s website at www.ceica-peru.com.

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