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Health Services and Social Work Training in Guatemala

Guatemalan Language Immersion School Offers Professional Courses

Asociación Pop Wuj, located in the heart of Quetzaltenango, in the highlands of Guatemala, is a Spanish language immersion school that, in addition to regular language immersion classes offers programs in health services and medical care and in social work and community development. Students and professionals alike can enroll in one of the month-long programs whose main goals are to educate students not only in Spanish but also in the cultural values and experiences of Latin Americans. Teachers expect that students will return to their home countries with greater sensitivity, understanding, and respect for their Latin American patients and clients. This deep cultural competency will foster better care and relationships and will provide the students with a deeper perspective on their work.

Xela, the Mayan language nickname for Quetzaltenango, is considered the cradle of the arts of Guatemala and many native artists make their home here. The majority of residents are Quiche Mayan and many continue to wear the native clothing. True immersion is possible here because most people do not speak English and there is little tourism.

Pop Wuj takes its name from the Pop Vul, the only surviving religious text from the ancient Maya, written in the Quiche dialect. Five dedicated teachers collectively own the cooperative. Their mission, besides a commitment to teaching Spanish, is to give back to the desperately poor rural indigenous community through funding student scholarships, building community projects such as brick and adobe stoves to replace dangerous and toxic open indoor cooking fires, and managing a daycare for children of women, most from a battered women’s shelter in the community of Llanos de Pinal.

One-on-one language instruction includes special attention to professional vocabulary, a homestay with local residents, a supplemental curriculum, and a community placement for qualified students. Students become a supportive group engendering friendships that will continue beyond their time in Guatemala. Students may decide to remain in Guatemala to continue to volunteer, or occasionally to work in paid positions such as at the Rudolfo Robles Hospital in Xela. Some students, including doctors, have returned several times to Pop Wuj.

The medical program is associated with several universities but individuals, from undergraduates to practicing professionals, are equally welcome. Medical students, public health professionals, nurses, doctors, EMTs, physical therapists, and others have attended. The program is structured to include four weeks of study and begins on the first Monday of every month. Students study Spanish with their teacher for four hours every morning, then meet as a group in the afternoons to learn the history, anthropology, economics, and politics of Guatemala.

Students in the medical program are introduced to practicums in the first week, and as their language skills and cultural awareness increase they spend more of their time in the community. Their exact placements depend on student interest as well as their medical expertise and level of Spanish. Placements include work in local clinics, with midwives, in a local lab, or participating in home visit data collection.

Prospective medical program students can find more information on their website, including participant reports from previous medical program students, email addresses of former students, a list of what items to pack, and a wish list of medical supplies.

Also open to all, the social work program is newer and less organized than the medical program. Targeted individuals include students and professional social workers, community organizers, activists, and counselors. Morning immersion classes are supplemented with workshops, conferences, and panels designed to educate about Latin American religion and culture. Students are placed in two weeks of supervised field placements in the area around Xela and can also volunteer at the daycare at Llanos de Pinal.

Although more expensive than the regular immersion program tuition, costs are extremely reasonable. Nonrefundable registration for the medical program is $165 and is considered a donation to the volunteer programs of the collective. The weekly cost of the medical and health care program is $200, which covers a homestay including three meals a day. Social work program participants pay a registration fee of $150 and a weekly fee of $190. Preregistration is required for both programs.

For More Info

Asociación Pop Wuj, Primera Calle, 17-72, Zona 1 Quetzaltenango, Guatemala Tel & Fax: +502 (7761) 8286.

Health Services and Medical Care: Contact Jorge Archila (

Social Work and Community Organizing: Contact Carmen de Alvarado (

Related Topics
Language Study Abroad
Language Schools in Guatemala
Volunteer in Guatemala

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