Speaking Spanish is something I've always pictured for myself. I imagine myself traveling Spain having conversation with locals, learning more about culture, and speaking Spanish to friends and acquaintances in the United States. After two years of Spanish classes in high school (10 years ago, yikes), I honestly forgot most of what I'd learned. I put "learn Spanish" at the bottom of my bucket list because, well, I have time, right?
However, when we changed course completely and ended up in Argentina, I found myself wishing that bucket list item had been a bit higher on the list. Sure, Daniel and I knew enough to get by, but were we really fulfilled? The further north we traveled in South America, the more remote our locations had become. English speakers were rare and we found ourselves with more questions than we could express. How long does it take the women to sew one outfit? What is in that empanada and is it possible to make a vegetarian version? Can we leave our bags here and come back in 3 hours to pick them up? We were at a loss.
After becoming a bit frustrated, we had a brilliant idea: why don't we enroll in Spanish school? We have the time now (we aren't teaching online at the moment) and it makes sense to do it now while we can be fully immersed. Our search began and we very quickly discovered Habla Ya Spanish Schools. Habla Ya is located in Panama in three unique locations. This was a selling point for us because we could continue to travel Panama and take classes along the way. We spent three weeks learning, studying, and speaking Spanish for four hours each day. Daniel and I still have a long way to go learning the language, but we definitely feel much more confident. Each night, we study with flashcards and hope to take more classes in the near future.
Our first week was spent at the Panama City campus. Fresh off the boat from the San Blas islands, we were on lazy island time and knew we had to kick our butts into gear. After completing an oral interview of sorts, we realized how poor our Spanish really was. We began at square one, which was necessary to be able to progress in the future. We found our classes to be dynamic, interactive, and fun! They were a perfect blend of traditional learning and speaking loosely with our classmates and teacher. During the week, we had class each day and also went on a variety of cultural activities to further our Spanish learning experience. We spent a few hours wandering through the Miraflores Locks Museum and seeing boats pass through the Panama canal. Another afternoon, we visited the ruins of Panamá Viejo. Daniel and I even went to see A Star Is Born in theater (with Spanish subtitles). Overall, the first week taught us that we had a long way to go and also brought back memories of high school Spanish class.
With the first week jitters gone, we rode a bus to the mountain destination of Boquete. Sitting 4,000 feet above sea level, we were welcomed with crisp air and intense sunshine. Boquete, a popular retirement destination, is known for its outdoor activities such as horseback riding, volcano trekking, and whitewater rafting. Coffee grows plentifully in the rich soil of the region. This week, we were lucky enough to live with a Spanish-speaking family in the hills of Boquete. Their rapid Spanish really put us to the test and had us diving head first into Spanish sentence structures and verbs. We had many awkward conversations with the family, one being when I told them we had our own 'sopa' (soup) for laundry instead of jabón (soap). Our teacher, Kimberly, at Habla Ya was so kind and patient with us. We learned leaps and bounds with her! During the week, we visited the butterfly farm, the Boquete Visitor's Center, and El Explorador Gardens. Also, make sure to stop at the brewery for some delicious beer and live music!
bocas del toro
With much anticipation, we left Boquete for a group of islands called Bocas del Toro. We'd heard that most students at Habla Ya opt to study at the Bocas campus because the promise of beaches, diving, and island vibes are too hard to pass up. Unfortunately for us, it rained the majority of the time we were there. It didn't just rain a little bit each day. It downpoured all day long, flooding the streets of Bocas. Finally, after our week of class, we were granted a break in the clouds and some sunshine each day. Our class was a bit larger in Bocas del Toro with a total of six students. Classes run in the morning at this campus, so our classmates would all head out to go scuba diving each afternoon. Daniel and I mostly laid low, enjoying many happy hours overlooking the ocean, cooking dinner, attending yoga at Bocas Yoga, and getting some work done.
After diligently studying Spanish for three weeks, we are proud of our progress. We're nowhere near fluent (maybe a little closer to proficient), but this was a perfect introduction back into the language.
Just yesterday, we found ourselves in a cab in San Jose, Costa Rica. We were absorbing the hustle and bustle of the city, eyes glued to the window. But, we quickly realized that something was different this time: we were talking and laughing with the cab driver in Spanish.
Driver: Ustedes hablan español?
Daniel: Sí, más o menos. Conocemos mucho español pero no todos los verbos y vocabulario.
Driver: Estás haciendo perfecto!
Habla Ya does a great job of organizing outside events that dual as learning experiences, helping their students find housing, and creating a community atmosphere. If you're looking to study Spanish, we recommend getting in contact with Habla Ya here. Don't forget to mention that we sent you!
Por el amor y la adventura,