Our program is broken into three phases that entail a mix of one-on-one language instruction, community based volunteering, cultural activities and lectures, and a trip to both El Salvador and Oaxaca, Mexico.
Due to the time commitment of the program, students typically participate in their gap year following the completion of their undergraduate degrees and before entering into a graduate program. However, Somos Hermanos does accept individuals who are currently enrolled in, or have recently completed a graduate program.
The first phase is comprised of 13 weeks of one-on-one tutor style Spanish classes, 4 hours a day - 5 days a week, a one week break when participants visit Mexico, and a one week Spring/Fall free travel week.
During the second phase of the program students engage in a two-week delegation to El Salvador.
During the final phase of the program, Phase 3, participants volunteer full-time with community organizations and participate in group discussion classes. In week 21, students present a "Final Project" in Spanish on the topic of their choice related to Latin America, immigration, health care, etc.
In total the program is comprised of 21 weeks or 5 months
The cornerstone of the Somos Hermanos Student Immersion Programs is intensive, one-on-one language instruction. Teacher-student pairs are rotated throughout the program so that the students are exposed to a variety of teaching styles and idiosyncrasies in accent and style. This also keeps classes interesting and engaging for both students and teachers.
Somos Hermanos employs a lead teacher with more than 25 years of experience who runs our "Technical Department." The "DT" as it is referred to in Spanish, is in charge of: quality control, administering and grading exams, overseeing weekly study plans, and the overall trajectory of study for each participant.
Somos Hermanos partners with a Spanish school in Quetzaltenango. It holds accreditation from the Guatemalan Ministry of Education, and INGUAT, the Guatemalan tourist board.
All language instructors are trained and certified in teaching Spanish as a Second Language, with specialties in all areas of grammar for all levels of students (from absolute beginners to advanced students). The Spanish school has been chosen according to careful criteria and provides a welcoming atmosphere for students during their stay in Guatemala.
Life in Xela
Life in Xela
The program is located in the city of Quetzaltenango (more commonly known as Xela, which is the shortened version of the indigenous K'iche' name Xelaju). Xela is the second largest city in Guatemala, with about 250,000 residents; however it has a unique mix of ladino and indigenous cultures. The city is located at an altitude of 2,333 meters (8,000 ft) between several volcanoes, which results in warm days, cold nights, and very few mosquitoes.
An integral component of the Student Immersion Program is the chance to live with wonderful Guatemalan host families. This gives students firsthand cultural experiences while greatly improving their language skills. We often place two students in each family, each with their own private bedroom, however you can also request to be the only student in your host family. The majority of our families have been working with foreign and Guatemalan borders for many years and have been carefully picked by the Spanish school together with the program staff in Guatemala. All homestays are located within walking distance of the school and bus stops where you can take public transportation to any of the volunteer projects.
Each family varies in make-up and personalities. Some households may consist of a single "stay at home" mother, with or without children in the house, and some may be very large with extended family members such as cousins and grandparents.
Guatemala has three distinct geographical regions that dramatically vary in elevation and landscape, providing sharp contrasts between its hot, humid tropical lowlands and its colder, drier highland peaks. The Mayans were dominant in the country until the arrival of the Spanish in the 17th century. Today, Guatemala’s people are 59% Ladino, 40.5% Mayan, and less than 1% white or indigenous non-Mayan (CIA Fact Book). With a total population of approximately 15 million, Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America.
While Guatemala is rich in cultural heritage as well as natural resources and has the largest economy in Central America, the country has the second most unequal distribution of wealth in the hemisphere. It is estimated that the majority of its people live in poverty. Most of its poor are indigenous Mayans who have suffered a long history of repression, including the 36-year armed civil conflict. Although significant progress has been made since the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, Guatemala is still challenged by migrations to the US, natural disasters, gang violence, crime, and the corrosive effects of narco-trafficking.
We advise that you do a bit of research on Guatemala and Central America on your own so that you are better prepared to understand the situation here. There are countless online resources and books about Guatemala and its history and current issues, some books include:
In Focus Guatemala: A Guide to the People, Politics and Culture
Guatemala: Never Again!
I, Rigoberta Menchu: An Indian Woman in Guatemala
Bitter Fruit: The Story of the American Coup in Guatemala
Buried Secrets: Truth and Human Rights in Guatemala
And many, many more...
Somos Hermanos highly recommends that you read as much about Guatemala as you can before arriving to help you get the most out of the experience.