Frequentley Asked Questions



Frequentley Asked Questions

Program Basics and Details (6) >>>

*How competitive is the program?

Competition for our program is strong and we select between 12 and 16 applicants to participate in each group.  We generally receive between 60 and 80 applicants for each session. There are two 5-Month sessions per year: one from January through June and the second from July through December.


*What is the ideal applicant?

Overseas/travel experience and prior knowledge of the Spanish language are not requisites. We are looking for recent college grads who have been accepted or are planning on applying to grad school, are applying and/or have been accepted and/or applying to be PAs, nurses, doctors, health care, educators, legal or social services professionals, etc. and are interested in, and who have been involved in serving their communities, have the desire and aptitude to learn a new language, and lastly have the commitment to put into practice all that they have learned throughout their careers.  An openness to learn about new cultures; an ability to live in a cross cultural situation where you may struggle with the language, and being away from home and your everyday luxuries, are all important factors to consider when applying.


*In terms of encouraging participants to continue working with the Latino community after completing the program, does the program set up its participants with jobs or volunteer opportunities upon returning the US-Canada?

Sites you work in afterward depend on you. Somos Hermanos has a database of opportunities based on where alumni have worked or are working, but we don't have specific projects set up.  You are allowed to pick your own sites in order to maintain a level of flexibility.


*How can I apply for financial aid?

Somos Hermanos makes every effort to ensure that the opportunity to participate in the program is not determined by financial constraints. The program has been priced in order to ensure the highest quality experience for participants while also maintaining affordability. That said, we understand that the price of the program may still be out of reach for some.

The Student Immersion Program has a small fund for scholarships which are awarded on the basis of financial need. To be considered for aid, you must fill out a separate financial aid application.

We also encourage all students to seek outside scholarships on an individual level. We can send you some links to get you started, and we also recommend that you try to find local scholarships, as this will usually be your best bet for receiving assistance.

We encourage all students to apply to our program, regardless of economic deterrents, as we feel strongly that financial status should NOT determine the availability of opportunities like this.


*I am planning to apply to graduate schools during this program. Were you applying to any graduate schools during that time? Were there any real problems?  Is it possible to fly back for interviews?

We understand that many of you are in the process of applying to graduate school and may need to return to the U.S. or Canada for interviews.  In this case, please work with the Somos Hermanos In Country Coordinators in order to schedule your absence from the program at times that will least affect your participation in the SIP, and for the least amount of time possible. In the past, we have been able to write letters to admissions officers requesting special rescheduling of interviews due to extenuating circumstances (i.e. participating in a program outside of the U.S./Canada).  This can help to simplify your interview schedule and to minimize the amount of the program that you miss.

*What is your refund policy? 

  1. Participants accepted into the program are required to make a total of three payments to “Somos  Hermanos SIP”: $850; $3,500; and $3,500.
  2.  The $850 deposit is 100% non-refundable, no  exceptions.
  3.  If a participant drops out of the “Somos  Hermanos SIP” after paying the second payment of  $3,500; “Somos Hermanos SIP” will ONLY refund $2,000.00.
  4. If a participant drops out of the “Somos Hermanos SIP” after the third and final payment of $3,500; “Somos Hermanos SIP” will NOT refund the total $7,850.00 paid.

Med quote


Somos Hermanos is more than just a Spanish immersion program that taught me Spanish. It gave me the opportunity to gain a new perspective on issues that I never would have had a chance to expose myself to staying in the states and I was able to see how medicine is practiced in Guatemala.

The interactions with acquaintances, and finally the relationships I forged during Somos Hermanos will stay with me forever. Guatemala is the country that made me a better, more aware, and most importantly, a more understanding person who is able to connect with many more people than I would have been able to before.

--Rekha Krishnasarma, MD, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Spring 2008 participant




Med quote


Somos Hermanos is more than just a Spanish immersion program that taught me Spanish. It gave me the opportunity to gain a new perspective on issues that I never would have had a chance to expose myself to staying in the states and I was able to see how medicine is practiced in Guatemala.

The interactions with acquaintances, and finally the relationships I forged during Somos Hermanos will stay with me forever. Guatemala is the country that made me a better, more aware, and most importantly, a more understanding person who is able to connect with many more people than I would have been able to before.

--Rekha Krishnasarma, MD, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California, Spring 2008 participant





Your safety--from the moment you arrive at the airport--is of utmost importance to us, and thankfully we have not had anything more than pickpocketing happen to any of our participants. We give everyone detailed info on how to be safe while in Central America and as in-country program staff who have been living in Guatemala long-term, we have lots of experience and knowledge on where to go and where not to go and how to be safe on a daily basis.

The program is based in Xela, a smaller city quite far away (4 hours) from Guatemala City and with much less crime. It is a college town, full of young people and you can walk almost anywhere you need to go within the city core. All of the family home stays are within a 15 minute walking distance from the Spanish school and from each other. Thus everyone is in close proximity.

We meet on a regular basis in-person with the participants throughout the program so we can always keep them up to date on what is happening during the week. During the first two months, in-person contact is daily as participants are in full-time language classes at the Spanish school.  

There is more crime in Guatemala than the average North American city; however, the majority of crime is concentrated in Guatemala City, which is 4 hours away from Xela, a much smaller, calmer, and safer town.

In addition, if you use common sense and take some simple precautions, you can avoid most problems. Most crimes against tourists are opportunity crimes so if you do not give the criminal the opportunity it should lower your chances of becoming a victim. Here are some basic rules:

  • Don’t walk around at night--take a taxi
  • Don’t travel at night
  • Don’t hike the volcanoes alone
  • Leave expensive jewellery, watches, rings, and gadgets at home.
  • Dress conservatively
  • Be aware and alert of your surroundings at all times day or night
  • Avoid dark, lonely streets
  • Avoid large crowds of people protesting
  • Be polite and try to speak Spanish even if it is not perfect
  • Know the words for help - "Ayudame" or "Auxilio" and use them if you get into trouble

A Statement from the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala

Guatemala, October 28, 2015

U.S. Department of State
Office of the Spokesperson Statement by John Kirby, Spokesperson
Certification of Final Presidential Election Results in Guatemala

The United States congratulates president-elect Jimmy Morales and looks forward to working with his administration. The Guatemalan people have shown a commitment to combat corruption and impunity. The new administration now has an unprecedented opportunity to work for them to enact reform legislation that will enhance anti-corruption efforts.

We trust president-elect Morales will seek to work with his citizens and the Guatemalan Congress to stimulate economic growth, reduce crime and violence, promote educational opportunities, target criminal networks responsible for human trafficking, and help create transparent and accountable governance and institutions.

We also congratulate the Guatemalan people on a peaceful and orderly election. We applaud the political parties for their commitment to nonviolence throughout the electoral process, and we commend civil society organizations and other key stakeholders for their efforts to strengthen civic engagement in the democratic process.

Finally, we recognize the professional work of Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and highlight the positive role played by international observers, including the Organization of American States, whose presence helped to ensure a transparent, free, and fair electoral process.


*What was the city like? Did you find Xela a nice place to live? Did you live in the city or outside of it?

Xela is a smaller city that has everything you would need.  For the most part you can walk the whole city or there are mini vans (micros) you can take.  Xela is a hub for students and so the social life is fun and while you still stand out as a tourist, you are not alone.  You will live in the city within walking distance of the school which makes everything really convenient.  By the time you leave, you will call Xela home.


*How is the weather in Xela?

Because Xela is at such a high altitude, it is usually cooler, especially at night.  During the rainy season, it will rain almost every afternoon, so bring shoes and a coat that are rain friendly!  Other than that though, there are lots of blue sky days and the nature around the city is beautiful.


*Is there stable internet and phone connection during your entire stay there? How did you communicate with family and friends in the U.S.? How did you communicate with other students in the program? Are cell phones available?

Yes, there is Internet in Xela; the Spanish school has WiFi, as do the majority of cafes and restaurants around town, so most students bring their laptops.  You can use the Spanish school wireless from Monday through Friday 8AM-5PM and on the weekends you can visit an internet cafe.

Internet cafes can be found on most street corners and are very economic – around $0.50 an hour. Almost all of these cafes have cameras so that you can use Skype.

Cell phones, including smartphones, are also very popular with locals. We recommend that you buy a cheap cell phone here in Guatemala, or a SIM chip, to use for calls home and to other participants. An economic phone will cost around $20 and the phone cards are pre-paid so you can choose how much money you want to spend on calls as you go along. 





*What resources are there if you get sick?

The Somos Hermanos SIP employs two In Country Employees; they are responsible for the administration and running of the program; our Country Manager has worked with the program since 2008 and is from Canada, and our Field Coordinator is usually American and rotates every 6-12 months. They are dedicated to making sure that every participant receives quality health care when necessary.

The Field Coordinator travels with the group on all program activities. He/she goes on the trips to Oaxaca and El Salvador and is available 24/7.

As a participant if you get sick all you need to do is contact one of the in-country staff and they will accompany you to a doctor, pharmacy, laboratory and or hospital if necessary. Participation and payment of the program includes travel health insurance and this insurance includes airlift to the U.S./Canada in case of emergency.



*How were the living conditions? How sanitary was it? Dirt floors? Running water? Electricity?

The home stays are comprised of middle and upper-lower class Guatemalans families. You will have your own bedroom with a bed, linens and a blanket, a work table, and access to the family bathroom. Bathrooms have running water, lukewarm water showers and regular flush toilets. The only rule is: “No toilet paper in the toilet!”

The most rustic conditions you will encounter will be during some of our weekend trips to rural villages. In these cases the families live in remote areas where there is no running water or electricity; they have outhouses and dirt floors.


*What did you enjoy about staying with host-family?

"Conversation with my host father, going out with my host sister and running at the track with the other house guest.  Eating typical Guatemalan dishes. It was a great opportunity to use your Spanish and learn more about the culture."

--Stephanie Lew, Physical Therapist, DPT, University of Miami


*What problems did you encounter at your home-stay?

“While I was very grateful that my host mom liked to cook (rather than serving fast food), I didn’t like all of the dishes she prepared – so those days I politely ate less and had to buy other food. It was also a little difficult to adjust to the food. Lots of black beans and tortillas or white bread at every meal."

--Molly Ainsman, MD, University of Colorado Medical School

Meat is only served every second or third day, dishes are heavy on starches like rice, potatoes and pasta so if you are a serious meat eater you need to come prepared. Most families simply do not have the economic possibilities to eat meal daily.



*Do you need a strong background in Spanish to do the 5-Month immersion program?

No. The Somos Hermanos SIP focuses strongly on the acquisition of the Spanish language and for this reason you do not need to come with prior Spanish knowledge. A number of our participants have arrived with not one single word of Spanish and after five months they left with a high intermediate level. One-on-one intensive Spanish instruction is one of the main components of the program; the program is geared more towards students who have none, a little or a high beginner handle on the language.


*Do they just throw you into Xela and expect that you can successfully communicate?

No, the program is great at easing you into speaking Spanish.  You start classes immediately when you arrive, and the first few lectures will be translated for you.  Only when you are able to understand and feeling more confident will things be conducted exclusively in Spanish.


*How much did your Spanish improve in the 5-month program?

Learning another language is difficult; many of your teachers and families here in Guatemala will say “don’t worry you’ll be speaking Spanish in no time at all,” and to an extent this is true.  However, you need to put in time and study, there are grammar rules, verbs galore and a ton of vocabulary, so although you are in a complete immersion situation, the level which you attain and how quickly you attain it, has a lot to do with how much you apply yourself to the classes and practice. Practice, practice, practice!