Just a year after ending a less-than-successful stint at university, I unexpectedly found myself back in the classroom. I was about to embark on the 15 week Kingdoms & Carnivals trip with Oasis Overland, and my Spanish seriously needed some work!
I knew the basics: “hola!”, “gracias”, “uno cerveza por favor”, but not enough to get by outside a bar or restaurant environment, so I signed up to a week of Spanish lessons in Quito, Ecuador. The lessons were at Atahualpa Spanish School, and I would be staying with a local family for the week so I could practice what I’d learned that day and get a feel for life in South America.
The night before my first da, I met my Ecuadorian family and they welcomed me into their home. I was nervous, sat round the dinner table with people I’d just met, trying to communicate in a language I didn’t have much of a grasp on. However, by the end of the first meal I had managed to maintain a basic conversation, and ended being taught the Spanish versions of a few favourite Disney songs by my new five year old “sister”.
Each day started with breakfast, then “mum” walked me to school and I had a morning lesson of conversational Spanish, with my teacher Lusmille. We’d then take the bus into central Quito, and Lusmille would take me round the various cultural and historical sites in the city, much of which is a UNESCO World Heritage site with plenty of reminders of its role as an important centre, before and during the colonial era, and over the course of the independence struggle and into the modern era as the capital of Ecuador.
It was great having my own personal tour guide taking round the city. She only spoke to me in Spanish, which I was surprised to find I could actually understand quite well! We’d then have lunch in a local restaurant or market and head back to school for my afternoon lessons. My other teacher, Juan, taught me grammar and vocabulary. It may sound a bit dry, but these were my favourite lessons and helped me immensely with my conversations.
School was tiring, but as soon as I got home I did my homework; a model student and a stark contrast from my actual schooldays!
Evenings usually consisted of a delicious family dinner and an early night, but on the Friday during my stay there coincided with a festival in the city centre and my family invited me to go along. I said “si, porque no?!” and we set off to the Old Town with various aunts, cousins and grandparents in tow. We wandered along the cobbled streets, past food stalls and street performers until we reached our destination: a restaurant with a courtyard where all the tables had been pushed back to make a dancefloor. We shared a jug of some kind of warm alcoholic juice. Then the band arrived and everyone got up to dance. I was keen to show off the one salsa move I had learnt on my previous travels in South America, but after a few songs I realised everyone was actually dancing merengue, and I had no idea what I was doing! It was great fun all the same, and a unique experience. I was the only “gringo” there, and towards the end of the night one of my aunts got the crowd to chant “Ingleterra, Ingleterra!” every time I got up to dance!
I learned a lot more than I thought I would during my time at Spanish school, and I enjoyed it a lot more that I’d expected as well! I’m not close to being fluent yet, but Spanish school gave me the confidence to practice conversation with the people I meet and has really enhanced my experience in South America, a continent where not a huge amount of English is spoken so far – I liked it so much I’m doing it again in October!
You can add a one-week Spanish School and Quito Cultural Program with a family homestay like Rachel to any Oasis Overland trip starting or finishing in Quito, with prices starting from £395 a week, including lessons, accommodation, some meals and guided tours of Quito. Selecti it as an ‘add-on’ before or after booking by logging into your Oasis account. We can also add volunteering projects, or Spanish lessons of a longer duration, and cater for all abilities from beginner to fluent. For more information, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.