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Calling all CPI Spanish School Experts!

Old Apr 1st, 2008, 09:40 AM
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Calling all CPI Spanish School Experts!

I'm starting to plan my next spanish school trip (nov, dec, or jan) and need help from CPI experts.

A year ago, I spent a great week at CPI San Joaquin, and last fall I had a great week in Copan, Honduras. They both had pros and cons: I enjoyed the small-town feel of both places, but found the instruction far superior at CPI. However, when we did excursions in the central valley, I felt like things were a bit too touristy for my taste, and guides/drivers wanted to speak English with us, as opposed to in Copan, where everyone spoke Spanish and there was less of a tourist industry. We also had a fabulous homestay at CPI and a less fabulous one in Honduras.

I've been looking at Guatemala, but my travel partner (my cousin) isn't sold on it, and I too have some safety concerns. (Please don't flame me; I know many people love it, but we are still working up to it!) As I research, I keep drifting back to the CPI web site, in particular the Flamingo campus.

For folks that have been to Flamingo & San Joaquin, can you compare and contrast? I'm interested in

-quality of instruction
-the homestay/family involvement
-amount of English spoken in the community you lived in and how touristy it is
-the other students: is there a spring break atmosphere?

I feel like Monteverde would be even more touristy, but I could be wrong and am open to hearing about that, too.

I appreciate any help you can provide!
Best,
Melissa
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 09:58 AM
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I have a great recommendation for Guat if you become interested in the future. Happy trails!
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 10:06 AM
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Thanks, hopefulist! I loved your pics and travel report on your last trip, and really want to do Guatemala at some point, but I think it's not likely to be this trip. But I will definitely check back in when it's on the table.
Best,
Melissa
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 10:34 AM
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My experience with Flamingo campus was a few years ago. I loved the beach and the homestay because it was less touristy (I did my homestay in Potrero). The school at that time wasn't so great because the class rooms were like saunas and there was a lot of construction going on. I prefered the San Joaquin campus and the Monteverde campus more. I am sure it is much better now. CPI is a good school although I think I got a more rounded class right here at home at my local University. My professora in Monteverde was wonderful. She was the only one that realized that I really had no vocabulary other than the verbs that I had been working on in the rest of the classes. She really worked with me. I would consider taking more classes from them now that I am more advanced. I was totally clueless my first time around. My son took a month up at the Monteverde campus before I did and warned me that I might have trouble because I had no experience to speak of. He did fine and enjoyed the classes but he was much more advanced than I.

I didn't find any of the classes to have a spring break atmosphere. Most of the students I met and hung out with were pretty serious. Many were professionals who needed the spanish for their work. Many were students from Europe. One young girl that I adopted for the duration was from Amsterdam. I took her under my wing and a lot of locals thought we were mother and daughter. After her classes she went on to a volunteer position at a cooperative farm. One couple were tourists from the state that I grew up in and we had a blast together. Great people.

Do consider Guatemala even if you only get to Antiqua. It is a lovely city and there are buses and shuttles to take you out to some of the other places to see. It is touristy which we don't normally like but we really do enjoy that city. Pacaya volcano is a great place to visit from Antigua. Hopefulist had some wonderful experiences that were really off the beaten path with the classes she and a friend took. We went to Guatemala for the first time just a few short years ago and couldn't wait to get back so we went back the very next year. We took this year off because we are building a house in CR but I am really excited about the new Tico Bus that goes up to Guatemala from CR. I can't wait to try it out. It is a fascinating country. So colorful. Costa Rica (other than Tikal) is my favorite place for wildlife and both have amazing things to see in terms of natural beauty. Guatemala has the added bonus of the colorful mayan people.
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 12:56 PM
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Suzie2, I'm going to CPI this summer and will probably be somewhere in the beginner range with fairly limited vocabulary, as you were talking about. Did you feel like it wasn't a good place for beginners? Are there things you'd suggest I do in order to prepare? I've been working with the Rosetta Stone cd roms and also, the Spanish teacher at my school teaches me a new phrase each day at lunch. I realize there's only so much I can do in the next couple months, and I'm going there to learn . . . but just wonder if you have suggestions for folks in the "beginner" situation, looking back?
Thanks!
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 03:12 PM
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mmb23 and teachergirl,

My daughter and I have a combined 16 weeks with CPI. I first experienced it in July of 2003 and again in 2007, June and July. Her study was in the summers of 2004 and 2005.

Although my daughter had several college courses under her belt (she obtained a minor in Spanish), I went there as a beginner in 2003. That summer, I did 2 weeks in San Joaquin and 1 week in Playa Flamingo. The ONLY Spanish I knew was what I had taught myself out of the little turquoise Lonely Planet Costa Rican Spanish Phrase Book as well as a little bit of bumbling during 3 previous trips to Costa Rica.

Thanks to outstanding instruction on both campuses, my knowledge and ability blossomed in those 3 weeks. My Mama Tica (homestay hostess) has always been very patient (we always stay with the same family and are, by now, great friends), and knowing very little of the language hampered me not in the least. I had a fair vocabulary for a beginner and was able to build on it.

In San Joaquin there are many opportunities to speak Spanish. Less so if you are out and about much in Flamingo which is very touristy and the business people would just as soon speak English (since most of them are not Costa Ricans!). Even now, Playa Potrero is overrun with Americans and condo development, so things have changed drastically there, and it is no longer a little town in the country where everyone speaks Spanish!

But don't worry about limited experience. The schools are used to working at that level, believe me. There will be many students to join you in those beginner classes.

When I returned this past year, I was in an advanced class. Stuggled a bit in there (found I needed more vocabulary than I had and should have been more actively obtaining during the 4 years I "rested").

Now I am teaching in a largely Hispanic school and have to do Parent-Teacher conferences in espanol. The practice is very valuable because, if it isn't used fairly often, you DO lose it. It isn't QUITE as easy to regain as riding a bicycle!

Just something you might consider. There is another school about 5-10 minutes away from San Joaquin in the provincial capital of Heredia. Intercultura. I am thinking of giving it a try next time.

Nonstop, who posts here frequently (and is preparing for a 2 week study in Columbia as we speak) has studied there and gives it high marks. He has previous experience in Honduras, Mexico, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Ecuador, so is a pretty good judge of good instuction. He and I were able to meet in Okla. City (at a church service, amazingly enough) a few weeks ago. It was fun to meet up after having conversed on Fodors for a couple of years.

The bus to Heredia stops right in front of my San Joaquin family's home every hour on the hour so I could technically visit them and ride to Heredia to study every a.m. It is a much larger city than San Joaquin, but would offer lots of opportunity for practice.

I've strayed all over the place with my response, but just (bottom line) want you to know that you'll be in good hands at CPI, as I am sure Suzie2 will agree. THE PREPARATION YOU ARE DOING NOW WILL SERVE YOU WELL, AND I CAN'T THINK OF ANYTHING MORE THAN WHAT YOU ARE DOING. San Joaquin is such a great little town. Like a second home to us.

One more thing: studying there in the summer does pose one "hazard". There will be a lot of college and high school students. Last year, there were too many of the really young ones, traveling alone (I'm talking 15, and I didn't care for the atmosphere it lent to the campus or the classroom. I think many of the schools are perfectly willing to accept the $$, regardless of the age. This is a mistake because, on any campus, that will degrade the experience for serious learners.

I'm not bashing the kids, many of them are serious, but believe me, it doesn't take many of the seriously immature to create plenty of havoc. There needs to be a limit on age or even perhaps a requirement of recommendations from teachers in the U.S. As a teacher, I know exactly which students I could recommend to have the maturity to handle that experience and which could not.

It is a special problem for the homestay folks (and grossly unfair) to have kids who are disrespectful, refuse to eat the family's cooking, hang out with their equally disrespectful friends until all hours of the a.m., and generally make no effort to bond with the family.

Thanks, all, for letting me get that off my chest once again! The only way to avoid that is to study during Sept. or October or other months (during the typical school year). Of course, then, as Suzie2 said, you also miss out on meeting those great kids who are serious learners and whose company is a lot of fun.

By the way, Playa Flamingo DOES have a reputation for being more of a party school, how could it not? It's a beach town, for heaven's sake, and close to Tamarindo! Maybe that isn't EVERYONE'S experience, but generally speaking, it is true.

Good luck!
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 03:57 PM
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This is all great information, thanks so much to Suzie and Shillmac for sharing. I think I need to keep researching and thinking and determining the best combo (for us) of stretching our boundaries vs. touristy/easier.

I welcome more input if others want to share.

Many thanks,
Melissa
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Old Apr 1st, 2008, 06:17 PM
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I guess I can count myself lucky that I studied and homestayed in Flamingo when I did. It sure wasn't a party school when I went. Other than a fun night on the beach having a bonfire and singing it was pretty tame. Another factor you might think about is time of year. I went during the end of January into early Feb. when most college kids were in class. I would say 80% of the people that were in the school at that time were in the medical field and trying to learn some spanish because of the huge growth in spanish speaking people in their areas back in the states.

I was not favorably impressed with the changes in the Flamingo area that I saw last summer. It was never a huge place but it had some cute little shops. Those are now incorporated into condos that they built after tearing down half the town. As I was heading out on a sailboat I could see a lot of growth along the coastline towards Potrero as well.

I am going to look into spanish classes in the San Isidro area as well. That is not a touristy place at all and I found my spanish improving by leaps and bounds because just about everything I did had to be done in spanish.
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 03:30 AM
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We went to spanish school in La Guacima, a small town in the central valley near Alajuela. The only tourist attraction is the butterfly farm. The students at the school are the only foreigners in town. It was a pretty good immersion environment for CR. We stayed on campus but went to a homestay family for meals. The majority of the students stayed with families. The name of the school is El Rancho de Espanol. It is Costa Rican owned and operated.

I enjoyed my classes and learned alot, as did my son. My husband who was a complete beginner did not (He took a year or 2 of German in high school > 30 yrs ago, and really struggled, I believe the issue was with him rather than the school but this did negatively impact our stay.)

There was a wide range of students there with several students who were returning for a second time.

On our way to Samara we met a couple who had been studying at Intercultura, they were transferring to the Samara campus for a week. They spoke highly of that school
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 04:00 AM
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Thanks for sharing that with everyone. I know that Intercultura has to be excellent or my friend (with all the language school experience) wouldn't have given it such high marks. The only downside I can think of it that it is in a larger town. That wouldn't bother many people, but some prefer the smaller town atmosphere.

Heredia is an interesting little town and fun to visit. Plenty of ATM's, restaurants, even American chains, if you get a craving for Pizza Hut! It has a market (and everyone needs go visit a Costa Rican indoor market!), several parks, a great mall, and is very near to In-BioParque (probably didn't say that right), a botanical garden well known outside of Costa Rica.

From Heredia it is a hop and a skip to La Paz Waterfall Gardens, Poas Volcano, and any number of other interesting side trips.

So for those who would like the busy-ness of a larger town (and the availability of more restaurants, activities, etc), Intercultura would be a great fit.

I know I'm being long winded again, but let me paint a picture for you of a beginner Spanish student (me) during my first school experience:

I met several lovely ladies (my age) first day at CPI. I "hung" with them some as well as with the 3 students in my class (another lady my age, also a teacher, and a couple of college kids, one a Yalie working on a MBA). Back in 2003, there were no 15 year olds at CPI.

During the second week (after a large group of us had visited Heredia with a guide from the school the first afternoon), one of the ladies invited me to go to Heredia with her for dinner. She was a university professor from West Virginia and an author of several books. I couldn't go with her, for some reason, but agreed to meet her for dinner at 7:30.

That meant I had to take a bus (new experience and remember, very limited Spanish) after dark (didn't even know where the bus stop was in San Joaquin), get off in Heredia, and find that restaurant on the streets of Heredia--after dark--alone.

Our meeting place was a French cafe (I still go there occasionally) that had a jazz group on Wednesday evenings. I had a map of Heredia provided by the school. I literally had counted the blocks ahead of time, knew exactly how many blocks to go from the park, where to turn, how many more blocks to go, where to turn, ect., ect.,

All went well, but when I arrived at the right building, I discovered the restaurant had moved a couple of years before. I managed to find someone to understand my awful Spanish, and they found the new location for me (which was another block south and a half block east).

Voila! Found the restaurant, found Linda, enjoyed a lovely meal and the jazz band. We rode the bus back to San Joaquin together, and about 11:30, I walked back to my homestay, a very happy and liberated woman! At 49, I had NEVER done anything so daring!

Point? Sometimes we can surprise ourselves at how much we can actually do (that we never would have thought possible). Any worries you have now are probably totally unfounded! So just make your decision, plan your fun, and have a GREAT time!
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Old Apr 2nd, 2008, 10:28 AM
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thanks for the san isidro and la guacima tips, and for all the great stories. It makes me want to leave tomorrow!
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