Despite the hype, Daniel Ward recommends two of the safest cities in North America for Spanish immersion
Having traveled to Mexico twice in the last six months with my wife and three young children, and felt completely safe and comfortable, even while driving through border towns, it’s disheartening to hear how difficult it is for Mexican educators to convince Americans that it’s safe for them and their children to study in the country.
Lonely Planet’s New York-based U.S. editor, Robert Reid, who has been traveling to Mexico since he was a child, agrees with the vast majority of reporters who consider the warnings against travel to Mexico to be out of context. While citing that the drug violence in Mexico should be taken seriously, he writes: “What you don’t get from most reports in the U.S. is statistical evidence that Americans are less likely to face violence on average in Mexico than at home, particularly when you zero in on Mexico’s most popular travel destinations.”
“In 2011, Mexico welcomed a record number of 22.7 million international visitors,” according to Cesar Mendoza, of the Mexico Tourism Board.”
Most of Mexico is not on the State Department’s Travel Warning, and even though President Obama and the First Lady allowed their 13-year-old daughter to visit Oaxaca for Spring Break, the two most well-known destinations for Spanish immersion students are much safer cities: Cuernavaca and Guadalajara.
Cuernavaca, the city of eternal spring, is beyond all else, a university town, and as such it bursts with the energy and excitement that all those students bring to the city and its cultural life.
Thanks to its academic institutions, climate, history and proximity to Mexico City, many intellectuals and artists have made it their home so a city with a relatively small population (about half a million) still manages to be one of the most vibrant in the country. Many cultural events take place there, including poetry readings, concerts, ballet and theater performances, as well as art exhibitions. If you’re looking for more interactive cultural experiences, you can always make the most of the discos and music bars until the early hours of the morning.
In all, Cuernavaca is an exciting, intellectually stimulating, and beautiful place to study. Its unique combination of college-town excitement and intellectualism and its deeply rooted cultural history make it an excellent choice for study abroad.
Selected schools in Cuernavaca
Since 1980, Universidad Internacional’s Center for Linguistic & Multicultural Studies has been a leader in teaching Spanish to foreign students. Their goal is to help students bring themselves closer to fluency, while teaching them the invaluable lessons involved in getting to know a new culture. Year after year, the center welcomes new students, while former students return to continue their Spanish studies. Their philosophy is that education is a powerful tool that will not only enhance personal knowledge and skills, but also contribute to the prosperity and wellbeing of Mexico and students’ home countries. The experience is about more than acquiring a degree or learning a new language. It is about helping to open the door into our global society so that all students can gain a broader understanding of the world and its people.
Ideal School is much more than just Spanish lessons. They offer the opportunity to experience daily life of Mexico up close through its people and language. Learning Spanish should be an important cultural experience. Coming to Mexico to learn Spanish also means learning that Mexican food is much more than tacos, that “5 de Mayo” is different from Independence Day, and that a Mexican family is a close-knit group of 40 or more. The staff and teachers consider it a professional and personal challenge to help students experience the intimacies of Mexican life while learning Spanish. For more than 37 years they have combined diverse language acquisition theories and our expertise in understanding the needs of our students; to create the “Ideal methodology.”
Cuernavaca Language School
The Cuernavaca Language School (CLS), founded in 1960 by Ivan Illich as a part of the Centro Intercultural de Documentación, better known as CIDOC, offers total immersion programs all year-round. The time-tested program takes an eclectic approach which combines both traditional and current language teaching principles to facilitate rapid improvement in Spanish language regardless of the student’s current ability. It aims to improve the four language skills, grammatical reflection, and knowledge and comprehension of the Mexican culture. Class size never exceeds four students and may be smaller. Every member of the instructional staff is a native Spanish speaker who has received rigorous training in the teaching of Spanish as a foreign language from certified professionals. The personalized attention, effective method of instruction, friendly atmosphere, homestay accommodations and the charming environment provide students with a unique and rewarding experience.
Instituto Chac-Mool (ICM) uses the Natural Approach, focusing on interactive learning and not tedious grammar drills that can leave the student lacking speaking and comprehension skills. The school carefully selects qualified native speakers to teach Spanish and their training includes Gardner’s Theory of Seven Intelligences allowing the teacher to make informed decisions on how to best present materials to each individual. ICM attracts students of all nationalities, Spanish levels, and ages. Student goals range from travel and everyday Spanish to terminology and dialog specific to professions such as medicine, social work, business, and law. Focused programs include classes and workshops for the “young at heart”, for children and teens, and for educators. Peer group or individual lessons are offered year round for as short as one week. Tuition includes private tutoring sessions and the very popular Latin dance lessons and Mexican cooking classes. Optional cultural excursions are scheduled for the weekends. Their philosophy is that language learning can be fun.
CETLALIC was founded in 1987 as a progressive school, integrating intensive study of Spanish language with experiential cultural learning and analysis of current issues with grassroots organizations and others. Their Spanish language program is demanding, but in a friendly atmosphere. Paulo Freire’s methodology is applied to the teaching of Spanish as a second language and students are expected to contribute their insights and ask the questions necessary for critical analysis. Teachers are native speakers with professional training and extensive experience. Classes are limited to five students. CETLALIC is accredited by the Ministry of Public Education in Mexico. CETLALIC is also a founder of AIPEC (Association of Spanish Language Schools in Cuernavaca) and of AMIE (Mexicans Association of Spanish Language Schools). Living with a Mexican family is an integral part of the program. All families welcome LGBTQ students. CETLALIC is small and their staff is able to attend to the needs of each student. They welcome all students irrespective of nationality, ethnic origin, race, gender, sexual preference, or age.
Guadalajara, Mexico’s second city in terms of size, population, and influence, has been called the “Pearl of the West,” and the “City of Roses.” It has been a vital part of Mexico’s history for many centuries, and is now very popular with students thanks to it being a bustling, modern metropolis with charm and beauty born of its long history.
Regarded as the birthplace of Mariachi and charreadas (rodeos), Guadalajara is a center for culture and folklore. The city is also home to the Universidad de Guadalajara, a prestigious school founded in the 18th century which continues today to be a driving force in higher education worldwide.
Locals refer to their city as the ‘Silicon Valley of Mexico’ as a number of big companies have facilities there, including General Electric, IBM, Hitachi, and Hewlett Packard.
Despite being a large, modern city, its people are extremely friendly and welcoming to international students.
Selected schools in Guadalajara
IMAC Spanish Language Programs has been running for 40 years. It is the only Spanish language school in Mexico to be accredited by all of the following: Instituto Cervantes/The Ministry for Education of Spain; the Secretary of Education of Mexico; and CENNI by the government of Mexico. The school is also an accredited DELE testing center and Bildungsurlaub accredited in eight German federal states.
Moreover, IMAC has been granted status as a Socially Responsible Institution. They pride themselves on achieving quality standards in the teaching of Spanish and meeting all legal requirements for carrying out teaching activities. Their qualified and trained staff has access to various cutting-edge teaching resources and teach within an effective course structure that guarantees progress. There is a maximum number of students per class for a personalized learning experience and certificates are issued upon completion.
Colegio de Español y Cultura Mexicana (CECM)
The Colegio de Español y Cultura Mexicana (CECM) has built excitement and depth into their programs. Their basic idea is that Mexican Spanish ‘grows’ in students, as they move through a range of carefully planned cultural and linguistic experiences. With over 60 years of experience, the Colegio is part of the University of Guadalajara — one of Mexico’s finest universities. Students get classes, conversation, culture, history, literature, art, music, cooking, cinema, as well as tours and excursions. They offer regular Spanish and content courses as well as online Spanish courses, custom-made courses, summer programs, volunteer, and internship programs. Students can earn university credits and international certifications. First-rate teachers, a homestay program, workshops, tours, immigration assistance, and airport transfers ensure that students have a great time outside the classroom as well.
Daniel Ward, editor of Language Magazine, is always happy to find an excuse to visit Mexico.