a more comprehensive view of Spanish school

A while back I was discussing this blog with Mother, and she suggested that I do a post about Spanish school. The idea had not really occurred to me. I think it was a good one. It is a bit hard to keep track of who knows what details about my life here in Cusco. I am in rather close and regular contact with the family at home and my best friend; consequently, I often forget that everyone else has not been told this or that. I fear that I often leave you to deduce your own pictures of certain aspects of life, Spanish school, for example, from the shreds of information I happen to scatter about in other posts. Sorry about that. All that to say, here is a more concrete, complete description of what I have been doing at Spanish school and how the whole thing works.

Every Monday morning new students arrive. Sometimes there are as many as ten and sometimes there is only one or two. As they wander somewhat hesitantly into the courtyard where usually a few of us “veteran” students are seated, we generally greet them with an “hola” and initiate the exchange of basic information like name, nationality, and number of weeks at school. When the bell rings at 8:30, the new students are shuffled off for their placement tests, orientation information session, and city tour. Carolína, the lady in charge of classes, reads out the teacher and classmate assignments for the rest of us, and we follow our respective teachers to our classrooms.

Our teachers, and often classmates, too, change from week to week. I am not quite sure why. So far I have had the gregarious, talkative Alberto, the slow-spoken, somewhat awkward, diminutive Albertito, the slightly creepy José, and the fun, amusing, best-teacher-yet Erwin (though, tragically, he was my teacher only for two afternoon classes last Thursday and Friday after my Machu Picchu trip). My classmates have more or less stayed the same, though they have changed simply because some of them have left. On occasion I have been the only student in my class, which suits me just fine, too, since one-on-one instruction is often more productive and helpful.

What exactly we do during class varies widely between teachers. Generally, however, the first 15 or 20 minutes are used just for talking. Typically, we begin to work on the week’s verb tense after that. However, sometimes I have spent the entire first hour and a half of class just talking. The discussion typically includes numerous popular American culture and music references about which I am ironically clueless compared to my Peruvian teachers and even foreign classmates. Frequent topics of conversation, at least in my classes, also include politics, religion, homestay experiences, soccer, movies, and, once the teacher finds out my educational background, homeschooling. Naturally, I am forever assuring my teachers and classmates that I do indeed have friends. I have also explained standardized testing, as used medium for universities to compare homeschooled and traditional schooled students, three or so times.

During the break most everyone snacks on something. I certainly do. Some days I have a banana that I have bought on the way to school; other days I eat a croissant or some similar pastry from a S/3 bag of 8 or so day-old pastries I purchase from a nearby bakery. We either play cards in the courtyard (or big room with the wood fired stoves if it’s rainy) or just talk.

The agenda for the second hour and a half of class also depends on the teacher, but is slightly more predictable. Most teachers choose to hand out fill-in-the-blank-with-a-conjugated-verb sheets for us to complete individually and then review as a group. Those exercises annoy me. They seem like a waste of class time that could be used for practicing, for conversing. They would be better for homework. Oh well. After that, we usually read a page or two of some literature excerpt and discuss it and learn new vocabulary. I do not mind those so much. The final exercise for the day is often listening to ridiculously ill-pronounced lyrics from some Spanish love song and attempting to fill in the blanks on a lyrics sheet. It is a waste of time, nothing else. But, before you start imagining that most of my second halves of class are unproductive, let me assure you that teachers deviate from the pattern I have described rather frequently, thankfully. I have spent entire second halves of class talking or listening to my teachers tell stories. I prefer the former over the latter, but either is infinitely superior to the idiotic song-listening work. Overall, I would say I enjoy my classes.

After class everyone hangs around for a few minutes to make collective plans to meet somewhere and do something (usually a place with food to talk and play cards at least for me). Once or twice a week we will be unable to coordinate our individual plans, which will provide me with a free afternoon. That is when I blog.

Besides morning Spanish classes, the school provides other activities and opportunities. The main alternative to Spanish school in the mornings is volunteering. In fact, some people come just to volunteer through the school. They typically work with poor kids in an orphanage or school-like situation from 9 to 1ish. Often these people will take individual Spanish classes in the afternoons, another option the school provides. The classes can last anywhere from two hours to four hours (including a 20ish minute break). Of course, if you wish to have no time to do anything before 9 at night, you can take group classes in the morning and volunteer in the afternoons. Sounds unpleasant to me. Outside of learning and working opportunities, the school will arrange very over-priced excursions to nearby towns or even trips to Machu Picchu. Other less outrageously priced, daily activities like salsa dancing lessons, Peruvian cuisine tasting sessions, or chocolate making classes, are posted on a bulletin board in the courtyard. The only one I have participated in was the salsa dancing class. Yes, yes, I, Claire, took a salsa class. Everyone else was doing it, and for once in my life I let myself be pulled along by the “peer pressure.” After a few minutes of the class I stopped regretting my decision. It was not too bad. True, choreographed dancing is quite tolerable, I think. It was more like an aerobics class than anything else. Of course, when I had the opportunity to use my newly acquired salsa skills later, I declined. ‘Twas fun and amusing to learn, though.

I think that just about covers Spanish school. I like the school. I like the nice, bright, clean building. I like that there is heat on cold, rainy days. I like that there is a sunny courtyard. I like that it has excellent, free wifi. I like that I have thoroughly enjoyed some of my classes. I like that I get to meet people from all over the world. Yup. I like it.



  1. We are soooooo glad you told us about your school experiences. That was a great account of how it works. By the way, Grandpa says he remembers you salsa dancing at Uncle Tom’s wedding…..so since you have been a salsa dancer from way back, next time you are asked to use your skills ……….accept. Love, Grandma

  2. I would have loved being a fly on the wall while you took salsa classes :) I bet you were great. I am not at all surprised that you hate the fill-in-the-blank lyric sheets – just picturing you sitting in a classroom listening to pop Spanish music makes me chuckle.

    We miss you but are glad you are having a great time!

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