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A Foreign Language School for your next Travel Photo Adventure?

Updated: Aug 2, 2018

In a recent Podcast with my friend Tony Avila over at Avila Studios we discussed travel ideas outside the box when going out of country on a photographic trip. One such idea was to enroll in a foreign language school. It is an inexpensive way to immerse oneself into the local culture and find photo opportunities overlooked by the crowds. You can hear the entire podcast along with other ideas here.

Here are Three Reasons to Consider a Foreign Language School

for your next Photo Travel Adventure

I have always loved languages. I can recall descending the steps of a Boeing 737 jetliner at Lusaka International Airport when as a lad of 12 years I first heard Chinyanja being spoken. To my ears it sounded melodic and strange and I was instantly fascinated by the thought that other people actually spoke, read and wrote in a language other than English. Over the four plus years I lived in Zambia I learned to speak a bit of Chinyanja, the lingua franca of the capital city.

Later, traveling in Europe I heard Spanish, French and German. I became enamored with languages and decided to learn more about our multi-lingual world. I studied French in school, and Spanish on my own. But I never mastered any of them until I finally melded my love for travel, photography, adventure and languages into one three week experience: A Spanish language school in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala.


Quetzaltenango, thankfully shortened to Xela by the locals, is Guatemala’s second largest city. That may sound impressive, but it means that just over 150,000 people call Xela home.

For $180 per week I was promised a room with a middle-class Guatemalan family, three meals a day and 20 hours of one-on-one Spanish lessons every weekday morning. The afternoons and weekends were open for me to go on excursions or explore the city on my own. I signed up for three weeks.

I flew down to Guatemala City and was met at the airport by Rachel and her husband Gustavo. After a home cooked meal with my hosts I retired to my first night in Guatemala. The next morning they took me to the bus station and four hours later I was in Xela. There I was greeted by Nora and Rolando Herrera, the owners and operators of the Guatemalanesis Spanish School. Soon I was settling into my new home for the next three weeks and meeting my new host family.

Rolando and Nora

The following Monday I walked two blocks to the school and began my first Spanish lesson. I have never laughed so much in my life as I did those times sitting across a table from Gilma as her face grimaced when I butchered her language. Which happened a lot. Gilma soon became one of my closest friends.

I was delighted by my accommodations, photographic opportunities and learning experience.

See the sights only the locals know about

Vulcan Santiaguito, Quetzaltenango

During those first three weeks I learned a lot of Spanish, but I also had dozens of opportunities for incredible photographs. Every afternoon I was guided around the countryside to tour and photograph the local sights. We climbed the slope of an extinct volcano to see an active volcano erupt below us. I saw one the oldest church in Central America – the ancient Catholic Church of San Jacinto, founded in 1524. I soaked in hot springs, visited a local Mayan family of weavers working on 100 year old looms and ate supper with them in their adobe kitchen. My guides Nora and Rolando were patient and experienced. The photographic opportunities were boundless and the crowds of tourists non-existent! In later trips to Guatemala I learned when to go to the famous sights of Antigua and Lake Atitlan and avoid the crowds.

Each time I have come back with a treasure trove of photographs.

Learn about yourself

As Benjamin Franklin once said, “There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond and to know one’s self." It is true! I traveled across Guatemala to find new photographic opportunities and learn Spanish, but it was through the people I met that I found the biggest discovery was within.

It is no secret that most of Guatemala lives in what many consider poverty, but they are the happiest people I have met in my travels. They were kind enough to share with me their secret. Deny yourself the right to be happy, and look to make others happy. In doing so, happiness will consume you before you realize it.

I fell in love with the people and the culture and have been back many times. I now go to brush up on my Spanish and hang out with my Guatemalan family of friends. My next trip is to Tikal, the famous Mayan pyramids.

If you love to travel to places off the beaten path and stay in one place to immerse yourself in the culture of a foreign destination, consider a foreign language school.

You might just learn more than a language.

----- About the author:  JS Engelbrecht began his photography career in a High School dark room for the school's Year Book. Later he entered the fashion industry and product photography before turning his attention to Nature. "I moved from shooting pictures of beautiful jewelry to shooting pictures of natural beauty."

Now JS Engelbrecht enjoys capturing beautiful scenes during his travels. He is also a gifted teacher and guide for local photographers. Click here to see his fine art gallery.

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