About a year and a half ago, I had a crazy idea to gather a group of families with kids learning Spanish and travel together with them for a Spanish immersion adventure. As is true with any dream that takes you out of your comfort zone and stretches you in ways you cannot imagine, I am still in shock and awe that this dream is now in the past. For me, it was truly life changing!
About a week ago, I returned from our 2019 Spanish Immersion Vacation in Cancun, Mexico. In total, 28 of us traveled to Mexico for a week long of activities. These families entrusted their 11 children to our team for our Spanish Immersion camp, while adults got to enjoy the resort and all that Cancun has to offer. It was amazing!
My team included Noelia Diaz, our educational director, and Gaby Gomez, my assistant. They were there every day to help keep watch over the kids and encourage their Spanish speaking.
It was so great that we're already planning for our 2020 Spanish Immersion Vacation to Costa Rica. I hope you will consider joining us! Be sure to subscribe to our email list to hear about all the details.
Our trip began on Sunday June 23rd with families arriving into the Cancun airport. Despite a few hiccups at arrival that included delayed flights, arrivals at wrong resorts, and hotel management miscommunications, we finally settled into our Welcome Reception.
After introductions and a review of our upcoming agenda, I led the kids in reciting a pledge to get us going on the right foot. I wanted to make it clear that perfection is not what we were after and that making an effort is more important than avoiding mistakes.
I pledge to try my hardest to speak Spanish as much as possible. Even if I'm not sure that I'm saying it correctly, I will take a guess and fill in with English words. I will be proud that I can speak more Spanish than 1/2 of all the people in the world!
Then the parents recited a pledge:
I pledge to help my child feel proud of how much Spanish they already know. I will encourage and praise them every chance I get. And I will think only of relaxation while they're at camp!
Needless to say, the parents were extra enthusiastic about their pledge!
I also introduced our Reward System. My team and I spent the week providing our campers stars each time we caught them speaking Spanish - especially when they tried their hardest and stumbled through it. I explained that they were not competing with each other, but instead with themselves. We hoped to encourage them to speak as much of the language as possible and rewarded them with a small prize at the end of our week. The stars really had an impact!
With that, our vacation was officially underway!
There were a total of 3 camp days on the resort property - Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. These days were filled with jam packed agenda for our kiddos.
Our camp theme was focused on helping the kids appreciate how people from the United States were quite similar to those of Mexico. So a lot of our activities were designed to learn what is different and what is the same between us.
Each day began at 9 am with drop off. The first day started with us talking to the kids about Mexico -- how people live, the culture and more.
Mid-morning each day, we would head off to the pool before the day got too hot. But even at 10 am, it was hot out there! Sunscreen was in full effect! Nevertheless, the kiddos had a great time in the water. We played a few games, but mostly they had a chance to cool off and just have fun.
Then, we had a group lunch at the buffet. The kids stuffed their faces after that pool time! And, of course, we always ended lunch with a stop at the ice cream station!
On Tuesday morning before the pool, we had a really fun activity: staff interviews! The kids brainstormed questions to ask the staff about their life in Mexico. They asked about fútbol (soccer), favorite foods, favorite parts of the country and more. They logged their answers to be used in our project on Thursday. It was a great exercise to get them speaking with native Spanish speakers and learning things we may not normally hear about in the US.
On Tuesday for lunch, we had a delicious cooking class: tacos! Kids learned about blue corn tortillas and make their own tacos.
The afternoons were packed with sun-free activities:
Monday, we spent a couple hours with La Casa de los Musicos. They taught us about the different regions and states of Mexico and the type of music and cultural dances to be seen in each. Finally, they led the kiddos in some fun musical activities. It was a real treat and so valuable for the kids to learn about different types of Mexican music.
Tuesday, we filled the afternoon with yoga and conversation games to get the language flowing. The kids loved playing Adivina Quien (Guess Who), Headbandz, and Pictionary. Plus, we created mazes with our pool toys and had to direct each other - in Spanish - to the other side. There were a lot of laughs this day!
We also prepped a small gift for the friends we would be meeting at Caritas during our Field Trip on Wednesday.
On our last day, Thursday, we brought it all together. In the morning, we recapped what we learned all week. What makes us the same and what makes us different? We agreed that what makes us different are things we love about each other and that there's a lot more about us that's the same!
That afternoon, the kids created poster boards presenting what they'd learned. It was so fun to see the kinds of things they thought of to put on these boards!
Same: crocodiles, pineapples, birds and dogs! 😂 But also, tacos, homes, and people. (Seems the US has taken tacos for themselves as much as pasta is no longer Italian!).
Different: the way we write the date, burgers, Mayan homes, July 4th and Dia de Los Muertos. It was really impressive and heart-warming at the same time.
On Wednesday, both parents and kids ventured out into Cancun. Arguably the best part of our trip, our Field Trip consisted of two parts: a visit to a non-profit, Caritas, and an excursion into the Mayan jungle.
Caritas - a local non-profit
Prior to our trip, our families participated in our first ever Read-A-Thon. During this two week long event, our kiddos pledged to read in Spanish while their friends and families pledged donations to benefit Caritas. Caritas is an international non-profit with a chapter in Quintana Roo (the state in which Cancun resides). They support low-income families in the state with a number of resources that cover food, health, educational and employment services.
This Read-A-Thon was intended to get more Spanish reading into our kids, as well as raise funds for this organization we would be visiting during our trip.
I had hoped to raise $1,000, thinking it was a long shot. But our families raised $1,795!!
I was humbled and proud of our accomplishment!
The team at Caritas prepared an incredible agenda for our visit. Frida Barrientos, their outreach coordinator, helped us match up each one of our camp kiddos with a local child. The activities were designed to help them get to know each other and work together - in Spanish.
It was such an incredible experience not only for the kids but for the families to watch them engage in a conversation, play games together and then hand over some little gifts. The hugs were truly genuine and so heart-warming after just a couple of hours!
Our Mayan Jungle adventure
After leaving Caritas, our whole group made it's way to the Mayan Jungle with Living Dreams. Claudia was our guide, supported by Fernando, and Carlos was our driver. They took us on a comfortable, air conditioned bus up the coast to the north to arrive at our destination.
Once we arrived, Claudia explained that we were visiting a village with Mayans that actually this place home. As such, we were to respect their space and personal lives. She asked us to limit our photos as a sign of respect. We were so grateful to have the chance to visit this town.
She spoke to us about the Mayans that what made them unique - the properties of the water that affected their height as well as their inability to farm these lands due to limestone and resulting in a long history of scientific excellence.
We were welcomed with a beautiful spread of food prepared by the Mayans. It was a feast like no other and our group thoroughly enjoyed it!
Afterwards, we took a short walk to the zip-lining station where our group was able to zip-line three times, ending at the kayaks. Those were then paddled back to the starting point.
I personally did not zip-line (you know, heights 🤷🏽), but I heard the shrieks of joy as they zipped across where I took some photos! And the faces coming off the kayaks were priceless!
The next and last component of our adventure was to enjoy one of the cenotes on the property. Here we got to snorkel and (for some) jump off a 15-20 foot edge into the water. It was really cold upon entering, but quickly felt like the most wonderful water you'd ever been in! Unfortunately, there weren't many fish there to truly call it snorkeling, but we did not leave unsatisfied. The experience was very refreshing!
On Thursday, after a day full of camp activities, we had the opportunity to present out to parents our group project. The project was designed to point out what was the same or different between the US and Mexico and each child was able to share out (in Spanish) one item they added to each side.
I was so proud to see the kids jump up to present their portion! It was a lovely way to finish the camp week.
I also had the chance to speak a bit to the families about what it meant to me to have them join us on this trip. After a year of my team and I working on the details for the experience, it was a true gift for us to see how happy everyone was at the end!
And, more than anything, I hope the kids will walk away from this experience remembering it always. I know I certainly will.
Hope to see you in Costa Rica next summer!