Guatemala is a place like no other. While not the most common destination for study abroad in Central America, it probably should be. The nation hasn't attracted as many international students as its neighbor to the south, Costa Rica, or to the north, Mexico. Guatemala has suffered from decades of civil war, military coups, and bad press. Still, despite the competition for students and a history of safety questions, Guatemala remains one of the world's biggest destinations for private Spanish language schools.
Food & Culture
Guatemala is a place with geographical and cultural diversity like no other: The western highlands are known as the land of eternal spring, with a mild climate year-round. The Atlantic coast has a strong Rasta culture. Tikal, in the northeast, is one of the largest pre-Columbian indigenous cities uncovered in the Americas.
Home to one of the most elaborate Semana Santa (Easter week) processions in Latin America, Antigua is a picturesque place where the streets are painted with artwork comprised of flower petals, the city is dotted with Colonial architectural treasures, and the market is full of indigenous women selling their goods from the mountain villages. The Volcano Agua gazes over Antigua and offers amazing trekking trails (as do several other dormant and active volcanoes in the area).
Studying in Guatemala
Spanish schools in Guatemala vary widely in their quality, so it's important to ensure academic quality before committing to a school. Look at accreditation and university affiliations; don't rely on reviews here. If you decide to take individual instruction (an intensive, but extremely effective option), request in advance that your instructor be changed each week. Because the quality of one-on-one instruction relies heavily on the teacher, it's important to learn from different teachers without hurting anyone's feelings. If you get a teacher you especially like, you can request to retain him or her.
Antigua, a small beautiful colonial town in the highlands, boasts over 30 language schools where teenagers through senior citizens take highly affordable language classes privately or in groups. Beyond Antigua are other smaller language meccas including Quezaltenango, Chichicastenango, and the beautiful lakeside Panajachel. Guatemala City houses the local universities and is a great starting point, but many student travelers try to get out of the city as quickly as possible to spend most of their time in the beautiful countryside.
Students in Guatemala almost exclusively live with homestays. Homestays as an industry is quite large in Guatemala. Travelers arriving in small towns can inquire and find homestay accommodations for a couple nights or a couple months. Homestays are with families who are, of course, motivated by the income but also generally very interested in sharing their culture with international travelers. Typically the meals are great and local, the Spanish practice is priceless, and the networking to the community is enriching.
Branch Out! Spanish acquisition is not the only reason to study in Guatemala. Augsburg College offers an acclaimed program in Social Change. Boston University offers a hands-on Archeology program in Guatemala. Maybe you are looking to learn a language, but not the traditional Spanish 101? Tulane University has a program for those interested in Kaqchikel (Mayan). Several schools have Spanish for health care workers or Spanish for business classes specializing in conversational language classes. If it's pure language learning, fast and effective, consider Maximo Nivel, which has a solid reputation for teaching Spanish in Guatemala and internationally.