FAQ's - Frequently Asked Questions About Spanish Immersion Programs
An immersion program is a cultural experience! It is the opportunity to experience the culture of a country first-hand- to get to know the way of living of the local people. This is done by learning to speak the language, by experiencing some parts of the culture and by taking part in local festivals and events. We also take time to prepare students with pre-trip information, such as handouts about important sites that we will visit, cultural information, recommended reading lists, etc.
We also highly recommend homestays because living with a family provides students with a completely different experience than staying in a hotel. You will feel more like a resident than a tourist! And, a large portion of the language practice you will get outside of class will come from your family!
Our philosophy is to provide students with the opportunity to participate in as many cultural activities as possible. Many tourists will never have the opportunity to take part in these activities. Our programs offer such cultural experiences as dance and cooking classes, museum visits, cultural conferences, performances, tours to important sites within and outside of our “base city” and much more! This is not a bus tour! Our programs are more than just a vacation-they truly are a cultural experience.
The ideal immersion-program candidate will be someone who:
WANTS A NEW AND TOTALLY UNIQUE EXPERIENCE!
Likes to meet new people and is somewhat social-although each student will have their own families and lots of free time away from the group, it is helpful to be friendly and willing to socialize with the families and other students.
Enjoys trying new things- The main reason for travelling is to gain a new experience and to try new things. Don´t expect things to be the same as they are back home! Plan to be independent and learn how to take a bus home, read a map, etc.
CAN BE POSITIVE-NO COMPLAINERS ALLOWED!
Attempts to speak the language as much as possible-after all, the more you practice, the more you will learn. Take advantage of the fact that you are in a country where you can practice 24 hours a day.
Wants a challenge. Don´t be too hard on yourself if you don´t understand everything at the beginning. Don´t worry about speaking perfectly. Everyone makes mistakes.
Can be flexible-things happen at a different pace and in different ways in other countries. Be prepared to go with the flow and enjoy yourself.
IS ENERGETIC AND HAS A GOOD SENSE OF HUMOR!
Check out our tour leaders!
I have never taken Spanish before? Can I still go?
We encourage all those who are interested in learning Spanish, whether or not you have ever taken Spanish, to attend our programs. A wide variety of Spanish levels is offered-from those who have never taken a Spanish class up to native speakers. Each student takes a short placement exam at the beginning of the program in order to determine his/her level. Generally, six or more levels of Spanish are offered. If a student feels that he/she has been placed in the wrong level, it is very easy to switch to another level.
Special arrangements can be made in order to accommodate those who are in the beginning levels of Spanish, such as separating our tour guides into those who speak mostly English on the tours and those who will only speak Spanish for the more advanced students.
Are the classes focused on grammar or conversation?
Although grammar is a necessary part to learning any language, the classes do focus more on conversational skills than on learning more grammar. The “communicative” approach to learning is used, which means that the most important aspect of the classes is to be understood and understand others.
Are the teachers qualified?
All of the schools we work with have very professional staff. They have all been certified by the Ministry of Education in their country as qualified to provide language classes to foreign students.
The teachers are all university-trained in teaching Spanish as a foreign language. Some have their Master’s degrees or are in the process of getting their Master’s degrees. They are very experienced teachers who use a variety of multi-media presentations in their classrooms.
Will I meet students from other countries at the school or in my classes?
Lots of students from around the world attend classes at the schools that we use. Generally our escorted program classes are reserved for students from our group. However, in some countries other students will be in your class. And most of the cultural classes at the school will include all the students that are attending. This provides a fun way to get to know other students from all over the world. In addition, many families will host two or more students at the same time, especially during the summer months.
How much can I really learn in just a couple of weeks?
Obviously, how much you learn depend upon the amount of time and effort you put into studying and speaking Spanish while you are abroad. Past students have been amazed at their progress in the relatively short period they were actually in the country. Since our classes are designed to improve conversation and understanding, students will tend to focus on simply improving and mastering the information that they already have learned, as opposed to trying to cram in a lot of new material.
Can I do this program in place of taking a Spanish class at my college or university and still receive credit?
Each school has its own policies regarding our programs. If you receive credit through American River College, the credits are considered to be Spanish elective units for an independent study program. These cannot be substituted for a required class, such as 1A or 2A. However, students find that their classes are much easier when they have participated in this type of program.
For students from other schools, we can help you work with the study abroad or Spanish department at your school in order for you to receive credit. We have had many students from universities, such as Sacramento State, receive credit for their participation in the program. It just requires some time and effort to get it all approved ahead of time.
Do I receive a transcript or certificate of participation?
All of our students receive a certificate of participation in the program during an informal “graduation” ceremony. If you require a transcript or grade report (for work or school purposes), we can certainly provide this. The schools can also administer a final exam, which is not normally part of the program, if you require one. Sometimes this is the case in order to receive credit from certain universities here in the US.
Can a friend or family member come along with me on a group program?
Sure, anyone over 15 yrs old is welcome on our adult group trips. You can choose to have them stay with your family or we can recommend a hotel. Your friend is welcome to attend cultural classes and group activities, as well.
Can children participate?
Some programs welcome children. We recommend that families visit Costa Rica. It is a wonderful place for families because it offers so many activities that all age groups will enjoy. We have had a number of families attend our programs in the past. However, our American River College program, does not allow children to participate. If you would like to take a family trip, let us know and we can arrange it for you.
What is the typical age of the students? What about married folks?
We have students of all age groups attend our adult programs. Generally, our groups are very diverse, with the typical group consisting of lots of college-age students and a large proportion of retired people.
What is the average size of an escorted group?
Normally our groups average about 20 students and three or more tour leaders.
Do you carry insurance on the groups?
We are required to have a substantial insurance policy in order to take groups from schools and colleges.
We also require that each participant on our group programs show us proof of medical insurance or purchase a short-term policy with a travel insurance company. These policies will reimburse students for any medical expenses after they return home.
Finally, we highly recommend that each student purchase a form of trip cancellation insurance that will cover the cost of the trip in case he/she must cancel the trip at the last minute. We provide this information to students once we receive the deposit.
What if I want to stay longer than the group or leave before them?
We usually have a couple of students in our groups that would like to extend their stay. This is definitely possible! As long as we know ahead of time, we can arrange the airfare around the dates of your stay. We can also help you set up extra classes and accomodations or a volunteer project while you are on your own.
For those who need to leave early, we can easily accommodate your schedule. We will pro-rate the school, homestay and activities so that you won’t be required to pay for the part of the program that you cannot attend.
Why would I want to do an escorted group as opposed to going on my own?
Going on a group program is a lot of fun! Our groups get to know each other well and students often develop friendships that last long after the group has returned. With this type of program, there is always something to do and someone to do things with! Yet, it is not the typical whirlwind tour where you spend practically every minute with the entire group. Since you have your own family and own home, your time and space in your own. You decide which activities you want to participate in and when you just want to have some time to yourself.
What makes this company’s groups unique?
In addition, Innovative Immersion Tour Programs does all the work for you. We make your reservations, lead your tours, arrange your homestay and classes and even pick you up at the airport when you arrive. We take care of you from the beginning of the trip planning stages all the way through the last day of your trip. It is the most hassle-free immersion program vacation you will probably ever take.
We take excellent care of our customers. Our staff go on every trip with you to make sure that everything is taken care of. If there is a problem, we take care of it. We go above and beyond the normal tour company’s service. This is why we have so many customers who repeat our tours.
Our programs are flexible. If you need arrangements that are not part of the normal package, we are happy to help. Whether it be coming home early, not taking Spanish classes, having a friend or family member go to visit you and stay at your homestay- whatever the request- we do our absolute best to make it happen!
I have my own airfare. Can I get the airfare discounted from the group program?
No problem! We can take off the net price of the group airfare from the total price of the package. We can arrange for airport pick-up once you arrive in the country if you let us know your flight schedule.
How much spending money should I take with me?
If you are participating in one of our group programs, most of the expenses, from tours and activities to classes and lodging are included. We recommend, depending on the country, between $100 to $150 per week for extra expenses. This amount would cover taxis or buses, nightlife, some extra meals, etc. In addition, we provide you with a detailed list of optional tours that are available to you at a student discount. You can choose to pay for those ahead of time or wait until you get to the country and decide then. Either way, you will have the information well ahead of time to be able to plan your budget accordingly.
What if I get sick while I am there?
We have a list of clinics that are very highly recommended in each country. In the event that a student gets sick, he/she can either ask the family to take them to the doctor or call one of us. In the past students have had minor health issues and have had to visit the clinic for an infected ingrown toenail, blisters, an earache, a sore throat, etc. It is normal to expect some gastro-intestinal discomfort during the first couple of days, due to changes in food preparation and condiments. However not all students experience this. The families always take care in preparing the food that will be served to their students and use bottled water if it is an issue. In Costa Rica, you can drink the water from the tap!
Do the families speak English?
The majority of the families do speak some English. However, they are encouraged to only speak Spanish with the students they host. Many students are concerned about not being able to speak with their families. But, rest assured. The families are very patient and will give you the time you need to express yourself in Spanish.
What time to the families serve meals and what type of foods can I expect?
The families provide two or three meals (depending on the country) and will do their best to accommodate the dietary needs and preferences of the students they host. We encourage students to list all of their likes and dislikes on the registration questionnaire so we can let the families know about these ahead of time. Vegetarians or people with allergies can be easily accomodated.
Breakfast is typically served at around 7am. However, if you need to leave before that time for a tour, your host mother will prepare your breakfast earlier. Lunch is usually served around 1pm and is a large meal. Dinner is served around 7pm ,or whenever you are there to eat it! Although Latin Americans tend to eat light dinners, the families will generally prepare a substantial meal at night for students. Most students comment that the food they are served is more than enough! Your “mama” will serve meals that prepared especially for students.
Do the families have hot water, air conditioning, etc?
Most of our families are middle or upper class. They have comfortable homes with hot water. However most homes do not have air conditioning or heating. Most of the time you do not need it, except in the case of Peru, where we recommend wearing thermals or flannel PJs to bed!
Can I contact my family ahead of time? Will I be provided with their phone number?
Once we receive your family assignment from the school (based on the information you have provided us in the registration questionnaire), we will forward this information to you. It will generally include the names, ages and professions of everyone in the home, as well as their phone number and address. Lots of families also have email addresses. You are encouraged to get to know them before your stay.
How far do the families live in relation to the school and downtown?
Generally the families live within 15 minutes by bus from the school. Taxis are very inexpensive and also a convenient way to get to school. A lot of families live within walking distance, depending upon the country. Most of the schools are located only a short distance from the downtown area.