Spanish Immersion Experience During Summer Vacation

By Trent Bayliss

It was a beautiful day in Boquete, and after six hours on the road, I had finally arrived at my host family’s house. The directions were perfect, and we knew we had found the right place. As we were unloading my luggage and taking pictures, my host mom came outside to see us!

She came outside and stood there looking at us with a slightly confused face, so we thought that maybe she wasn’t expecting us so early. As we took pictures, a nice looking 20-something guy came out of the house. It must be my big brother, Alex! We then asked him his name — he said Alex. He politely asked if we wanted help carrying something, and we said we were fine.

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As we were walking up the driveway, he asked who we were looking for and what we needed. Slightly confused, we said we were here for the host family Spanish immersion program and he had a confused face. At that moment we realized we were at the wrong house! And they were about to take me in! Then after we told him who we were looking for, he hopped in his truck and drove us to the right house.

Now we know that the Panamanians are so nice in Boquete, that even if they don’t know you, they’ll let you stay in their house!

For two weeks, I was in Boquete studying Spanish six hours a day, and staying with a Panamanian host family.

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My average day was rather simple, but enjoyable. My favorite part about the house was after a cool night of sleeping, when I would wake up, I had a freezing cold Boquete shower waiting for me. I thought I would get hypothermia in that shower my first few days! After my freezing shower and getting dressed, I would have breakfast with my grandma (Mitzila/Alicia) and grandpa (Plinio) since everyone else in the house would already be at work or school by 7:30. The food was always delicious and fresh since grandpa has a huge garden just up the road from the house.

After I would eat, I would head into town around 8:00 to go to school. Some days I would stand by the road and have a taxi within a minute; other days, I would wait up to 20 minutes when all the passing taxis were full. After I arrived at school, I would finish any work I had and study.

Around 10:00, I had private classes. I ended up liking the private classes best since I could go at my own pace and choose the topics. My private class teacher was Widad for my first week and Tamara for my second week. Both of the teachers were fantastic, and only a few words would be said in English. On one of my last days, I had an hour with a guy named Victor, and he and I talked only in Spanish for the full hour and I was able to communicate very well. That was one way I could tell my Spanish had improved greatly.

After two hours of private classes, I had a one-hour lunch break. Every day for my lunch break, I went to one of three local Panamanian restaurants. At each restaurant, the people were friendly and the food was cheap and delicious! One of the days, I met a guy named Buck and he and I talked the whole time I was there. I ended up meeting him on my last day for lunch again and he was very warm and inviting.

After lunch, we had the four-hour Spanish class with Libby. By the 4 o clock mark, my brain was fried. That was a lot of Spanish, and my brain wasn’t very happy with me after two weeks of that!

After my classes, I would walk to the taxi spot, then hop in a taxi and get dropped off at my street. The taxi system in Boquete was very simple and interesting. They just pile in as many people as possible and drive a certain route, and I would just get out at my street about a mile away for 40 cents!

At home, there was almost always someone over visiting with the family. Some days I would go hike and explore the area, and sometimes I would hang out with my family all night. I got to meet my aunts and uncles of Boquete whom were all awesome people and I was never bored at the house. Dinner was always something different and fresh, and I was never unsatisfied! Grandma was always stuffing my plate with so much food, it was sometimes hard to finish. After a few hours of hanging out and talking with my family I would head up to my room to sleep. Sleeping in Boquete was usually easy, but many times at 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning I would wake up to the sound of chickens. I was ready to destroy them by the end of my stay!

I only had one weekend there, but I made an adventure of it. On my Sunday, I decided that I wanted to go to David, which is about an hour away from Boquete. I left my house at 9:00 to catch the bus, which left for David around 9:45. It was really interesting doing the whole trip by myself. I was much more observant of everything taking place around me since no one else was with me.

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Once I got to the terminal in David, I got a taxi and asked if he knew where the mall was. I didn’t know the name of the mall in David, so I just said mall. Luckily he said he knew where it was. After about 10 minutes of driving, I felt kind of confused. On the bus on my way to the terminal, I noticed that the mall was really close. After about another 5 minutes, I saw a sign. As we got closer I realized it said “Chiriqui Mall” which is not the mall I was looking for.

Since I’m all about just going for it, I got out, paid the guy my $2, and tried to hang out at that mall. Once I started walking around, I realized that all of the stores were closed for another two hours and only the food court was open. I had the “Oh, no” feeling in my stomach, but I knew I’d be fine.

I ended up walking around and seeing a PriceSmart about half a mile away, so I started walking toward it because I knew taxis would be picking people up there. About half way there, a taxi pulled up behind me and I hopped in. This time, I got to the right mall. After walking around for a few hours and eating at TGIFriday’s, I decided to head back home. From the mall, I got a taxi to the terminal, then found the bus back to Boquete. That was all a very interesting and memorable experience.

My two weeks in Boquete learning Spanish and spending time with my host family was without a doubt one of the coolest experiences I have been lucky enough to have. My Spanish is much better, my mind is a world ahead, the people in Boquete were some of the nicest, and it is beautiful! Gracias, Boquete! Hasta pronto.

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