Today’s overview is about an amazing experience that I am so excited to share with you all.
It’s the Na’atik Language and Culture Institute and it is truly an opportunity for you guys to have a living classroom like no other. You know how I talk about travel being that living classroom all the time – well here is a fabulous example of just that.
I recently sat down with Catherine Gray, the Founder and Director of Na’atik Language and Culture Institute who showcased for us everything that Na’atik has to offer. It’s cultural, its language, it’s friendship and so much more. And for those of you who are continuing with homeschooling this is a really great way to actually create a brand new level of learning for your kids that they are going to remember for a lifetime. The essays that they need to write as they go into junior high, then high school and when applying for and attending college – Na’atik is going to be part of what it makes them what they create and become in the future.
Let’s get started because class is in session!
A Little Background
Catherine is originally from Virginia and after she graduated from school she went up to Seattle where she realized she wanted to learn Spanish and do volunteer work. In 1996 she travelled to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, Mexico (where she and the school reside today), met her now husband, went back to the states to get certified to teach, got married, lived in Asia and then finally – whew! – returned to Felipe Carrillo Puerto. (Side Note: She shared that Felipe Carrillo Puerto is on the Yucatan Peninsula about three hours south of Cancun – right on the highway and easy to get to – about an hour south of tourism. So, it’s the real deal – a real Mexican town, real folks just living their lives, doing their thing.) Once back here she got a position at the local university teaching English and loved it. The thought occurred to her how amazing it would it be to create an intercultural hub to continue teaching English – because there’s a real need there as the English language programs in the schools aren’t very strong and the parents really want their kids to learn. She thought how great it would be to continue to teach all ages in town and then they could welcome foreigners to learn Maya –which is the native language there – and Spanish. This way the locals could meet foreigners and the foreigners could see the real Mayan Mexico. The rest is history as they say. The school was founded in 2010 and they have people come from around the world to study as well as over 200 local kids learning English there. They have also built a library since then. And when COVID hit, and they couldn’t have kids come in person they moved to online classes as well as safe spaces in the school if the kids don’t have internet so they can come in person. They also moved their Spanish and Maya classes online and really boosted up their online program. Catherine gushed that it’s been a really fun project and it’s been a wonderful experience all around.
So, in reality Na’atik is much more than just a language school off the tourist track in the Mexican Maya town of Felipe Carrillo Puerto. This nonprofit language school supports the local community through a love of language, learning, education and shared authentic intercultural experiences. They have created a space where both local students and international students can experience the joy of feeling comfortable around and understanding different languages.
They are breaking down barriers and exposing students to new cultures and that’s something that hasn’t happened there before.
Here are some quotes from a video that Catherine shared during our chat:
“It was a really great experience to talk with other students and learn about their culture and talk in our second languages.” – Casia, former Na’atik Spanish student
“Taking my students to study at Na’atik was an opportunity of a lifetime! I watched them connect with local students who were learning English and my students were learning Spanish, so they got to have a cultural and language exchange. For months now I have been hearing stories about how it was life changing and how they can’t wait to go back.” – Brooke, Board member and Spanish teacher at Cape Hatteras Secondary School.
“The impact of Na’atik has brought many benefits to the young people of Na’atik and the community as a whole because it has allowed the local students and those that come from the Mayan communities and the town of Carrillo to have access to learn English – and with that to have more opportunities outside of our Maya zone and Felipe Carrillo Puerto and it has opened the doors to other opportunities.” – Alma Angelica, parent of student of Na’atik
The cultural immersion and homestay experiences in Mexico and online Spanish and Mayan language classes, fund and allow them to provide affordable English classes, workshops and activities that support the local community, build confidence and open doors to new opportunities, further education and careers. And Catherine shared how very exciting it is to see their students and their families have amazing authentic intercultural interactions. And that it’s allowed local students to build their confidence to not only speak to people from around the world but also to apply for international scholarships and to not be afraid to break the mold. So inspiring! And this is a living classroom not only for the youth but also for the adults as well. Adults can easily take these classes, they can join in, they can help cultivate children so it’s not necessarily a voluntourism trip but rather a self-exploration, its self-learning, it’s an opportunity for people to have that cultural immersion. In other words – it’s not just learning Spanish it’s learning the Mayan culture too.
About The Na’atik Experience
When you go study with Na’atik and to have the experience, the program will involve 18 hours of class a week and they do everything in their power to make you feel comfortable. They try to match you with homestay or host families according to your interests and what you need in terms of perhaps dietary requirements and things of that sort. Students typically arrive on Sunday and Catherine and team will meet you at the bus station and take you to your homestays and then on Monday you start classes.
Class is four hours in the morning – with the first two hours to get to know you and see what your interests are. The classes are always about the student – it’s really about what people need, what they want and what their expectations are.
They also host a welcome dinner and a walking tour of the town the first day. Should you decide to go for two weeks or more you also get a free cooking class. But everyone gets taken to a beautiful, isolated lagoon in the jungle as part of their package and you not only have class, but you have all your meals with your host family – all included. They have additional activities you can do too. There’s a bike tour in the jungle, amazing massages with a wonderful masseuse, a t-shirt printing with local artists and trips to Mayan ruins on the weekends. When they have people come, they consider it a full experience. You can also volunteer in our library with local students, you can volunteer in classrooms before local students, or you can give a talk about your career – which has been a real hit for kids hearing all kinds of different careers that people have. As you can see it is an experience – much more than just coming to learn language. On the virtual side of it they still include the intercultural aspect by having you and their local students Google Meet with the Spanish students and it’s an intercultural Spanish/English cultural exchange. Catherine noted that it’s been so much fun keeping that alive during the pandemic and keeping the two cultures mixing and having them learn about each other and meet each other. And their Spanish teachers also include culture in classes so it’s not just learning grammar it’s actually learning about Spanish and its culture in that part of Mexico.
Who Can Attend Na’atik?
So, anyone can attend, and it can be a family adventure too. You can actually do this where the adults in the family and the kids of the family all participate online or all travel to the destination. Catherine shared that they have hosted father / daughter combos who took the class together as well other families who split out. It’s really for everyone – children as young as eight have participated and many parents have taken the classes after they start their kids with it. Everything is catered for the young ones all the way up to the adults!
Updated COVID-19 Information: As of this writing the CDC recommends travelers are fully vaccinated before traveling to Mexico and all unvaccinated travelers should avoid nonessential travel to Mexico.
So, wow – I am beside myself. Most of you guys know I studied in Switzerland so for me travel abroad is a huge thing. I left when I was 17 and came back when I was 19 and really enjoyed that cultural immersion and that created who I am today. It really showed me that there is a world outside of my own world and I truly believe that everyone should experience some time abroad. And obviously because of COVID there are some limitations but even just having that connection online and making those friends – it’s really all about that interaction and you still can get a level of cultural immersion virtually as well. And when you feel comfortable doing you can send your children – and even attend yourself – and you can all truly live the culture!
For me, speaking with Catherine was an amazing opportunity because she follows my mission and so I feel like we’re kindred spirits. I love how she’s taken her view of language and culture and immersed it so that we can do this. And it’s super awesome because no matter how different we are, we’re so much alike at the end of the day. Whether we’re breaking bread together or we’re learning about each other’s cultures – things like this experience teach us peace, tolerance and love.
For more details on Na’atik Language and Culture Institute, it’s price points and more – contact your Travel Guru! Oh, and if you need a payment plan to fund your travel adventure – we got those too!