Guatemala Semester: Spanish Language and Grassroots Activism

This is a sample itinerary. No two Dragons courses are the same. Every itinerary considers the unique strengths of the instructor team and interests of the student group.
Week 1 The Central America semester begins with an orientation in the town of San Lucas Toliman on the shores of lake Atitlan. Here we spend our days getting to know one another, setting goals for our time together, and learning how to safely navigate new places and experiences. San Lucas is home to the Mesoamerican Permaculture Institute, where we learn about traditional agricultural practices and how they can help respond to many of the issues facing contemporary Guatemalan society. During this phase we practice Spanish, learn about cultural norms, try new foods and come together as a group.
Week 2 From San Lucas we travel north to the Cuchumatanes mountains and the town of Todos Santos. Here we dive into Spanish study while living with local families. Todos Santos is a very traditional community where many ancient customs are preserved. We learn about how traditional clothing is made, how food is prepared and what it’s like to live in a rural Guatemalan home. We learn about the traditional celebrations and beliefs of the highland people as well as contemporary issues like immigration and climate change.
Week 3 From Todos Santos we begin a three day trek through the misty highland mountains to the town of Nebaj. Along the way we camp at the homes of people who live off the land and traditional farming practices. By night we sleep in barns and alongside rivers and by day we walk through enchanting cloud forests and agricultural land. We end our trek in the Ixil triangle town of Nebaj. From Nebaj we transfer to the neighboring town of San Juan Cotzal. The Ixil triangle was a place of major focus by the army during the war in Guatemala and it makes a perfect setting to study the issues that led to this conflict as well as the process that has played out since the end of the war in 1996.
Week 4 In San Juan Cotzal we live with local Ixil speaking families and work alongside the women of the Tejidos Cotzal weaving cooperative. Many of the women of this cooperative came together after losing their sons and husbands during the war to help support each other economically. For over the past twenty years they have collaborated to create beautiful traditional weavings and share the profits of their work. As a result of this iniciative they have built a center for traditional weaving arts. We learn how to prepare traditional local foods at the center and we try our hand at backstop loom weaving! Our time in San Juan Cotzal closes with a traditional Mayan ceremony.
Weeks 5 - 8 From Cotzal we will head south back to the shores of Lake Atitlan, this time settling down in our program base in the town of San Juan la Laguna. In this lovely tz’utujil community we have a program house, where students gather daily for lessons, workshops and independent study projects. Mornings are spent working one-on-one or in small groups with local Spanish teachers, and evenings are spent connecting closely with welcoming homestay families. During this period of the program each student will delve into an Independent Study topic of their choice, working with a local mentor to learn a craft or explore a theme of study.
Weeks 9 - 11 During this phase of the course students work together as a group to collectively complete a large group challenge. This will most likely involve an expeditionary trip into Chiapas in Southern Mexico, where students will make use of the skills they’ve developed thus far to explore a new area. Heading into the northern section of the mystical Lacandona Jungle, we live with traditional families in the village of Nahá where community members are working to preserve and share their ancestral customs and territory. In Nahá we observe the ways in which Mesoamerican culture has evolved and persisted in Southern Mexico compared to Western Guatemala. Additional options include rainforest treks to dramatic waterfalls and remote Mayan ruins, socio-cultural exploration in the city of San Cristóbal de las Casas, and service learning projects in farming communities.
Week 12 The final portion of the course is known as ‘transference’ and is the phase of the course where all of the knowledge that the group has gained is integrated into life at home. Transference is spent at an eco lodge outside of Antigua, Guatemala. Here we reflect on all the things we’ve learned and brainstorm about how to keep the lessons and experiences we’ve had alive and relevant upon returning home. We also take the opportunity to have lots of fun together, explore the colonial city of Antigua and appreciate our new friendships and connections before heading home.