IMAC, (Instituto Mexico Americano de Cultural), the Spanish Language Institute, is recognized as one of the finest Spanish language immersion schools in all of Latin America. Their program in Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico, is the best of the best, not only for its academic instruction but also for its cultural connections.
Lynn Rosen and Steve Giordano, of High On Adventure, headed to Mexico to learn Spanish. It was an adventure.
The historical district of “The City of Roses”, IMAC Guadalajara is host to students of all ages ranging from 16 to over 70 from all over the world.
IMAC realizes that many people come to study Spanish while on vacation and so accordingly twist and bends its programs to accommodate travelers’ schedules.
Our circumstance was a perfect example. My husband and I were in a group of seven travel writers in Guadalajara for a larger annual conference. We had, as a small enthusiastic tribe, elected to spend the week at IMAC before our professional meeting to experience some Spanish immersion. Although IMAC includes a substantial cultural element in their Spanish language school curriculum, we were extremely fortunate to have our own private and personal cultural guide, pictured at left.
“When we marry,” Ofelia explained, “ we never lose our father’s name. Alatorre is my father‘s name and Aubert is my husband’s.” Cultural Fact – Upon marriage a woman drops her mother’s last name and replaces it with her husband’s last name, with a de (of) in front of it.
We were thus launched on our journey into Mexican culture simply by the name of our guide. Did I mention this week’s transactions were, by decree, conducted entirely in Spanish? Well, almost entirely.
We were comfortably billeted at our hotel, De Mendoza, right in the middle of Guadalajara’s historic district. We all felt a bit sanctified when we learned we were staying in the old Santo Domingo Convent (nunnery), next to the Santa Maria de Gracia church (1542) that was the first metropolitan cathedral in all of Mexico.
The rooms were simple, a bit “monastic,” but utterly clean and comfortable. The staff was so accommodating and helpful, we all began to feel we were living with a great big family.
The dining room served fresh, tasty and reasonably priced food with excellent and gracious service. Hotel De Mendoza had become our boarding house home away from home.
Even if you weren’t booked into IMAC’s language program, staying at De Mendoza puts you close to the Degollado Theater, Government Place, the Metropolitan Cathedral, the Canbañas Cultural Institute, the Regional Museum and the famous San Juan de Dios Market.
We seven were at all levels of classes for IMAC, the Spanish Language School. Before leaving home, we’d all filled out online, preliminary paperwork and a Spanish questionnaire to assess each of our proficiencies. When we arrived for our first morning of classes, each of us had personal meetings with instructors who further refined our class placements.
Never having studied any Spanish whatsoever, I was placed in Spanish class 101. That’s no Spanish language ever, none, nada.
Our IMAC teacher was a young woman with endless energy, patience and skills. She taught us the obligatory vocabulary and conjugation, but with a very personal and usable approach. In addition to engaging all of us in Spanish conversation with one another, she played different types/styles of Spanish music from different geographical cultural regions to give us a sense of various styles from tango to salsa to rumba. She was even cool enough to demonstrate the different dancing moves.
My class was fantastic. Fellow students included an automotive engineer from Germany, a language teacher from London, a young woman from California whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico but never learned Spanish, a young man from California who was trying to get a job in the state parks department, an older woman who wanted to travel in Latin America.
Our teacher also gave us IMAC t-shirts that declared “I Speak Spanish” and took us outside the classroom on a walking tour of the historical district. We were, after all, right in the middle of such treasures as the Palace of Justice with world-famous José Clemente Orozco murals and the Rotunda de los Jalisciences Ilustres.
Throughout the school, there were quite a few Mexican-Americans learning Spanish. Many students were there learning Spanish to enhance their employment opportunities. We were mixed in with the general student population that contributed to the wonderfully eclectic, cultural experience.
Every morning taxis fetched the seven of us and drove us the few miles to IMAC for our four-hour language classes. After classes, our amazing cultural guru, Ofelia, met and walked us through the historical neighborhood to different local restaurants each day for lunch and then on an afternoon cultural adventure in the city. We rode public transit, we went to the public market, we visited iconic historical sites.
One of Ofelia’s cultural outings took us to the University of Guadalajara School of Music located in an old monastery. Music students with their instruments sat practicing everywhere in courtyards and on balconies.
The seven of us were showed into a large classroom with multiple platforms, music stands, folding chairs and open windows. We sat randomly and listened to the gathering number of music students who filtered in, filled in all the chairs around us and began tooting up.
After a while, their conductor arrived, took the podium and began conducting a remarkable medley of American jazz classics. There we were! Right in the middle of a huge jazz orchestra in Guadalajara. Mexican conservatory students playing seamless 30s American jazz Big Band classics such as “Sing, Sing, Sing.” One young vocalist even sang “Love” in English! It was very cool. The University of Guadalajara has 250,000 students and we were all fortunate to have seen just a tiny part of their School of Music.
Each afternoon, Ofelia took us through a different part of the historical district. One day, we were given pesos and let loose with lists to buy ingredients for dinner at the public market. Surprisingly, we were taken the following evenings to unexpected dinners at the homes of local families, Ofelia’s included! These family evenings were truly the best part of our entire Guadalajara experience as we all were privileged to be welcomed into local homes, enjoy traditional meals and visit with hospitable Guadalajarans—an experience no ordinary tourist would ever have. It was a treat beyond measure.
Although we seven were privileged to have our own personal cultural guide, Ofelia, IMAC also incorporates social and cultural activities and excursions into their language curriculum.
The IMAC program offers options to uncover and explore the richness of the Mexican culture and adventures of Guadalajara. Spanish language immersion in Mexico also means immersion into the experience and enjoyment of the Mexican culture. In accordance with that mandate, IMAC offers many opportunities such as homestay.
Intensive immersion Spanish language learning is made so much easier by living with homestay families at very reasonable rates. IMAC places only one student per family unless otherwise requested. These local Mexican families are chosen from the families of local Guadalajara students studying English at the school who are familiar with the guidelines and the school’s focus.
The Homestay program includes three meals per day, board from one day before classes begin through one day after classes finish and family sessions in the kitchen to learn Mexican home cooking. Cost: $98 USD/Week/per person.
The Hotel program includes discounts in several of Guadalajara’s historic downtown hotels from four-star service to less expensive accommodations and international hostel accommodations, all within walking distance of the school. Rates range from $107/week-$400/month down to $85/week-$365/month and less.
Hostels in the city are also an option.
The Apartment program includes – for more independent living – modern apartments that average from $550 to $1,500 per month for two people. No meals are included. More options are available at higher prices.
IMAC offers tours of many surrounding regions of cultural interest such as Tequila, Lake Chapala, Chula Vista, Tlaquepaque and Tonala. These tours are offered at a minimal additional charge.
IMAC’s Spanish language programs begin every Monday except during Christmas and Easter. Students can study from one week on. Most students stay for four weeks. See the IMAC website for more specific details.
IMAC Spanish Language Programs, Donato Guerra No. 180 (Historic Downtown Area), Guadalajara, Jalisco 44100, Mexico
Tel: 52-33-3613-1080; Fax: 52-33-3613-4621; e-mail: [email protected]; http://www.spanish-school.com.mx/guadalajara/our-inst.php
Hotel de Mendoza: www.demendoza.com.mx
Photos by Steve Giordano