After spending seven weeks in Bocas while attending Habla Ya Spanish School I have been able to sort out both some pros and of cons the school and the island itself. I also have thrown in quite a few of my personal opinions.
The best part about Habla Ya in Bocas is the teachers. They are some of the most sociable people I have ever met yet all have very different personalities. There are some who speak English fluently and others who have never taken an English class in their life (Or so it seems). Some teachers are done teaching when the clock hits noon while others will randomly show up at your house on Saturday and ask if you want to go to the beach with them. The Bocas School is definitely very tight knit with many friendly, yet professional, relationships being formed. I really appreciated that the teachers who are often the same age as the students, kept a professional demeanor with the students even at the bars on the weekends. At the same time, they never once ignored or excluded an Habla Ya student when out on the weekends. I’m about as Gringo as they come and I always felt like I had a solid foundation of people I could trust in Bocas because of the Habla Ya staff. I also thought that it was cool that some teachers actually LIVE at the school. Not only is it nice that the school (and wifi) is open 24/7 but it also give a chance to interact with the teachers on a personal level (In Spanish of course).
I highly suggest taking advantage of the free activities at Habla Ya such as movie night, salsa lessons, and conversational Spanish. When I came to Bocas, I could not understand individual words if a native Panamanian spoke to me. By watching movies, and listening to songs, I was able to differentiate individual words within three weeks. I might not have known all the words in a quick sentence but at least I had gained an “Ear” for the Spanish Language.
Just as I highly encourage the free weekend activities, I highly discourage going to the bars on the weekdays in Bocas. (This applies to long term students mostly) My view/opinion is that if you have come to Bocas to learn Spanish then make it a priority because you can go to the bars all you want when you go back home. There is nothing worse, for both the student and the teacher, than to come to class hung-over. It is very hard to concentrate and also frustrates the teachers who what you to succeed.
Bocas is very nice if you can find the right places to go. A lot of the best beaches (In my opinion) are not near the city. That said, I went swimming many times to the dirty “Beach” next to the ferry dock with the kids from my homestay. The local kids didn’t mind the trash (Which is a real problem in Bocas) so neither did I. This brings me to my last point of review.
I HIGHLY recommend a homestay while studying Spanish here. I have hardly met nicer people and they were always so happy and willing to talk to me. They patiently listened to me blubbler along in Spanish while offering gentle corrections. I felt almost a part of the Marcado family by the time I left and would not have traded that experience for anything.
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