25 (more) experiences I’m going to have before I die … updated!

Three years after first committing this list of my 25 must-do experiences to my hard drive, here’s my light-hearted look at what’s been accomplished, what’s still “on the list”, and what’s been ditched …

Why I put my 25 experiences list in writing

When I was in Bologna, I met Judy. Judy introduced me to the idea of writing down the list of things I wanted to accomplish, to help make it real.

25 experiences before I die

Hiking in the (cloudy) Annapurnas, The Himalaya

I had such a list when I was 14. I’ve since seen the majesty of the Himalaya (that one took 22 years to become reality), scored a goal at Scarborough FC’s now defunct McCain Stadium, and dated a tall, dark and handsome guy. I think I must’ve been sniffing school marker pens when I wrote I wanted to compete in the London marathon.

Still, 9 out of 10 achieved must mean the hypothesis of this entirely unscientific experiment with a sample of 2 (me, Judy) must be true. Writing stuff down helps make it happen. Not least because you’re less likely to forget it.

So twenty-(cough)-something years later, this was my new list …

The ones about new experiences

1. Live in another city or country for at least 2 months – rent a place, shop where the locals shop, absorb the culture, speak – or try to speak – the language.
What I’ve done: I’m currently (December 2017) in Oaxaca, Mexico for three-and-a-half weeks. Half (ish) way there!

2. Climb a volcano
What I’ve done. I kinda did this in Guatemala in 2013, but it was so cloudy I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face, never mind that I was on a volcano. So I decided it didn’t count, and I’ll be volcano-climbing in Nicaragua in January 2015 instead. Yay!
What I’ve done: I went volcano-climbing in Nicaragua in early 2015, went up Mount Etna on Sicily in April 2016, and saw first-hand the Colima volcano in Mexico in October 2016. We’ll put this one down as accomplished 🙂

25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - Julie Sykes at Mount Etna crater - The Gap Year Edit

At the top of one of Mount Etna’s craters, April 2016

3. Take the train over the Copper Canyon, Mexico. What I’ve done: Finally ticked this one off in October 2016, and it was worth every penny!

Julie Sykes Copper Canyon train - 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

All aboard the Copper Canyon Railway!

4. Drink a cosmopolitan in a fancy New York bar. I’m good at drinking cocktails. I just need to move the venue from York to New York.
Update November 2016: In light of the US election result, I’ve decided not to undertake any personal travel to the USA for (at least) the next four years. Update December 2017: Nope, still not going!

The ones about learning

5. Become fluent – or pretty much, so I can at least talk around things if I don’t know a word – in another language
What I’ve done: My Spanish improvement was slow, but went up a notch in early 2015 when I went to language school in Nicaragua! In late 2016 I took some private Spanish lessons, which ended when my teacher moved back to Spain – boo! However, I’m now (December 2017) in Oaxaca, Mexico, enrolled again in Spanish language school for two more weeks – hurrah!

reading Hemingway on the Florida Keys - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

reading Hemingway on the Florida Keys

6. Read a book by Hemingway. Cos I feel as though I should.
What I’ve done: The Florida Keys were an awesome place to fulfil this one in January 2015!

7. Learn to take fabulous photos of moving water
What I’ve done: Back in March 2015. I got some tips from a photographer guru and put ’em into practice. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to go to Iguazú Falls in Argentina on honeymoon in March this year, and now also own some filters. Sorted!

long exposure photo at Iguazu Falls - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

I used an improvised filter to help take this pic – aka my sunglasses 🙂

8. Learn to ride a motor-scooter, so I have options beyond a push-bike on future Asian adventures
What I’ve done: After finding out where to take classes in my home city, Andrew and I decided we’d buy each other lessons as our wedding (yup, wedding) gifts to each other. Update December 2017: We have singularly failed to do this as yet, but it is definitely still a plan for Summer 2018 🙂

The one about love

9. Fall in love … with someone who loves me too. All together now, aaaaahhhhhh!
What I’ve done: After re-joining match.com, reading lots of books women of a certain age read when they are singletons, gone out, got phone numbers; things finally came together in August 2015 when I braved Tinder and met Andrew. We got engaged a year later, and married this February. He’s fabulous 🙂

Outside York Minster in a tuk tuk on our wedding day - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

Just Married! We had a quick photo stop after our wedding outside York Minster.

The ones about achievement and challenge

10. Hike more than a week of the Camino de Santiago, Spain
What I’ve done: Sussed out some routes and figured the Portuguese Way from Porto looks good. This is one for 2016 or beyond, I reckon … make that 2018 or beyond 🙂

11. Climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
What I’ve done:
Er, yeah, not even looked at this one!

The ones about lifestyle and fitness

12. Run 10km in less than 55 minutes
What I’ve done: Ok, this one’s frustrating the hell out of me. After joining the almost-as-cheap-as-chips gym near my house and managing to speed up by a few minutes, I entered a 10k in August 2015, in part inspired by Sir Ranulph Fiennes! My racetime was 55:21 – a race PB but 21 seconds short of my target. Since then, I’ve consistently managed to do training runs around the 54 minute mark, but race times of 56 minutes. Grrrr.

However, a bigger achievement was that, in May 2017, Andrew and I each completed an Iron Man triathlon over the course of the month (2.4 miles/3.86km of swimming, 112 miles/180.25km of cycling, 26.22 miles/42.2km of running), raising >£300 for Macmillan Cancer Support in the process. Meanwhile, the 55-minute 10km running goal WILL be achieved in 2018 🙂

Askern 10k, May 2017 - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

May 2017, another 56-minute 10k at Askern (Andrew was a lot faster!), but we raised over £300 in May for Macmillan


13. Do a regular yoga practice
What I’ve done: My yoga practice has been patchy, to say the least. I have gone to the occasional class, but occasional is the operative word. Best have a word with myself.

The ones about being creative

14. Design and sell something artsy.
What I’ve done: Yeah, not done that. Yet.

15. Own a Sulca weaving. He’s a weaver based in Arequipa, Peru, who I visited back in 2007. One day one of his works will be mine. One day …

16. Do cool textiles things in Oaxaca, Mexico. Cos I love Oaxaca. And all things Mexico. And textiles.
What I’ve done: Well, I’m in Oaxaca at the moment (December 2017), so that’s a good start! I’m doing a very good job at window-shopping for cool textiles … but this trip’s all about the Spanish.

The ones about how I earn money

17. I will continue to work hard, take pride in what I do, be decent to people no matter who they are, and live my values. How people respond to me is up to them, but I’m hoping it’ll be good 🙂
What I’ve done: I set up my Limited Company, specialising in marketing and communications, back in June 2015, and interesting work is still coming in. I also have some cool business plans to develop in the early part of 2018.

18. Publish a book
What I’ve done: Got an idea, learnt from an author at a book-publishing talk. Not much else.

19. Get a travel / travel-related article published in a national magazine or newspaper.
What I’ve done:
Hmmmm, this one’s not a priority at the moment – one to revisit in the future.

20. Develop sources of active or passive income
What I’ve done: Errr, compiled a reader offer page and included affiliate links (where I get a small commission) in some of my posts. If you want to use them, that would be awesome! I have a few other irons in the fire too – linked to #17 and my business.

The one from Bologna

21. Have the courage to follow and act on my gut feel earlier and not succumb to some British “being polite and nice” thing I seem to do, even when there’s no need. This doesn’t mean be rude to people, rather that I don’t have to extend the hand of friendship to people whose actions deserve only civility.
What I’ve done: Put it into practice in Bologna (and since)

view over Bologna - Julie Sykes 25 experiences I'm going to have before I die - The Gap Year Edit

Bologna – it’s inspirational just to look at it!

The one about getting up early (I am NOT a morning person)

22. See the sun rise over Bagan, Myanmar.
What I’ve done:
The current treatment of the Rohingya population in Myanmar means this one’s on hold.

The one about development

23. Volunteer abroad for at least a month, in a capacity-building role (not “voluntourism”).
What I’ve done: Since November 2015 I’ve been mentoring young people volunteering in Zambia and Uganda in all things business and marketing, via the Challenges Worldwide ICS programme. I’ve also started volunteering on a local community project in York this year (2017).

The ones about my family

I can’t completely influence these, but I can certainly offer my emotional support:

24. For my Cambodian sponsored child to fulfil his dream of becoming a policeman.
What I’ve done: In September 2015 I learnt that my sponsored child’s family had moved away from the area – I suspect for economic reasons, so I will never know if this one comes to pass. Since then I’ve been sponsoring a little girl in Bolivia.

25. For my mum and dad to go abroad. Neither of them have ever left UK shores. Getting them passports will be a challenge, getting them on a plane nigh-on impossible. I’m thinking Eurostar. Maybe Bruges?
What I’ve done: In hindsight, I’m thinking this “must-do” is more about me than it is about my parents. Mum, frankly, isn’t interested; and I’m not convinced Dad is anymore, either. I’ll play it by ear!

So, there you have it … some progress made in 2017! These experiences have already made my life richer, and I hope some of them have made – or will make – others’ lives even just a teensy bit richer too.

Why experiences are important to me

When originally writing this list three years ago, I was thinking about how my abiding memories have all been about the experiences and feelings I’ve had and shared, and the people I’ve met along the way. They’ve not been about anything I’ve bought, with the possible exception of the hangover I had when I was 19, resulting from the fact I’d bought about 16 vodkas 😉

In my view there’s no need to wait until New Year to make a list of what matters to you. If this post touches a chord, why not write your own list, and – where you can – see what you can do to make it happen …

What experiences have been your most memorable? Have you accomplished something you’d previously put in writing? Will you make your own list? Share your ideas and thoughts below.

Lava, lingo, literature and light – “experiences before I die” progress

The first few months of 2015 have been pretty eventful. I spent two months travelling in Nicaragua, lapping up its spirit and diversity. I negotiated countless chicken buses, and fended off several questions about my solo travel status. I found new contract and freelance work back in the UK. And I met someone I thought I’d connected with, only to see fate have other ideas.

Overall, 2015 has given me a tonne of happy memories.

Many are because I’ve achieved some of my 25 (more) things I’m going to experience before I die. I committed these to paper back in December, and – woo, yay and woo again – progress has been made!

A lava lava action – I climbed a volcano

Nicaragua is home to 19 (count ‘em) volcanoes, so it would have been quite hard NOT to see any whilst I was there. Whilst visiting Volcán Masaya can be done pretty much by driving up to the crater – health and safety laws are a tad different in this part of the world; Volcán Telica near León gave me the chance to hike to the summit and peer into the bubbling lava in the crater below.

Plus, those volcanoes make for some pretty dramatic sunsets. Sigh.

experiences before I did: Volcan Telica crater - volcano Nicaragua

Yup, that is the smoking crater. At Volcan Telica in Nicaragua.

For more, read my post on visiting Nicaragua’s volcanoes without breaking (too much) of a sweat.

Learning the lingo – I became (more) fluent in another language

Ok, so fluent would be a huuuuuugely stretching description of my Spanish language “talents”, but two weeks in language school, followed by independent travel in Nicaragua, helped enormously. At least I can now make a passable attempt at the past tense.

Plus I had a drunken conversation in Spanish at 3am the other Sunday morning after a loooooot of vodka. That counts, right?

For the rest of 2015, going to Spanish Meetup groups will continue. Plus I’m aiming for a trip somewhere Latin America-esque later in the year. There’s still work to do on this one, folks, still work to do…

Classic literature – I read Hemingway on the Florida Keys

Hemingway passed me by at school, so as part of my occasional, “I must read some modern classics” phase (DH Lawrence was a step too far), I decided Hemingway was a must.

And what better place to buy a Hemingway novel than at his former home in Key West, on the Florida Keys?

I read the compelling and descriptively narrated, “The Old Man and the Sea” whilst watching the sunset over the Keys with a glass of wine. A general feeling of “this is the life” ensued.

Letting in the light – I learnt to take photos of moving water

Turns out you use the camera’s “TV” setting and turn the number down a notch. Who knew? I’m gonna pretend this has something to do with “light” (no clue!), cos that’s the only “l” word I could think of for this post title 🙂

The “TV” tip, from a photographer guru, worked a treat on a trip to beautiful Bolton Abbey in Yorkshire, and I’ve been putting in into practice since.

I’ve since joined a couple of photography groups on Meetup, so more opportunities to practice (and learn more from other guru types) should ensue…

More experiences before I die

Lava, lingo, literature and light – achieving these four things from my “25 experiences” list has meant I’ve seen incredible sights, embraced a style of learning I usually shy away from, read something I wouldn’t usually have picked up (and loved it), and met some unforgettable people along the way.

Embracing the “do-er” in me has not only given me those wonderful memories, but reinforced in me my famed sense of pride.

And, with several more of my 25 experiences yet to achieve, I know there’ll be many more proud moments and happy memories to follow …

What are you most proud of so far in 2015? Why did it make you feel that way?

Reverse culture shock: Why aren’t complete strangers talking to me, and where are all the chickens?

From chickens to clothes to children, strangers to straighteners to Spanglish … after two months in Nicaragua, I’m experiencing a little dose of reverse culture shock back here in the UK.

Reverse culture shock 1: From morning person to night owl

reverse culture shock Nicaragua to the UK

Chickens. Still not missing them.

I’m quite happy not being woken up by chickens, monkeys and the 6am bus pomping its horn outside my window – all of which were a common occurrence in Nicaragua. But, and who thought I’d ever admit this – I’m kind of missing being up and about at first light.

In Nicaragua my daily rhythm was far more in tune with the natural rise of the sun – 6.30/7am mornings were my new norm. I even felt bright-eyed and bushy tailed.

In the UK? My alarm went off at 6.30am yesterday morning, and it took me a full half hour to open my eyes properly and even contemplate disentangling myself from my duvet. After finally succeeding, I staggered to my kitchen to make myself a good cup of coffee. Nicaraguan, of course.

Reverse culture shock 2: From five T-shirts to a whole wardrobe

reverse culture shock Nicaragua to UK

I have a whole wardrobe to choose from, not just the contents of this fella

My wardrobe choices are no longer based on, “which of my items of clothing are the least dusty?” Clearly, this sounds wonderful. But there’s something that now feels a little bit wrong about being faced with a whole wardrobe of clothes to choose from. Do I really need all this stuff?

I went out for lunch for a friends’ birthday the other day, and it took me half an hour to choose what to wear. For lunch! What’s that all about?

Travel keeps me low maintenance, and by returning to the western world of plenty I’ve automatically gone up a notch on the scale. The joy I experienced at being reunited with my high heels and hair straighteners made me feel … how can I put it … a bit shallow. But at the same time? So goooooood.

Reverse culture shock 3: From creating a fake life story – in Spanish – to, errrrrr, not!

“Oh, I was travelling with my boyfriend here for two weeks. But he had to go back to England. For work.”

Or so went the tale according to me, after being asked for the gazillionth time why I was travelling alone, and receiving numerous confused looks upon explaining I was happy doing so and I liked it.

Or – my particular fave – being asked why I didn’t have children.

The answer to that one?

“Me and my (imaginary) boyfriend have only been together six months, so it’s too soon for children at the moment.”

Seemingly not in Nicaragua, as the vehement looks and comments of disagreement told me!

It was at this point my inner voice would scream: “Arrrrrrgh, aaarrrrrrgh, arrrrrrrrrrgggghhhh! He doesn’t exist! I just made him up because I don’t want to appear any more strange than a five foot ten sort-of red-headed white girl travelling alone on a chicken bus already does, without getting into a whole debate in Spanglish about my wishes / non-wishes for children!”

reverse culture shock: Nicaragua to the UK

Ask me why I’m travelling alone / don’t have children. Go on, dare ya!

Deep breath.

Instead, I just smiled sweetly, and ordered another chicken tortilla from the nearest vendor.

Anyway, I’m not missing the regularity with which complete strangers ask me such questions about my private life.

However, I AM missing the level of interaction and chattiness that’s common in Nicaragua.

I MISS hearing those revolutionary tales – I was incredibly humbled by what ordinary people had gone through.

The only voices I hear on the London Underground are those of us from more northerly reaches of the British Isles, and tourists debating which branch of the Northern Line they need.

I mean, seriously, what’s the matter with you all? Ask me how old I am and why I don’t have children, damn you!!!

Have you experienced reverse culture shock when returning home? Share your stories below.

My top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua

Grab a cuppa coffee – or a fine batido (smoothie) – and read my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua, an often-overlooked slice of Central America …

Nicaragua has a spirit you can feel. World-class wildlife and a growing eco-tourism movement combine with a cacophony of noise, and locals who aren’t afraid to talk politics. It makes for a destination with more fire and passion than the country’s plethora of volcanoes.

The environment – travel tips for Nicaragua

1. Wildlife: embrace the wild side

There’s a whole lot of wildlife going on in Nicaragua, making it a paradise for nature lovers and photographers. Monkeys, colourful parakeets and magpies with long blue tail feathers, bats, random trees with spikes, cacti, something that looks like a giant guinea pig whose name I haven’t learnt yet …

Stop and listen for a while when you’re out walking. The forest is a magical place, full of life. I saw a skunk in the wild there. Or at least I think it was a skunk – I wasn’t getting too close to check 🙂

And let’s not forget the landscape for all that wildlife. Volcanoes abound!

my 9 top travel tips for Nicaragua - Volcan Telica crater - volcano Nicaragua

Yup, that is the smoking crater of a volcano – this one’s Volcan Telica, near León.

Who knew Nicaragua was such a wildlife and nature haven? Which brings me onto number two …

2. Show the eco-tourism movement some love

With a growing eco-tourism movement comes a choice of eco-friendly places to stay. Think solar panels, composting toilets, recycling practices, and filtered water refills; all coupled with blissful vista’d locations.

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - Esteli

Eco-friendly fincas boast views like this!

In many respects, Nicaragua seems to be going through an upsurge in environmental awareness (aside from an annoying habit of lazily-tossing rubbish from bus windows). Whether this is the result of improved education, opposition against the environmental and social impacts of the Nicaraguan Canal project, or something else entirely, who knows?

As visitors we can lead by example, and stay in some truly unique places at the same time.

3. Pack earplugs

Nicaragua is a country that gets up early. After a month, the best lie-in I’ve managed is 7.45am. It messes with my “not a morning person” sensibilities, but I’ve learnt to embrace it. Cockerels (roosters), buses pomping their horns, parrots, dogs … all will do their best to wake you up before 7am. I can’t emphasise this Nicaragua travel tip enough – take earplugs 🙂

9 travel tips for Nicaragua - mind the chickens

Chickens. They may well wake you up.

Getting around – Nicaragua travel tips

4. Buses – catch ‘em from where they originate

Many inter-city journeys in Nicaragua are only a couple of hours long, so don’t discount the good old chicken bus. They’re also very handy for days out.

The attendant will collect your fare, and – if you’re travelling from the buses’ originating point to its final destination – will fix your luggage to the roof rack.

My top tip – catch a bus at its origin point if you can – doubly true if you have luggage. That way you’ll get a seat.

Popular inter-city destinations are also served by minibuses, which will cost a little bit more (we’re talking about $0.50).

The pros: you’ll definitely get a seat, and they don’t stop at every lamppost.
The con: they don’t all have luggage racks so your rucksack may end up on your knees.

5. Get ready to share your taxi

Taxis in Nicaragua are collective, and will pick up and drop off passengers heading in (vaguely) the same direction en-route. Don’t let the prospect of getting into/sharing a cab with complete strangers freak you out, although local advice would suggest avoiding it in Managua. Journeys are very cheap (10-20 cordobas, or around $0.40-$0.80 per city journey).

[box type=”info”]I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Nicaragua for my two-month journey through this beautiful country. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

Food and drink – travel tips for Nicaragua

6. Eat the local food

OK, so you’re probably not visiting Nicaragua for the cuisine. But there’s some hearty local food to be enjoyed.

A “Nica” breakfast of gallo pinto (rice and beans mixed together), scrambled eggs, plantain and cheese is a top Nicaragua travel tip recommendation of mine, and makes a fine way to start the day.

You’ll find plenty of other typical local foods on offer, at a fraction of the price of more western cuisine: Roast chicken – goooooood. Fried plaintain crisps (chips) – gooooooood! Random sweet breads sold by ladies at bus stations – goooooood. Bags of unidentifiable fruit pieces served with a dash of chili, lime and salt – delish! Give the local food a go!

7. Get your smoothie on and/or relax in coffee heaven

You can always find a freshly squeezed fruit smoothie, known as a batido in Nicaragua.

You can get ‘em made with juice (jugo)/water, milk (leche), and sometimes with ice-cream (helado) too. In markets, street stands, juice bars, and on café and restaurant menus, fruity goodness is never too far away.

I now have a serious batido addiction.

Nicaragua is also home to some damn fine coffee. My best cup so far? At the Coffee Museum in Matagalpa, the northern highlands.

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - drink the coffee

Selva Negra near Matagalpa is a working finca, complete with coffee plantations

Local people – Nicaragua travel tips

8. Learn some Spanish

Here’s a plea from the heart: For the love of God, learn some Spanish (the country has plenty of Spanish language schools such as La Mariposa, where I spent two weeks). English isn’t widely spoken, although some guides / accommodations will speak it.

Be warned though, slang is prevalent. Even the newspaper had words that confounded my dictionary. “Chele/chela” is used a lot to describe pale skin, of anyone or anything. I met a guy with a gorgeous white horse called La Chela.

In a nutshell, knowing at least some “tourist Spanish”, particularly if you’re travelling independently, is pretty much essential.

9. Say “hola”, have a chat and maybe even meet some former revolutionaries!

Being friendly costs nothing, and a quick “hola” can go a long way. For the most part, people are friendly, although solo female travellers may be on the receiving end of random declarations of love from men they haven’t even had a conversation with (I just ignored these).

my top 9 travel tips for Nicaragua - meet some revolutionaries!

These guys, in the Museum of the Revolution in Leon, are more than happy to talk politics!

A good natter isn’t hard to come by. People here are good conversationalists – they have opinions about politics, the Nicaraguan Canal project, different countries, and aren’t afraid to discuss them. You might even meet some former revolutionaries! This all helps to get under the skin of Nicaragua a little more, and to confound a few perceptions.

From the coffee-picker who had studied English via a correspondence course with the University of Birmingham in the UK, to the retired biologist expressing his views on Margaret Thatcher before picking me some fresh mandarins, just two more examples of how the spirit of Nicaragua is very much alive and kicking.

What would you add to these 9 travel tips for Nicaragua? Have you travelled there, or considered it?

Is Spanish language school worth it?

To try and communicate better with local people when travelling, I enrolled in two weeks of Spanish language school in Nicaragua. Was it worth the effort?

Seven years after first mastering enough Spanish to be able to order food, work out which bus I needed to be on, and make small talk about how cold it was in my country, I felt the time had come to step it up a gear.

Why? Because I wanted to be able to communicate better with local people when I travel.

Like in November 2013, when I’d wanted to explain Bonfire Night to my Guatemalan taxi driver. My best shot in Spanish: “we have large fires in every town!” Cue: confused look.

I’ve tried to practice. A bit. Meetup groups have been a boon, as have my trusted teach-myself Michel Thomas CDs. In all honesty though, I’ve previously shied away from classroom learning – the prospect reminded me of my school days, where I had:

  • a very competent but incredibly narcissistic French teacher (I quit French);
  • an extremely good and personable German teacher who was unfortunately bound by the not-updated-since-the-1960s Cold War-era National Curriculum of late 1980s Britain. Consequently we learnt a lot of vocab about moon landings. And the German for “three stage rocket.” Not helpful.

And so to Spanish language school in Nicaragua …

And so it was with some trepidation I booked two weeks of Spanish language school in Nicaragua, at the La Mariposa school. My mission:

  • Firstly, to learn more words. “Fireworks” would be a good start.
  • Second, to be able to use a better version of the past tense. After all, “I visited” sounds soooooo much more natural than, “I have visited”. Verdad?
La Mariposa Spanish language school in Nicaragua

Mariposa = butterfly 🙂

My first Spanish language school class

It was grammar. Eek.

The thought of reciting verbs, parrot fashion, filled me with dread.

However, as I was seated in a garden full of actual parrots, I was in good company. Maybe they could help me?

parrots in the garden of La Mariposa Spanish language school Nicaragua

Could this guy help me with my Spanish verbs?

In the first lesson, we whizzed through a present tense recap, and I learnt some more irregular verbs. Who knew there were so many?

Next up, it was conversation.

In my first conversation class, we went for a walk. Learning the words for what we saw along the way. Trees, runners, birds. Nicaragua has a lot of birds. All good.

Types of Spanish language school lessons

Lessons didn’t follow a set script. My tuition was one-on-one (which was the norm in my Nicaraguan Spanish language school), so the teachers could adapt best to the students’ needs and learning styles. As a “learn by doing” type, that suited me down to the ground.

And so, over the course of the next two weeks, I:

  • played Scrabble in Spanish (I think I was cheated by a complete lack of vowels);

    library at La Mariposa Spanish language school Nicaragua

    For all my children’s books needs – the library at my Spanish language school

  • read children’s books, which were surprisingly brilliant for learning new – and sometimes surreal – vocabulary. “Bruja” is “witch.” Just in case you need it …
  • learnt commonly used phrases. I enjoyed reciprocating here; my teacher now knows how to say, “it’s raining cats and dogs”;
  • discovered I have the potential to be witty in another language. Either that or my teachers were just being polite when they laughed.

It was also surprisingly helpful to have teachers who didn’t speak English. I HAD to learn, one way or another!

The learning environment

I didn’t feel cooped up in a classroom.

is Spanish language school worth it?

Classes outdoors suited me down to the ground.

In the gardens that were the school’s classrooms I finally got to grips with the past tense in a non-scary way, and was able to say I’d “seen the bird”, “visited the volcano”, “bought something at the market”. Yay!

That’s not to say my head wasn’t fried at the end of each morning’s lessons, though. Four hours of learning a day was quite enough. Plus homework. Which I actually quite enjoyed doing – I could FEEL the progress.

Was Spanish language school worth it?

Yes, absolutely. For an investment of a few hundred dollars for one-on-one tuition, attending Spanish language school in Nicaragua was definitely “vale la pena” (worth the effort).

My newly improved language skills are now being unleashed on the good people of Nicaragua, as I travel around this beguiling country.

My vocab is slowly improving, and – after a week of confusing my past tense grammar types, I finally had a lightbulb moment and it all made sense. Now, if only I knew the word for lightbulb

[box type=”info”]I went to Spanish language school in Nicaragua, a country I’d highly recommend. I used the Lonely Planet Guide to Nicaragua for my trip. Help the site by buying the guide through this link, at no extra cost to you.[/box]

What have you found to be the best / most achievable ways of improving your language skills? Would you consider going to a language school?