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For Na’atik Language and Culture Institute, language tourism isn’t just about traveling somewhere to learn a few new words; it’s about diving into the culture to get a richer feel for the local tongue and way of life.
“Living with welcoming, local families; eating their foods; spending time in everyday life with the family and people in town; learning the history; and slowing down to experience new ways of looking at things — away from typical tourist areas — offers people a rich, life-changing travel experience,” said Catherine Gray, who founded Na’atik with her Mexican-Maya husband, Pedro Esquivel Puc, in 2010.
Na’atik and its homestay language immersion program is based in Felipe Carrillo Puerto (Carrillo for short) on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The Quintana Roo town is in the Zona Maya, where the Maya held out against the Spanish conquistadors before becoming part of Mexico. Maya culture is still a defining aspect of everyday life here, and the Maya language is spoken everywhere.
The company’s program for foreigners is called Study Abroad Yucatan (SAY), and involves living in Carrillo, staying with a local family and becoming fully immersed in either Spanish or Maya.
“Studying abroad” may conjure the image of college students, but Na’atik is geared toward anyone who is interested in learning Spanish or Maya in a completely immersed environment.
In addition to students, families, professionals and retirees complete the program for various reasons, including for work prospects or for a unique take on a Mexico vacation.
“People of all ages and professions grow personally and professionally by learning about new cultures and peoples, and by speaking a new language,” Gray said.
Feeling the CultureThe program is different from other language tourism programs because it uses collaboration to teach Spanish and Maya to foreigners and English to locals. The social enterprise helps local children learn English so that they can one day access higher-paying opportunities. (Each SAY booking subsidizes 200 English classes for locals.)
Both local and foreign students work together in classes or on specific projects to practice their new language skills as a team.
Environmental education is another important facet of classes for local students. Na’atik is a sustainable organization located on a fully solar-powered property and it works with local families, businesses and tour operators. Part of Na’atik’s success has to do with its position within a tight-knit community, separated from more common tourism opportunities.
One of Na’atik’s points of pride is that it’s a program where foreigners are well taken care of. Despite its off-the-beaten-path headquarters, Tulum is only a one-hour drive, and Chichen Itza takes two hours. This makes the program ideal for those who want both a local experience and time to visit more touristy areas of the Yucatan Peninsula. Carrillo offers unique activities, as well, such as cooking classes, a tour of murals around the town and chances to learn about gum harvesting from native gum trees.
Many think Maya culture is only represented in the existing Maya ruins, but the way of life is alive and well. This kind of trip educates travelers on the Maya people by dropping participants into their daily lives and letting them form their own connections with the town and the people in it.
“We feel the world could be a better place if we all stepped out of our comfort zones to learn about different parts of the world and their languages,” Gray said. “That’s why Na’atik has its name: It comes from the Maya expression to’on na’atik, which means ‘we’re understanding each other.’”
- Programs can be modified to take place in hotels or apartments rather than homestays.
- The SAY program begins at $569 per person for double occupancy and $599 for single occupancy.
- The standard schedule includes 18 hours of language classes per week.
- Small group classes contain no more than five people per class, though private classes are available as well.
- Families and children ages 8 and up are welcome to participate in the language program.
The DetailsNa’atik Language and Culture Institute www.naatikmexico.org