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CLA - Culture and Language Abroad

About

Culture and Language Abroad is a uniquely immersive study program based in the UNESCO World Heritage city of Guanajuato, Mexico. Unlike less personal exchange programs, we focus on designing individual curriculum experiences that are authentic to both student’s needs and local culture. CLA is a non-profit founded and operated by a dedicated team of international educators – who also happen to be Guanajuato natives – whose university and community networks assure that program participants will study and live like a true local.

Founded
2015

Reviews

Default avatar
Joe
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

Guanajuato is a beautiful city full of colour, vibrancy, and a friendly mix of locals and other international students. It's a great city to wander and find live music, fantastic street food or a little bar/coffee shop to relax in. As long as you make an effort with trying to speak, the citizens of Guanajuato are friendly and receptive and it was overall an extremely pleasant place to live. Fabiola and Samantha were our local program administrators with CLA and it's hard to put into words how incredible they were. From picking us up at the airport to showing us around the city to organizing weekly cultural excursions, we quickly became friends who I still keep in contact with today. My experience was definitely improved with Fabiola & Samantha's guidance and I couldn't have asked for a better study abroad program with them. I stayed with a family who again I cannot fault. I was apprehensive at first because I was joining a very large family coming from a small household, but they immediately treated me like I were one of their own. But when living with a family, it's important to get yourself involved with mealtimes and general family time. They are one of your best resources when learning Spanish and they'll be interested in your life and background too! When choosing a study abroad program, the academic program was important. I wanted to learn more about the language and place I was living but didn't want to spend my whole time inside of a classroom. I found that the academic program at the University of Guanajuato was a perfect match of what I wanted, and all the professors I had were extremely friendly and dedicated to helping us learn. Financially, it's important to budget your money and resist the urge to spend it all in the first few weeks. There are so many restaurants, bars, coffee shops, museums and other attractions that if you're awful at self-control like myself, it's easy to overspend at the beginning of study abroad. Other than that, like any tourist city it has its expensive and cheaper areas. It just takes a little while to figure it out.

What is your advice to future travelers on this program?
My advice would be to budget well. Guanajuato is an amazing city and it's easy to want to spend your money at all the different bars, restaurants, museums, cinemas etc.
Default avatar
Hannah
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I had the opportunity to spend three months studying abroad (of my planned six months) before COVID-19 hit. It was truly the best three months of my life. I was placed with a host family that home-cooked every meal and had two amazing and supportive host parents. The academics were good, but the highlight of university life was meeting other students (both domestic and exchange). There were so many opportunities to meet people (language exchanges were a favorite). The cultural activities that we did the program were also really tailored to our interests and super fun/informative (cooking classes, a traditional tattooing workshop). Once COVID-19 hit, the director had us quarantine in her house with her before we had to leave. It was a great bonding experience and above-and-beyond for her to let us to live there just to assure our safety. Everyone involved in the program truly wants what's best for you and for you to have the best time you possibly can. I cannot recommend this program enough. If there's anything I could change, it would be the timing of the pandemic so I could stay longer.

What was the most surprising thing you saw or did?
People eating crickets! I never tried one (I was never brave enough) but there was a woman who sold cooked crickets outside of my house and there were always people buying them!
Response from CLA - Culture and Language Abroad

Thank you Hannah! We miss you <3

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Naho
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I am very satisfied with the program. That time was indispensable. Fabiola and Samantha are so kind and showed us many places, and always took care of us. Also, they have good relationships with the host families. I found that living with a host family is very different from living alone in Mexico. You can eat Mexican food, talk in Spanish all the time with people who they live there, and you can learn lots of things by living with them. I enjoyed the time with my host family, and of course Fabiola and Samantha.

What was the most unfamiliar thing you ate?
Chapulines is the most unfamiliar thing I ate in Mexico. It’s a locust, tasted by chili. For me it tasted like a small fish.
Default avatar
Erin
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I studied abroad in Fall semester of 2019 and I loved it! Like most study abroad students, I had my reservations about coming. While of course there are moments of frustration when you can't communicate yourself in Spanish, I would not hesitate to recommend it to anyone. You will not only grow immensely in your Spanish abilities, but in confidence, cultural knowledge/awareness, understanding about yourself, and most importantly, your dancing skills haha. (I would highly recommend the dance class- it was awesome). CLA had a lot of things I was looking for in a program. I loved that they were a small organization, run by locals who knew the culture and I could answer my many questions using their own experiences. Fabi and Samantha were awesome and made me feel comfortable talking (even when my Spanish was rough) giving me more confidence to share. I often felt that we had actually known each other longer than we had! haha. Interestingly, I have a lot of other friends who have studied abroad in a Spanish speaking country and their reports seem to be similar. They had a great time but spoke a ton of English with their large group of students in their program, not making many friends with the locals. Being a small program, I was encouraged to speak a lot of Spanish and had the chance to interact with other Mexican students and exchange students, all in Spanish! Regarding the schooling, I really enjoyed my Spanish for foreigners classes. Not only was the location super cool but the classes were great too and I loved the complimentary conversation classes offered through CAADI. The program also did a lot of fun excursions. The city itself is a really great location too. Full of history, there are a million museums and interesting architecture. The night life is also super fun. I didn't realize how quiet my university city was until I returned from the night life of Guanajuato! And of course the food. So yummy! I miss the street ice cream so much. :'( I am also celiac and finding gluten free food can be challenging. However, it was actually really easy to find food to eat! All of the corn products are great. They even have some natural foods stores that carry other allergen free products in case subsisting on corn tortillas is too hard haha. All in all, a wonderful experience with this great program and in such a magical city. Thanks for everything! I will treasure these experiences forever.

Default avatar
Lisa
10/10
Yes, I recommend this program

I am a senior at Soka University of America, during my junior year I did a semester abroad in Spring 2019, and so far it has been the best experience that has ever happened to me in my life yet. Due to Mexico's proximity to the United States and Mexican immigrants, a lot of us tend to think that we know Mexican culture–I was not the exception. However, here are 3 reasons that I personally think we should choose CLA as a program for study abroad or summer experience. 1. Guanajuato is very rich in history and culture therefore it is UNESCO world heritage. 2. It is a university city. For me, it could not get any better. There is this rich culture in Guanajuato and in addition it has thousands of offers for a young population due to the presence of students. There is no better way of learning and experimenting the Mexican culture first hand than hanging out with fellow students. 3. CLA program offers almost a personalized approach to exploring Guanajuato. Fabiola (the director of the program) is very careful and specific on planning the excursions that will give the students a true understanding of the Mexican way of life. It offers a sense of comfort and trust as not only is she born and raised in Guanajuato but also she is very well traveled therefore she is very understanding of culture shocks and could ease her students in the experience. Something that I personally find very appealing to the program as a whole. Another great thing that I loved about the program is the accessibility of the program director 24/7 to her students. While the culture was certainly distinct from my own, CLA helped me experiment Guanajuato culture to a point that it did not feel so foreign that I could not connect on some level. But that is the charm of Guanajuato and its people, it is different enough to be intriguing and exciting, but not so different that you could not integrate yourself at some point. All the students who do a study abroad in Guanajuato, they always return there atleast once. It is that magical.

What was your funniest moment?
I am a very picky eater. We went to a restaurant and we were served guacamole, that had some sprinkled stuff that looked like caramelized onions, and I thought that it was that. I ate it, and i remember saying "wow this is so crunchy and salty, I love it. What is it?" They told me that it is "chapulines"–a mexican grasshopper. I nearly fainted! Definitely would not have tried it, if they had told me what it was and I am glad that they did not.

Programs

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Staff Interviews

These are in-depth Q&A sessions with program leaders.

Fabiola Estrada Valtierra

Job Title
Founder and Director

What is your favorite travel memory?

My favorite travel memory is sitting at the stairs of the Golden Temple - a religious city in Amritsar, India - and hearing the ceremonial call from the speakers that were situated in several points of the wall.

I remember thinking that even though I couldn't be further away from home, I have never felt more at ease and in touch with my true self!

I realized there and then that I wanted to provoke those feelings in other travelers by showing them my own country and all of its exotic and mythical places. It was then when the idea of CLA was born!

How have you changed/grown since working for your current company?

Starting a company (an NGO in my case) is a challenge in every possible way. You learn so much about everything and realize that to thrive you need to have many sets of skills and be truly multidisciplinary.

I realized that university doesn't teach you many of the skills you need. The most important thing that I have learned throughout this process is to trust my instincts and to remember that it is ok if you don't know everything about everything, as long as you can accept that and ask for help when you need guidance and you are willing to be an autodidact.

What is the best story you've heard from a return student?

I love to hear the things that they miss the most about Guanajuato when they go back home. Funnily enough, things that they miss the most are often elements of their daily routine - the faces of the people waiting for the bus, the kids coming out of school, the man that sells ice-cream in the street where they lived, etc.

If you could go on any program that your company offers, which one would you choose and why?

I would definitely choose the 20 Weeks: Semester in Guanajuato because it has all the components for an amazing experience and for discovering all spectrums of society and culture in Mexico.

What makes your company unique? When were you especially proud of your team?

Myself and the other three founders were study abroad addicts ourselves, so we really identify with our participants and always try to provide the best, most valuable experience for them.

What do you believe to be the biggest factor in being a successful company?

Really putting ourselves in the shoes of the student by providing the experiences that we would have liked to have when we studied abroad.