There are some trips that you remember fondly, some you might look back on as exhausting, and then there are those that actually change your life, heart, and perspective forever. Jakera's Learn Spanish & Volunteer is absolutely this last option. With a combination of a thoughtfully built and well-run program, and the setting of the absolutely unforgettable and unique Cuba, I promise you will find these 6 weeks too short.
The program was 2 weeks in Havana taking Spanish classes in the morning and then having a cultural activity in the afternoon (either a salsa class - my FAVORITE! - or an interesting cultural tour around important sites in Havana), then 2 weeks volunteering in a beautiful small beach town called Playa Giron (where the Bay of Pigs happened), and then the final 2 weeks back in Havana taking Spanish classes again and volunteering with local programs.
Housing both in Havana and in Playa Giron was in a central location, comfortable, clean, and community-building (without wifi and with travelers from all over the world, people build a close knit community so quickly and easily). Every single night people in the house would either sit on the terrace, play cards, talk for hours, go out dancing, go for a walk around the city, go for a drink, walk the Malecon, etc. No boring moments when there are always people around wanting to explore and experience Cuba with you!
The Cuban staff is AMAZING. They make you feel welcome, comfortable, invited, at home, and like family. The Spanish teachers are professionals who are well-trained in Spanish instruction and also always open to suggestions. They are helpful and warm, and they make you laugh constantly. The house staff will even also help you plan out travels you might want to do around Cuba on your own, after the program has ended!
The volunteer opportunities were varied and purposeful; construction, wildlife preservation, cultural activities with children, aiding art programs, and more. The program is still growing, so I know they will be continuing to look for even more ways to get involved although we already stayed quite busy!
I know people always want to hear about the "cons" as well, but I didn't experience many. The "cons" as far as I could tell were all things that were simply "Cuba," not the program. For example, the heat and humidity - not Jakera's fault, but certainly made work more exhausting in the summer months. At times the water or electricity would have a moment when it would go out, but it would always come back on before long. Also one volunteer program changed things on us at the last minute. But this is just Cuban culture - they don't adhere to specific schedules very often. The Jakera staff was always ready with a Plan B if this happened, and always kept a positive mood going.
Overall, I absolutely loved this program. I would highly recommend it for anyone who wants to give back to the community and actually experience (not just pass through as a tourist) an entirely new culture while traveling. Cuba is a magically unique place. I have traveled a lot, and I can honestly say I've never been anywhere so special. Planning a return trip as I write this, and will go through Jakera again!