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Revamped Spanish language school offers complete cultural experience

October 2, 2012

Hit by falling attendance figures in recent years, the University of Guadalajara’s (UdeG)  Spanish language school has undergone a rebranding operation this summer in a bid to attract more students.

Aside from teaching Spanish, the Colegio de Español y Cultura Mexicana (CECM) also offers a range of cultural classes, workshops, internships, volunteering opportunities, a homestay program and city tours and excursions, says Director Javier Verver.

Founded 75 years ago, the school was formerly known as the Centro de Estudios Para Extranjeros (CEPE). Verver says they decided to ditch the name because it implied classes were for foreigners only, plus the fact that online searches would turn up thousands of different results for CEPE, few of which had any relation to the school. The new moniker is more marketable and gives a more accurate impression of what the school has to offer, Verver believes.

“We also run workshops in dance, ceramics, music and traditional Mexican cookery,” he says.  CECM’s cultural classes include Mexican or Latin American culture, history, literature and cinema, while the school also offers international business and other custom-made courses that can be matched to the needs of certain groups.

Yet CECM’s forte remains Spanish-language classes, which are divided in 12 levels, with 1-4 for beginners, 5-8 for intermediates and 9-12 for advanced students. These are newly certified by the Spanish Cervantes Institute in accordance with the Common European Framework (CEF), Verver says.

Courses last 50 hours and can be completed in two- or four-week periods, depending on the student’s desired intensity level. Summer classes last five weeks, but only run Monday to Thursday, with long weekends left open for travel or cultural experiences. These could include CECM-organized tours of Guadalajara, Tlaquepaque, Chapala, Tequila and Guachimontones; excursions to Puerto Vallarta, Guanajuato and Mexico City; volunteering with local orphans or child cancer victims; or professional internships with the many businesses affiliated with the UdeG.

To enroll in CECM there is a one-off lifetime registration fee of 120 dollars (this will rise to 125 dollars in 2013) and each 50-hour course costs 450 dollars (470 in 2013). New online classes are now available, comprised of 40 hours over eight weeks, for 250 dollars, while one-on-one private tuition is also available at a price of 30 dollars per hour.

CECM is located at Tomas V. Gomez 125, just off Avenida Mexico and Lopez Mateos. Even the building itself has undergone a facelift, its red-brick façade replaced with a shiny gray finish.

Aside from this Guadalajara school, CECM also runs a campus in Puerto Vallarta. Many of those who study there are retired expats aged from around 50 to 75, Verver says, while most of the 30 or so exchange students currently studying in Guadalajara are in their late teens or early twenties.

“More and more students are coming from China, Korea and Germany,” he adds, with others coming from Australia, France, Italy and, to an increasingly lesser extent, the United States.

With security problems dominating media coverage of Mexico north of the border, schools from the United States in particular have stopped sending students to Guadalajara in the past two or three years.

“In over 70 years, the only problems we’ve had here are when students drink too much, or at worst they get sick,” Verver says, adding that they should also beware of petty crime such as theft, which “happens in any big city.”

Part of CECM’s rebranding exercise is to make the school more attractive to foreign universities, particularly those in the United States, Brazil, China, Korea and the United Kingdom, Verver says. As such, from October 24 to 28, it will be hosting an “Open House,” in which representatives of 30 to 40 universities around the world are invited to stay in the homestay program, experience the classes and cultural activities on offer and visit nearby tourist destinations such as Tequila and Vallarta.

The next stage of expansion will be to open a third school in Los Angeles next year, although an exact date has yet to be set, Verver says. The UdeG already has offices in Los Angeles and CECM is looking to target California’s second- or third-generation Mexican immigrants with specialized Spanish classes for health care professionals, teachers, business purposes and legal professionals.

Jalisco natives comprise the biggest immigrant community in California, Verver notes. With this in mind, the Guadalajara school also offers re-immersement classes to help the children of immigrants rediscover their Mexican heritage.

For those visiting Guadalajara from abroad, CECM has a network of verified local families in its homestay program. They tailor guests to families that meet their personal preferences, while all provide a traditional Mexican family atmosphere and three home-cooked meals a day. A 35-day stay  in a homestay costs 1,120 dollars (1,172 in 2013) for a private room or 910 (962 in 2013) for a shared room.

For more information visit CECM’s new website: http://www.cecm.udg.mx.

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