A Travellerspoint blog

Casa HOY Spanish Crash Course

Volunteering in a foreign country can be quite daunting because of the language barrier. The majority of Casa HOY volunteers, regardless of their Spanish fluency, become adept charades players with hilarious signature moves. My favorite so far has been an Australian volunteer’s gestures for “my clothes are dirty and need washing.” To be honest, communicating at your volunteer project with staff and benefactors can be downright maddening without basic Spanish. While you can still have a very meaningful volunteer experience with no Spanish, having some basic language skills is always, obviously, helpful. To fit this demand, we at Casa HOY have designed a Spanish crash course that fits your budget and schedule, and more importantly, your immediate need to interact and communicate at your volunteer placement.

The Casa HOY Spanish Crash Course, unlike classes at traditional language schools, is designed with the volunteer’s first week experiences, needs and wants in mind. We know what situations you will encounter your first few weeks of volunteering and what vocabulary is most pertinent. The Spanish Crash Course is designed for the first week of volunteer work, with a second week of class also possible. The method we use is known as the call-and-response method. The call-and-response method is historically common in African American culture, which focuses on orally based teaching. For example, in African American churches it is common for the minister make a statement or ask a question that solicits a group response from the congregation. With the call-and-response method, the student doesn’t need to understand what she/he is saying; all they have to do is respond. For example: Teacher: “tomo,” points to student “tomas.” Teacher points to self, “tomo,” asks student, “tomas?” Student responds, “tomo.”

Focusing on verbs, this crash course will teach you everything from commands (don’t jump on me!) to introductions (sup, little dude?) to getting toilet paper for the toilet-seat-less toilet at your volunteer placement. Everything is taught in Spanish, although the teachers understand English and will answer any questions you have. A Spanish only environment tunes your ear and mouth to the new sounds being taught. The teacher repeats vocabulary and corrects your pronunciation until the words become familiar. By listening and automatically responding to what a teacher asks you, you will then be able to interact with people in Spanish almost reflexively. At the end of the week, you will have a confidence with the Spanish language that beginners rarely have after just a few hours of class.


The crash course starts on Tuesday, your first day of volunteer work, and can be offered before lunch or after lunch, depending on your volunteer schedule. You have one hour a day, for a total of four hours the first week. If you decide to continue with classes the second week, you will then have five hours. The class is taught at the volunteer house. ¿Estás lista? ¡Estoy lista!

picture from: http://24.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_ktn1s2P8M51qa4l57o1_400.jpg

Posted by UnMejorHOY 15:13 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico spanish volunteer cuernavaca spanish_class language_study immersion cultural_immersion Comments (0)

Favorite Eats in Downtown Cuernavaca

The downtown area is packed with so many places you really don’t know which one to step into. Since most volunteers eat out very little, I’ve come up with a short list of three places you have to try, and some at the bottom that are worth going to if you’re here longer.

Iguana Greens

Packed at lunchtime, this comida corrida (Mexican fast food, three course meal) offers all of the traditional Mexican foods you HAVE to try before you leave. Enchiladas, chiles rellenos and tacos are just a few of the main dishes on their daily menu. You can get rice, a main dish, dessert and fruit juice for $40 pesos – less than $3.50 USD!! They've got quirky, colorful art on the walls. Open for breakfast and lunch.

La Maga

The best salad bar in town, La Maga offers a wide variety of appetizers, starters, sandwiches, typical Mexican dishes, desserts and of course, drinks. Dinner deals offer a main dish (sandwich, enchiladas, cecina (thin steak) and more, plus a drink (lemonade, beer or wine) for just $55 pesos. On the weekends there is live music or shows, and a movie club on Thursdays. A back room holds a small library. This cozy, funky café is responsible for my love of sangria and the setting for many get-togethers, dates and delicious conversations.

El Gringo

Despite its foreign-based name and owner, Café El Gringo is a charming spot to enjoy Mexican and international favorites. Breakfast ranges from pancakes and waffles to chilaquiles and huevos rancheros, while lunch fare includes sandwiches and enchiladas. You can get a coffee or juice with your meal for $65-75 pesos- a little steep for my piggy bank, but worth it for the great quality food, tranquil setting and friendly service.

El Barco – try pozole, a pork or chicken based soup.

La Cueva – for comida corrida. My favorite is the chicken salad stuffed avocado.

Colibrí – more of a café, but the molletes (toasted bread topped with refried beans and cheese) are cheap and filling if you’re looking for a snack to hold you over till mealtime.

Casa Colonial – a hotel down the street from the Brady Museum, and waaaaaayyy out of my budget (about $150 pesos a meal), but if you’re looking to splurge and want some amazing food for breakfast or lunch, this is the place to go.


Posted by UnMejorHOY 17:23 Archived in Mexico Tagged food mexico volunteering eating enchiladas tacos cuernavaca mexican_food downtown_cuernavaca Comments (0)

Summer Volunteering Slideshow

The summer is officially drawing to a close. School has started, you can’t get a seat on the bus and volunteers have to make 3x as many copies as before. I’m looking forward to an end to the rainy season. It’s been a whirlwind 3 ½ months of volunteering and traveling that have seen lots of awesome changes for Casa HOY and its volunteers. We’ve moved our volunteer house downtown, opened up several great projects around Cuernavaca and in surrounding cities and acquired new staff members.

Volunteers from the US, China, England, Canada, the Czech Republic and Australia joined us to work in our English teaching, childcare, environmental and computer tutoring programs. When they weren’t volunteering and exploring Cuernavaca, participants took advantage of their free time to travel to the neighboring cities of Mexico City, Puebla, Tepoztlán, Taxco and Oaxaca. We’ve put together a slideshow to commemorate the end of our summer months, while looking forward to having our fall volunteer participants!

Posted by UnMejorHOY 17:13 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering international cultural volunteer voluntourism cuernavaca participatory intercambio alternative_travel participatory_travel english_teaching Comments (0)

My fountain

Views from the first Oxxo


Cuernavaca is becoming a city of fountains. It is somewhat unexpected, but there’s a logic to it. They are almost as numerous as the Oxxo convenience stores where you can buy ice cream or beer or Yoli or any other of life’s necessities that you forgot you needed until, say, 9 in the evening. Volunteers who decide to hike up the endless hill from the center to Casa HOY have been known to be saved from dehydration with a stop at the first Oxxo on Subida a Chalma, which is my favorite. There are a couple of reasons why it is. First of all, on a clear day you can see the volcano Popocatepetl (“el Popo” to close friends) from there, kind of floating in the far distance, sometimes gleaming at the top if it happens to have snow on it. The second reason is the glorieta in the center of the intersection in front of the Oxxo with a fountain in the middle of it. It isn’t anything like the fountains of Rome or even Mexico City. It’s just a large round pool with a pipe in the middle that sends up a stream of water that splashes down into the base of the fountain. It makes a very pleasant, cooling, well, splashy sound.


When I first encountered this traffic circle, the old fountain wasn’t working. It looked very sad and abandoned. Then workmen came and began to dig out around the old fountain, smarten it up and put in the new pipe, tile the whole affair, add plants in two rows all round the base, turn on the water, and suddenly the glorieta turned glorious.

After my fountain got going again, it was as if Cuernavaca was in the midst of a fountain epidemic. Fountains began to appear everywhere. They come in all sizes, the most common being small, and are mostly simple, round, shallow pools with a stream of water shooting up; some are variations of the basic design; all liven the atmosphere whatever their size. There are fountains on the major avenues leading into the city, wherever there are islands running down their centers. These have become oases, adorned with pretty plantings and remarkably green grass. And they are nurtured by gardeners and watered during the dry season. The tankers used to water them might slow the traffic a little, but in all seasons, the plantings thrive.

Now, even less prominent avenues are becoming fountained. It is a wonderful thing to come to this place to work as a Casa HOY voluntourist and discover that not only is the work rewarding and appreciated, but it is situated in the City of Eternal Spring—or the City of Many Fountains.

Posted by UnMejorHOY 14:19 Archived in Mexico Tagged landscapes fountain mexico voluntourism cuernavaca casa_hoy popocatépetl travel_in_morelos Comments (0)

Communication is the Key

It seems that the more ways there are to talk, the less communication there really is. My sister has a brand new i-phone and I can still only get her to call me from the house phone. Sometimes I feel like the character played by Drew Barrymore in the movie “He’s Just Not that into You” –

“I had this guy leave me a voice mail at work, so I called him at home, and then he emailed me to my BlackBerry, and so I texted to his cell, and now you just have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.”

As a student or a professional, communicating by various modes of technology is essential. When it comes to volunteering, however, some people seem to opt out of communicating during their stay. They want to disconnect from the world, so they don’t check e-mail and they turn off their phones. Or maybe they’re too frustrated trying to dial a number from the crazy Mexican phones which require different area codes depending on whether or not it’s a cell phone or a home phone. (That's how I would be, anyway). Whatever their excuse is, volunteers (and people in general, I’m not just picking on participants) have a hard time maintaining correspondence.

At Casa HOY we try to limit virtual communication because, well, it’s just so much nicer to get a coffee or a beer and have a face-to-face chat with you! However, we do have a set number of emails that we send previous to your arrival at Casa HOY, as well as an IVHQ evaluation form for after your trip. For the time in between, we ask that you treat HOY staff like a good friend, sharing details about your participatory experience and voicing any questions or concerns you may have. Casa HOY has also developed a private group called for current volunteers on Facebook. There, we will update you on outings, safety issues, volunteer placement information, and anything else we think is important for you to have the greatest volunteer experience possible.

Even though you may want to avoid technology during your stay, which we very well understand, there are a few situations that you MUST notify us of, in advance, if possible (we’ll make the phone call):

  • If you’re not going to volunteer work, for whatever reason, health or otherwise.
  • If you’re not going to Spanish classes, for whatever reason, health or otherwise.
  • If you’re leaving the program early, or staying extra weeks.
  • If you get into trouble with the law.
  • If you’re not satisfied with or are have concerns/problems with your volunteer placement.

A few situations that we HIGHLY recommend you use our giant wealth of experience and contacts for:

  • If you’re sick and need over the counter medicine or to go to the doctor.
  • If you’re traveling and/or need transportation information and tips.
  • If you need ideas for games or activities for your volunteer project.
  • If you would like more recommendations for restaurants, bars and social life in Cuernavaca.

Drew Barrymore quote taken from: http://www.divinecaroline.com/22306/102966-never-lonely-anymore#ixzz20cmjZKWg

Posted by UnMejorHOY 21:38 Archived in Mexico Tagged mexico volunteering volunteers communication cuernavaca alternative_travel cell_phones facebook_group Comments (0)

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