Semilla Website, Guatemala, C.A.

Can I earn college credits for my work at CASAS?

Yes. The credits are awarded through the school you are currently attending. Schools recently awarding credit for CASAS study are Bethel (KS), Bluffton (OH), Conrad Grebel University (Ontario), Eastern Mennonite University (VA), Fresno Pacific University (CA), Goshen College (IN), and Messiah College (PA)
If you are hoping to receive college credit for CASAS courses you must indicate this in your registration form and make payment arrangements through your college or university. Visit our CASAS credit page for the contact person on your campus.

Students from other schools should talk with the Spanish Language faculty or Study Abroad office at their institution. Course syllabi are available to your registrar's office upon request.

What kind of visa do I need for entry into Guatemala?

U.S. and Canadian citizens will receive a visa as they pass through customs in the Guatemala City; this visa is usually for 90 days.
For students from countries that require a special entrance visa, the acquiring of that visa must be the individual responsibility of the student. Because we are a relatively small institution, CASAS is not able to take responsibility for facilitating special visas for entry in Guatemala."

What kind of flight reservation should I make?

As you make your flight reservations, remember that there is only one international airport, Aurora Internacional, located in Guatemala City. Once you have your flight itinerary, please send us a copy by fax, or e-mail the pertinent information.

How do I get from the airport to CASAS?

After you go through immigration, pick up your luggage and clear customs, walk through the airport lobby to the passenger pick-up area right outside the front door. Someone from CASAS will meet you at the airport -- look for a person holding a sign that says “CASAS” or “SEMILLA.”

Will I meet my family right away?

You will stay the first night at our guesthouse, with other members of your group. Breakfast begins at 7:30 the following morning. After a Spanish placement test and general orientation, your family will come to CASAS to pick you up and take you home with them in the afternoon.

When do I find out about my Spanish class?

After breakfast on your first full day in Guatemala, you will have a written placement exam. This evaluation is nothing to worry about! The teachers simply need to have some way initially to assess your Spanish proficiency. There will be time after the evaluation to talk informally with one of the Spanish teachers. This will tell the teachers more about your oral communication skills. There may be some shifting of classes and teachers in the first week as we work out the best “fit” for each student.

How much money should I bring?

It is difficult to say exactly how much spending money to bring, as different people have different needs. While CASAS takes care of housing, room and board, it is good to bring spending money for gifts and non-program-related travel. When traveling in Guatemala, you can expect to pay U.S. $10-$25 a day for transportation, food and lodging, depending on where you go and the lifestyle maintained.

Guatemala is well known for weaving and other kinds of artisan crafts, so students often bring money to buy gifts. If you think you might need extra money, bring one or two additional personal checks and/or a major credit card. Credit or debit cards with the PLUS, Visa or Mastercard symbol are the easiest to access.

Remember to include an extra $30-$40 to cover book expenses, and money to cover local bus transportation (around $10/month).

How do I change money?

CASAS can change money from U.S. cash or personal cheques into quetzales, but we have found the easiest method to access money is to use an ATM card. There is an ATM across the street from CASAS, as well as many others throughout the city.

What kind of immunizations do I need? What about other health issues?

Before coming to Guatemala, students should be updated on several vaccinations -- specifically typhoid, tetanus and hepatitis (Hep A is required while Hep B is optional). Malaria is not a concern in Guatemala City but malaria medicine can easily be obtained in the city if students decide to travel to an area where there is malaria.

One significant adjustment that most students have to make when living and studying in Guatemala is in terms of health. Your body simply is not used to the climate, the culture or the food. Even with all the precautions taken to prevent sickness, almost every North American who spends any time in Central America gets “traveler’s diarrhea” for a day or two. It’s simply part of the adjustment process! A positive attitude can go a long way toward keeping you healthy. In addition, some say that taking vitamins can help keep the immune system strong.

It is important to have health insurance with coverage in Central America. While lack of decent health care is a serious problem for many Guatemalans, there are a number of very good hospitals and physicians in Guatemala City. We rarely need to use them but they are available.

What should I bring?

CASAS students have a tendency to pack TOO MUCH. One common suggestion: bring about half of what you think you will need. Although most people in Guatemala don’t have much money, you can still buy almost anything.

In terms of clothing, there are several things to remember. Latin Americans, and Guatemalans in particular, tend to dress well. They often view North Americans as sloppy dressers. So to fit into this culture, we encourage students to dress as do most Guatemalans -- comfortably but not sloppily. While women in Guatemala City do wear pants, skirts and dresses are quite common. This is especially true in the countryside.

A reality of living in a culture where machismo (male chauvinism) is rampant is that women, especially North Americans, tend to attract more attention than they usually appreciate. This part of life is more annoying than dangerous. CASAS women students learn to ignore unsolicited stares and the occasional catcall. However, one way to reduce the amount of attention you receive is to make a conscious effort to dress with a higher degree of modesty than you might be used to, so keep that in mind when packing.

The weather in Guatemala is essentially spring-like year-round. By the middle of the day, it is usually warm but nights are almost always cool. It tends to be colder in December through February and hotter in April and May. The rainy season is usually in full swing by June and lasts through October.

Families with whom students stay are paid to wash students’ clothes. However, most families do not own washing machines. They use a pila, a cement washbasin, to wash clothes. This gets them very clean but it also tends to wear them out. So you probably should not bring your most delicate clothing.

We hope the list below helps give a general idea of what to bring:

5 shirts, not raggedy
2 pairs washable pants or skirts
for women, one dress or skirt suitable for church
1-2 pairs of jeans
1 pair of shorts
socks and underwear for a week
sweater or sweatshirt
1-2 pairs sturdy, comfortable shoes
flip-flops or shower shoes (easily purchased in Guatemala)
umbrella or rain jacket
swimming suit, sun block
two towels (small towel for traveling), washcloth
camera and film (film is available in Guatemala but expensive)
photos of yourself, family, your home, friends, pets, etc.
backpack or bag for shorter trips
mosquito repellent
calamine lotion
alarm clock
re-usable water bottle
if you wear glasses, an extra pair
an 8-, 12- or 15-week supply of any prescription medications
Spanish/English dictionary for Spanish class (travel dictionaries not recommended for this)
additional travel dictionary if desired
one or two photocopies of the first page of your passport (with the photo, number and other ID)

Finally, students are encouraged to bring small, inexpensive gifts for their host families and Spanish teachers. People enjoy receiving simple things like chocolates, calendars of your home community, pictures of yourself and your family, coloring books or picture books for children, puzzles, basic games, etc. Students planning to stay for the third month of voluntary work will most likely stay with a second host family, so keep that in mind when bringing gifts.

When and how do I pay?

'Tuition payments must be made before arrival, while internet and textbook charges are paid upon arrival. CASAS accepts cash and personal

EXCEPTION: Students receiving credit from Bethel College, Bluffton College, Conrad Grebel University, Eastern Mennonite University, Fresno Pacific University, Goshen College, and Messiah College will pay via their own institutions.

How do I keep in touch with family and friends back home?

The Guatemalan postal system has recently been revamped. Mail arrives fairly regularly, usually within two weeks or so of having been sent from the U.S. From here to the U.S. or Canada, it is often a bit slower. Packages from the U.S. generally take a few weeks and can be expensive to get out of customs, even if the contents are of minimal value. It is best not to mail money in any form.

Occasionally, you will be able to send mail with people traveling directly to the U.S., so students might want to bring a few U.S. stamps. You can buy Guatemalan stamps from the CASAS-SEMILLA receptionist. Mail goes out from and is delivered to CASAS two days a week. There is also a post office within walking distance of the CASAS campus.

Our mailing address is:

Apartado 11, Periferico
Ciudad de Guatemala, GUATEMALA

International telephone cards purchased in the U.S. (such as AT&T or Sprint) do NOT work in Guatemala. You can, however, buy phone cards here at CASAS that will allow you to call home at a very reasonable rate. We also a supply a CASAS cell phone that you may use for these calls home. One card costs about $5.00 and gives you 30-35 minutes of calling time to North America. CASAS also has a fax machine available for student use. Friends and family may also call you here at CASAS/SEMILLA on weekdays from 8:30 AM to 4:30 PM, CST, at (011) 502 - 2485-7620.

We encourage you NOT to use your host family's phone, if they have one, even to call your fellow students in the city. The Guatemalan telephone system makes a charge every time someone uses the phone, whether it is for a local call, a collect call or a calling card call.

Visitors wishing to check e-mail from a web-based personal account (i.e. hotmail) may use the computer lab at CASAS-SEMILLA. The cost of doing so is 5 quetzales (roughly 75 cents) per half hour, or $5.00 US for one week's unlimited access. There are also a several internet cafes in a shopping center near the CASAS campus, in other shopping centers around the city and often near students' homes.

However, given the goals of the CASAS experience and the need to temporarily "loosen ties" with the North American culture and amenities, we caution visitors against overusing e-mail and the internet and thus limiting their learning opportunities.

What is the CASAS campus like?

In 2001, CASAS moved into a much larger facility with SEMILLA, the Latin American Anabaptist Seminary of which CASAS is the department for North American education. CASAS students and staff share lunch and snack times as well as bi-monthly chapels with the SEMILLA faculty, staff and administration.

The building includes the Casa Emaus guesthouse, a lounge area with a sink, stove and refrigerator where mid-morning breaks are held, Spanish classrooms, larger meeting rooms for CASAS lectures or for chapels, offices for SEMILLA and CASAS faculty, staff and administration, and a kitchen/dining area. There is a Spanish/English library with significant holdings in the areas of theology, anthropology and Latin American and Anabaptist history.

Upon arrival, each CASAS student will be assigned a small locker with a padlock and key in the CASAS/SEMILLA building. This is where you should plan to keep your passport, plane ticket and extra money. You can use this space to hold your books and other items as well.

There is a laundry area that is intended mainly for use by Casa Emaus staff and guests, but it is available to students if needed. Each load costs $1 U.S. and you must bring your own soap. There is no dryer, so clothing must be line-dried.

What will my religious experience be like?

Most, but not all, of the host families for CASAS students are Mennonite. In almost every host family, Mennonite or not, the church plays an important and central role. Often family members will attend church two or three nights a week in addition to Sunday mornings. You will not be expected to attend every church function that your host family members do, but it is strongly recommended that you plan to go at least for Sunday worship whenever you are with your host family for the weekend.

In Guatemala, Mennonites and many other evangelical (Protestant) Christians might have certain views about conduct and what a “good Christian” should or should not do that may differ from what North American students are used to. For example, in Mennonite families, it is considered a sin to drink alcohol or dance. Please try to be culturally sensitive and to remember that people who hold views different from yours are not “ignorant” on that account. Part of your educational experience with CASAS is to try and understand why people in other parts of the world live and believe differently from North Americans.

What is CASAS’s policy on receiving families with young children?

CASAS does not provide childcare. Families with young children who come to CASAS generally designate one parent as primary caregiver for certain days of the week--or for certain weeks of the month--so that parents can take turns at taking Spanish and at being with their child(ren).

We are, meanwhile, able to provide a host family situation where a couple with children are welcomed and accommodated.

Can my young child take Spanish classes at CASAS?

We welcome all motivated learners aged 11 and older.