Over the years, I’ve attended five Spanish schools in four countries, but my experience at Livit Immersion Center in Puebla in fall of 2017 has been the best so far.
As a fifteen-year-old, I spent a summer on a language exchange in Veracruz and fell in love with Mexico. These days, between drug-related violence and devastating earthquakes, the country receives more than its share of bad press. However, I believe travelers who do their homework can still safely enjoy this incredible destination.
My love affair with Mexico continues, especially with its gorgeous colonial cities, and I visit a couple of times a year. I’m fascinated by places like Mexico City, Guanajuato, Puebla, Zacatecas, Morelia, and Mérida, none of which feature on the US State Department’s no-go list. Of course, always do your own research on current conditions when planning your trip.
Mexican Spanish is my favorite Latin American variant of the language. It was the accent I learned at school growing up in Texas, and for me, remains the clearest and easiest to understand. Many other Spanish learners I know feel the same way. Additionally, the abundance of Mexican movies and TV shows makes it easy to practice listening comprehension at home.
Mexican Spanish is rich in creative slang and witty double entendres. It also incorporates many words from indigenous languages like Nahuatl, adding to its color and diversity.
I had visited Puebla twice before and been captivated by its opulent architecture and fascinating history. My plan was to return for a longer stay.
Unfortunately, the devastating September 2017 earthquake struck a few weeks before my departure. Many friends asked if I would cancel my trip, but since major earthquakes are a relatively rare occurrence I felt one was unlikely to reoccur during my stay. The affected regions also desperately need tourism revenue to rebuild, so the best way to help is to visit.
The destruction of the quake was evident in Puebla but even more so in smaller towns closer to the epicenter. Many historic structures in Puebla and surrounding communities were damaged and temporarily closed. It broke my heart to see those gorgeous buildings cordoned off with yellow tape.
However, the Mexican people’s resilient spirit is inspiring. The rebuilding process has already begun to reopen these emblematic treasures to the public. And Puebla boasts such a wealth of attractions that I never felt a lack of things to see and do.
I timed my visit to avoid rainy season, which falls in summer and early autumn. But my main reason for coming in October and November was to experience Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) for the first time. I wasn’t disappointed. This incredible celebration features some of the most beautiful, moving traditions and displays of folk art I have ever seen (see more below).
Choosing a School
From my research, I found two Spanish schools in Puebla with consistently excellent reviews on TripAdvisor, Yelp, and 123 Teach Me: Spanish Institute of Puebla and Livit. Both schools feature a similar daily program of four hours of instruction in the morning coupled with two hours of afternoon conversation practice with a local guide.
Spanish Institute of Puebla seems like a great school. They were extremely responsive in communicating and even graciously gave me a tour of the premises the last time I was in Puebla. Another friend attended Spanish Institute of Puebla and had a very good experience. However, they operate on a three-week schedule for group classes, and that didn’t work well with the dates of my visit.
At Livit, classes start on a weekly basis. Ultimately, though, I chose it due to its smaller size and warm, family-run atmosphere. Having attended larger, more impersonal language schools, I’ve realized I prefer the friendly, welcoming environment and highly personalized attention of a small school. As a woman traveling alone, having that kind of support feels especially important.
I almost don’t want to give Livit the rave review it deserves, because I don’t want it to grow too much. I loved the fact that it was so small and intimate. My first week, the school had six students, and the second week nine. It was fun to eat lunch family-style with the students and owners of the school every day. Fortunately, the owners assured me that they have a plan in place to limit growth if needed in order to preserve the cozy atmosphere that only a small family-run school can offer.
The other students at Livit were friendly and interesting. The school receives people from all over the world, but the majority are from the United States.
The school is located in a beautiful historic home that Maru and Scott remodeled and live in themselves with their friendly rescue dog Beluga. (The school does accommodate any students uncomfortable with dogs.) The property includes two small but nicely outfitted apartments students can rent if they prefer not to do a homestay. The school is about a 15-minute walk from Puebla’s main plaza.
I was lucky enough to have Maru, one of the owners of the school, as my teacher for the two weeks I was there. She is an outstanding instructor and helped me brush up my Spanish where it was most needed. From what I observed the other teachers were also highly qualified. This contrasted with another Mexican school I attended that charged less but often employed relatively inexperienced teachers. Having a qualified teacher makes a big difference.
I also enjoyed Livit’s creative, hands-on approach to language learning. The four hours of daily instruction were mixed up with a wide variety of activities and games to keep things interesting. There were cute little labels on many things at the school with the object’s Spanish name like “jabón para manos” or “el espejo.” When it came time to order coffee or pizza for the school, students even got to practice their real-life Spanish by volunteering to make those phone calls.
As an advanced (C1 level) student, it’s often been difficult for schools I’ve attended to find other students at the same level for a group class. My first week at Livit I shared class with one other student, but the second week I received private instruction for the price of a group class. I really appreciated that Livit did not cut the daily instruction hours from four to three as other schools often do when there is only one student in a group class.
Monday, Wednesday, and Friday we enjoyed a delicious homemade lunch of traditional Mexican food prepared by Maru’s mom. We ate family-style in the kitchen or in the lovely garden, weather permitting. Tuesdays there was an outing to a local restaurant to sample typical Poblano cuisine, like tacos arabes or cemitas. Thursdays a filling packed lunch was eaten in the van en route to our afternoon excursion.
Monday through Wednesday we spent two hours each afternoon with our guía (guide), a local university student. Many activities were possible with the guía: visiting historic sites or museums, touring a ceramic workshop, or just sitting and chatting in a café or bar. The main goal was practicing conversation in a fun, relaxed way.
My homestay was fantastic; the best I have experienced. My hostess Lupita was a wonderful and caring person, a patient conversationalist, and an excellent cook. We enjoyed many long chats that improved my Spanish.
After a while, though, I did miss being able to prepare my own breakfast and dinner, and so on my next visit I would consider staying in one of Livit’s on-site self-catering apartments. You also can’t beat the short commute to class in the mornings.
Excursions with Livit
The Thursday excursions led by Scott to nearby destinations were a lot of fun. Traveling by car gave us the opportunity to visit quirky off-the-beaten-path places, my favorite kind of outing. Scott is a laid-back, spontaneous guy and an amazing fount of information about contemporary Mexican culture and language. I enjoyed hearing his long-time expat’s perspective.
Puebla offers a wealth of sights, and there are also many interesting day or weekend trips you can take. Livit’s owners were very helpful in providing advice for weekend outings. I spent a lovely day in the nearby city of Tlaxcala. When I return I plan to go further afield for a weekend in the northern Pueblo Mágico of Cuetzalan.
Día de Muertos
I absolutely loved experiencing Día de Muertos in Mexico. I was fascinated and moved by the beautiful traditions and elaborate ofrendas (altars) constructed to honor the dead.
The city of Puebla itself isn’t especially famous for Day of the Dead, but there was still no shortage of impressive displays. The city provided a free map of the 30 most prominent altars. I devoted all my free time for three days visiting almost every ofrenda on the map! Many were in historic buildings I would never have visited otherwise. A nice way to get to know the city on foot while admiring elaborate works of folk art.
Livit also took us on an excursion to Huaquechula, a small nearby pueblo famed for its altars. A fascinating cultural experience that would be very difficult to do alone due to lack of public transport.
After two weeks at Livit, I hopped on a bus to Xalapa for eight days exploring the neighboring state of Veracruz before heading home to the States.
In early 2018, I’ll be escaping the cold by attending La Calle Spanish school in Mérida, Mexico for two weeks.
I met with Maru and Scott, Livit’s owners, while in Cholula for the Polyglot Conference in October 2022. Like most language schools, Livit’s classes moved online in 2020 and 2021. However, they are now back to offering in-person classes. Attendance has surged in fall 2022 as students make up for lost time due to travel restrictions.
Maru and Scott have many ideas for expanding Livit’s offerings, such as multiday student trips to off-the-beaten-path locations in Mexico like remote beaches untouched by tourism. Given their knack for outings exploring authentic local culture in the Puebla countryside, I would expect these trips to be unique and educational.
Have questions about studying Spanish in Mexico or a Spanish school recommendation? Please share your feedback in the comments.