On May 12, an hour before a group of Mexican students arrived at Ajijic’s Wilkes Center to begin the exercise “Difficult Journey,” 20 volunteers gathered for an orientation, led by lakeside resident Phil Rylett.
Having experienced the “Difficult Trip” – a similar exercise at a weeklong Spanish-language intensive at Lake Tahoe Community College in California – Rylett addressed the eager volunteers on how he envisioned the event would play out.
“The most important thing you can do is to use zero Spanish,” Rylett stressed to the volunteers. “Although it’s tempting to want to help a student who’s struggling to communicate, the skill we bring to the table is not our knowledge of Spanish. That only serves as an impediment. We need to pretend not to know their native language. Instead, we use our ability to simplify our English to a level they can understand. This is not easy and requires paying attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues.”
After their own brief orientation, the students, hailing from Ajijic’s ES1L program, embarked on the simulated journey. With mock passports in hand, they “traveled” from Mexico, across the U.S. border, to New York – facing challenges along the way.
When Rylett attended the yearly Lake Tahoe event on two separate occasions, he made sure to sign up for the “Difficult Trip,” which occurred at the tail end of the intensive. The exercise gives students learning Spanish the opportunity to “travel” from the U.S. border to Patzcuaro, all the while remaining at the college campus plaza. They visit realistic, travel-oriented situations while conversing with native Spanish speakers, stopping at stations such as customs, immigration, a bus station and a restaurant.