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Studying Spanish Abroad at Whee Institute in Bogota, Colombia
Created by Edward Young
When I first made the decision to study Spanish abroad, the opportunities available seemed endless. I wanted an affordable program that focused on student success more than profit. I finally settled on the Whee Institute in Bogota, Colombia because of its non-profit learning center and dedication to students and teachers.
Every class at Whee Institute is student-centered. The students are pre-screened and placed into the appropriate level. Instead of using textbooks, the lessons are individually tailored to build upon students’ ultimate language goals. In the beginning levels, there is a strong focus on building grammar and vocabulary, and as students progress, the lessons become more communicative. In addition to this, once per week, students are given the opportunity to practice what they’ve learned in natural settings with locals.
The Whee Institute coordinates weekly movie nights, dance classes and cultural events to give students the opportunity to become further immersed in the language outside of the classroom environment. During class, the instructors encourage the students to take advantage of these activities and often times even come along. The most important factor stressed, however, was continued use of the language, whether talking with Uber drivers, mingling with fitness instructors or fellow gym members, or simply traipsing around town.
“Change the game and change the world.”
That could be the official slogan for Sebastian Velasquez, founder of Whee Institute in Bogota, Colombia. The idea to open the language school was born of a previous relationship. Sebastian’s then girlfriend was not a native of Colombia, and she wanted to quickly learn the local language. So Sebastian set out to find an adequate place of study. What he found was a market that was saturated with over-priced, over-crowded classes that did not provide students the quality of education that they deserved. In addition to that, there was apathy among teachers, who were not being sufficiently compensated for their efforts.
One day, while contemplating opening a school of his own and practicing English on his computer, Sebastian attempted to lookup the word “weather.” He realized he didn’t quite know how to correctly spell it. Instead of “weather,” he typed “whee.” Upon investigation of his error, he was surprised to see that the word “whee” had its own meaning: happiness or enjoyment. In that moment, he decided that the word “whee” was one he would never forget. Not long thereafter, Whee Institute was born.
What makes Whee Institute a special place is that it was founded as a non-profit with the wellness of both the students and instructors in mind. From the student side, its low tuition not only provides an affordable education, but it also helps to drive down the competitor’s language course prices as well. In Sebastian’s point of view, the end goal of opening an institute was never to make money or to compete with the other institutions across the city of Bogota; instead his vision was always to make his country and city of residence a more affordable, desirable place to learn Spanish for individuals from all corners of the globe. His efforts have taken root across Bogota and more and more students have traveled to the city to learn Spanish.
Before embarking upon my studies at Whee Institute, my knowledge of Spanish was limited, but I was optimistic. After five solid weeks of class, I was by no means an expert, but I went from taking Uber rides in silence to having full conversations with my drivers during my daily commute. One particular incident that truly padded my ego was during my last week of classes. I stumbled through my poor Spanish enough to momentarily convince a brand new student that I was actually her teacher at the institute. While I may not quite be at instructor level yet, Whee Institute has given me a solid enough foundation to be well on my way!
Why Study at Whee Institute?
- Class sizes are kept small—five students or less per class.
- Students are encouraged to immerse themselves in the language outside of the classroom.
- Students come from diverse geographic locations, but the average age ranges between 18-26 years old.
- The classes are very affordable in comparison to other intensive language courses: $150 USD/week.
- Weekly outings and other events to promote camaraderie among students and staff help to create a family environment.
- Change for good: Whee Institute started with and continues to positively impact the entire Spanish learning eco system of Colombia.