Leticia (centre) with a Language Tandem group in Malaga city centre :: M.M.
Connecting communities on the Costa de Sol can be difficult, but with the help of language exchanges and fun activities these barriers can be broken
It is arguable that to feel truly at home in a country we must be a part of the culture we live in. Foreign and Spanish residents on the Costa del Sol often stick to their separate ways, however there are those who are working to build bridges between communities in the name of integration and mutual benefits.
Leticia Leermakers is one of these people. Originally from Argentina she has been living in Europe for the past nine years, between England and Spain. A professional in the hospitality business, she saw an opportunity to help both foreigners and Spanish people.
A self-confessed “entrepreneur”, she explains that she had her own business at the age of 17, and at only 24 “made the huge leap to move to Europe” to follow her dreams despite leaving her whole family in Argentina. She describes how she is “filled with satisfaction” when she organises activities in which people can “share, learn new things and enjoy themselves”. It is for this reason that she first started her work towards promoting integration.
Working as a tour guide in Spain, Leticia noticed tourists paying extortionate prices for tapas while holidaying on the Costa del Sol. Leticia realised using her specialities she could set up an organisation to help people find the real Spain at a reasonable price. Thus began her Malaga Tapas Tours, which involve free tours of the city for both Spanish and foreigners broken up with breaks to enjoy the best tapas. These tours open up the opportunity to chat and spend time with other people living in the country, a sort of cultural exchange all in the name of integration. As Leticia says, “We do it because we want to help people.” She points out that integration between expatriates and Spanish people is important not only for “strengthening links between cultures” but also “to promote personal, social and cultural development”.
With this in mind Leticia furthered her efforts to promote integration by launching language tandem schemes to help expats learn Spanish and Spanish people learn English. With the current huge demand in Spain to learn English due to the economic crisis these have proved very successful with up to 70 people from around the world attending a recent session in Malaga city centre. The mix of cultures from Dubai to Belgium to the United Kingdom made for a very exciting and cosmopolitan atmosphere.
With over a thousand fans on Facebook this fast growing group of people keen to connect with their community is proving a great success. ‘Malaga Tapas Tours e Intercambio de Idiomas’ also offers an array of fun activities like photo tours, hiking and cultural visits all for free. Leticia hopes that these activities will “open new doors to people and countries” and help them feel at home and enjoy another side to life here in Spain. Leticia mentions how these language exchange groups are fast “becoming a fashion” on the Costa del Sol and is hoping to expand her groups from just Malaga centre and Benalmádena to other surrounding municipalities.
Offering something for all types of people of all ages, Leticia’s project also provides reasonably-priced wine tours, cooking classes, bike tours and has just launched a speed dating and language exchange group aimed at people aged 18 and over and 30 and over. Leticia is also involved with international student group AEMIS (Association of Erasmus in Malaga and International Students), a group whose mission is to make integration of students into the Malaga culture as easy and enjoyable as possible, with this she helps organise nightly events for foreign and local students.
Leticia stresses that language level is not important, only “the will to get started” on being a part of this cultural movement of togetherness, fun and new opportunities.