Who We Are
We’re a non-profit language school in Zona Maya, Mexico. We teach high-quality immersion classes in English, Spanish and Maya. Our name comes from the Maya expression “To’on Na’atik” meaning “we’re understanding each other.” We believe that cross-cultural exchange is the key to true understanding. It is only once we understand each other that we can see what is really possible.
Through affordable, encouraging English language classes (Cursos de Inglés), we aim to help students in the local Maya community develop the skills and confidence to visualize and achieve their dreams. Our English classes are helping students access well-paid jobs, go on to study for careers in medicine, law and education and to travel the world. Donations help us keep English classes affordable and provide scholarships to bright, deserving students in our community.
Our study abroad program offers immersive Spanish and Maya language learning. We help visitors achieve their language goals and introduce them to the real Zona Maya (it’s not just ruins). We also reinvest 10% of the revenue from our study abroad program into furthering our local impact by subsidizing the cost of our English classes.
Na’atik is a qualified 501(c)(3) tax-exempt organization and donations are tax-deductible.
Felipe Carrillo Puerto—or “Carrillo” as it’s called locally—is a hidden gem rich in Maya history, located in the Yucatán Peninsula, just an hour south and inland from the stunning Caribbean beaches of Tulum.
Carrillo is a large town of 40 thousand, but has a small town feel. We are truly in the heart of the Zona Maya—where the fierce Maya held out the longest against Spanish conquest and eventual inclusion into Mexico.
The culture is alive here and you will hear Maya spoken on the street and in the market, encounter women wearing the traditional huipiles (white cotton dresses with intricate embroidery) and see thatched-roof houses in which modern families live in much the same style as their ancestors.
Na’atik Language and Cultural Institute was founded by Catherine Gray (now dual citizen US/Mexico) and her Mexican-Maya husband Pedro Esquivel Puc in 2010.
After working in the non-profit sector in Seattle, Catherine traveled to Felipe Carrillo Puerto in 1996 to volunteer for a local charity. It was then that she fell in love with local-born Pedro and took her first step into teaching English at the local cultural institute. Catherine returned to Seattle to get TESL certified. Then, she and Pedro worked in South Korea and traveled around Asia before returning to Mexico. They got married on the beautiful beach of Tulum and today, Catherine, Pedro and their two amazing bilingual children, Piero and Madeline, are an active part of the community.
When Catherine first started teaching private English classes in town, she rented a house for Na’atik, held classes in the living room and sublet the bedroom to a tenant. But demand was so great that the school quickly had to co-opt both the bedroom and the porch for class space.
The response was encouraging, but Catherine and Pedro quickly saw how many young people wanted to study—or continue their studies—but simply couldn’t afford it. In this area, many students drop out of school early to help support their families. English language proficiency is critical for getting well-paid jobs in Mexico and for getting into college, especially for pursuing specialized fields such as law and medicine.
Not willing to turn students away, and wanting to provide a safe space for learning, they expanded the program, hiring native English-speaking teachers from around the world to teach affordable English classes for the local community. In 2011 started the Maya Youth Project (MY Project) which provides scholarships for 21 students in need.
Catherine and Pedro then decided that if they were going to bring English to Felipe Carrillo Puerto, they needed to be proactive about sharing the town’s rich culture with the rest of the world. And so the Study Abroad Yucatán (SAY) Program was born, to provide international students with the opportunity to have a fully immersive experience learning Spanish and/or Yucatec Maya in the real Zona Maya.
SAY offers small-group language classes, with local, native-speaking teachers, and pairs students with warm, welcoming homestay families. The SAY Program both provides opportunity for cultural exchange and subsidizes Na’atik’s local English program, ensuring that classes are kept affordable for students in our community.
In 2012, Catherine and Pedro purchased land and built a spacious, beautiful, ecological school building with gardens and all-modern facilities.
It is now a thriving language school with over 190 students of all ages and has welcomed study abroad (SAY) students from the U.S., Canada, England, New Zealand and Australia.
Extroverted? Love to travel? Can’t get enough of learning new cultural quirks and history? Then we’re seeking your energy and enthusiasm.
Our Na’atik team is dedicated to offering opportunities for the local community and all of our Spanish teachers and front desk staff are from this area of Mexico. We additionally hire English teachers and a communications team on a yearly basis, our staff have come from all over the world from Australia to England! Working at Na’atik is a unique opportunity to be fully immersed in the Zona Maya way of life. We offer housing and discounted language classes. Could this be your next adventure?
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Please feel free to contact us with any questions using the below contact form. We’ll respond by email as quickly as possible. If you’d rather speak on the phone our number is +521-983-267-1410.
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