Real Intercultural Family in Guatemala: Russian, Spanish and English


Welcome Marina and Federico!


Where are you from?


Marina: I was born in the former USSR and immigrated to the U.S. with my parents when I was six. I am a U.S. citizen and have been living in Central America for over 10 years.


Federico: Guatemala.


Where do you currently live and what countries have you lived in together?


Marina: We live in Guatemala and lived in Costa Rica for six years before here.


How did you meet? (And please give us the good, long story with all the details! Don’t skimp!)


Marina: On March 5, 2001, I crossed over the border of Belize and Guatemala to head to Tikal, the Maya ruins. My main goal was to see the sunset, yet I didn’t have any flashlights. I got a tiny little cabin that was on the same field as the campsite. As I was being shown my cabin, a guy got out of the only tent and came over to me.


Federico: The Mayan ruins of Tikal are the most beautiful and mystic place in Guatemala, located in a tropical rain forest reserve. I saw Marina at the campsite, as she had just arrived in from Belize. I was attracted to her immediately.


Marina: At first I thought, great another Latin guy picking up a gringa. But once he started talking, in perfect English, I was intrigued and had some weird reason to wanting to continue to talk to him.


Federico: We went to see the sunset from the “Lost World Pyramid” and then ate dinner on the grass of the campsite. Next day we went to see the sunrise from Temple IV and then I left her there in Tikal.


Marina: But I found out that where he was getting his Veterinarian practice —at a rescue center for animals, which took volunteers. I signed up for one week and didn’t leave his side.


After that I continued to travel throughout Guatemala but couldn’t stop thinking of seeing him. We met several times traveling around the country, and I returned to volunteer again at the rescue center before we decided that we needed to find a way to be together.


Fast forward 12 years later, we are married for 10 years and have 2 amazing little men because of that one day that destiny brought us together.


How old are your children and where were they born?


Marina: Brandon is 9 and was born in Costa Rica, Keanu is 3 and born in Guatemala.


What passports do you and the kids hold?


Marina: I have a U.S. passport. Our kids both have Guatemalan and American.


Federico: Guatemala.


What languages do you each speak and what language do you speak together?


Marina: I speak Russian and English to my husband.


Federico: I speak Spanish, but at home we only talk in English.


In what languages do you speak to the kids?


Marina: I speak to them only in Russian. But in front of others sometimes in English.


Federico: English. Sometimes in Spanish when I am alone with them.


What languages do the kids speak?


Federico: Brandon is 100% bilingual – English and Spanish. Keanu is still learning, but mainly Spanish.


Marina: They both understand everything in Russian.


How do you reinforce the languages beyond just the parents speaking it?


Marina:  I speak to them in Russian all the time. They get Spanish everywhere so it’s easy to maintain this language. And English is at Brandon’s school and also movies.


Federico: I believe to speak English in the house has reinforced the fact that nobody else speaks to them in English, except for Brandon in school. If we would live in an English-dominated environment, I think I would be speaking more Spanish to them.


Why is raising bilingual/trilingual kids important to you?


Marina:  Today not being bilingual is becoming an oddity. So it’s very important to me. Plus, I have a third language I can offer them and want to give it to them.


Federico: It gives them a more open mind and makes them feel more sure about themselves.


Do you have any advice for parents raising multilingual kids on what works and what doesn’t?


Marina:  Don’t give in to NOT teaching them another language. Start from birth. Even if you don’t think it’s working, it is. Also, kids with multi-languages tend to start talking later. It’s no big deal, don’t freak out and send them to speech therapy. They are fine. And once they talk, they do way better than monolingual kids.


What religion are you both? And how are you raising the kids?


Marina:  I’m Jewish by heritage but not by religion. I was born in Communist Russia where there was no religion. With that, we don’t have religion in our house.


Federico: I was raised Catholic but I do not follow any religion anymore. We don’t practice any religion at home. And we do not want them to practice any religion. I would like for the kids to learn about religions in general though and understand there are many different ones.


What are some of your family’s favorite things to eat?


Marina: Our kids are very picky. So I try to make the basic foods healthy. Like pizza, hot dogs, hamburgers, etc.


Federico: The basics but healthy.


What’s the best place you’ve been on vacation with your kids?


Marina: Too many, since we travel two to three times per year to all different locations. Belize was a huge hit. The people are so friendly, the beaches are amazing and the life there is so laid back. We love the U.S. There is never a dull moment when traveling to the States. There is so much to see and plenty of theme parks to jump into from time to time. And each destination is completely different and better than the next.


Federico: I honestly do not care much about the place, more important is for me to be with them, anywhere. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed Belize.


What are a few of your child’s favorite books?


Marina: Brandon reads a lot of “Magic Tree House.” Keanu is still looking at picture books.


Federico: Brandon also likes books about nature and rare/cool animals.


What are some of your biggest cultural differences?


Marina: Luckily, we don’t really have any. The kids have been born in Central America so they aren’t too culturally influenced. And when we go to visit to the States, it’s more of a visit rather than a cultural experience.


Federico: Luckily, I believe we don’t have much to worry about any of those. I happen to be very open in that sense, for a Latin American. Once in a while I do enjoy some traditional Latin American food, if there is the chance, which sometimes can be not really appealing for Marina. But it’s not like I need it constantly and it has been never a “difference”.


What have been your greatest challenges as an intercultural family?


Marina: Ironically, not too many. My husband is probably the only non-religious Guatemalan and is very open minded to the world. I got lucky!


Federico: I honestly believe we do not have serious challenges that are only related to being intercultural.


What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?


Marina: Living life as an expat. Experiencing the world differently than the way I was raised in suburban U.S. I think life is richer this way. Plus, we get a chance to travel a lot due to being expats.


Federico: Living life with a foreigner. Having Marina’s point of view on the way I was raised is always an enriching and learning experience.


Anything else you would like to add?


Marina: Thanks for the interview and to be a part of this wonderful community of other intercultural families!


Federico: Thank you.


Thank you Marina and Federico!



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