This Monday I started my first day of classes in Bolivia in the school, or colegio as they call them here, named Franco Boliviano. I would have to say that so far the first day of school would have to be the most extreme culture shock that I have experienced yet. The idyllic classroom scene of students sitting calmly in their seats awaiting instruction from a teacher certainly was not the case here, in fact it was quite the opposite. For example, In my first class, art, me and the other exchange students walked in, were introduced, then the class was left to their own devices for the whole period. This meant that the vast majority of the time was spent chit chatting with each other and doing things on their phone. When I say chit chatting it has the connotation of a subdued chat, but yet again this was not the case. There was a lot of yelling, loud laughing, and playful fighting amongst the boys.
Although I was repeatedly warned that the kids would likely be mean, possibly even making fun of my white skin and blond hair, I haven’t encountered this at all. Everyone has been extremely nice and excited to meet all of us. One of the most pertinent questions that they had for me was if I was a fan of the Oriente or Bloomings soccer team. Because my host brother had bought me an Oriente jersey I decided to side with this team, much to the uproar of nearly all of my classmates, who are Bloomings fans. Fortunately we were able to get past this quickly and move on to new things. Honestly in art, like most of my classes, I wasn’t really sure what we were doing. Some of the kids were cutting pieces of thin wood and building pyramids, don’t ask me why. The teacher didn’t really give us much instruction and for the most part just sat at his desk and did nothing.
After art, the other exchange students and I were talked into going and seeing the theater kids practice for the upcoming play instead of going to history, which I was apprehensive about but the other students assured us it would be fine. In the end we left the rehearsal to go to class, and the teacher really didn’t care, just like the students had said. Again, in that class we didn’t do anything, much like most of the other classes. One thing I really like about school here is that you get 15 minute breaks periodically throughout the day where you can talk to people and buy food. So far I have been buying lots of empanadas de queso, which are basically cheese and bread topped with powdered sugar. It’s a little weird, but I must say that the school food is infinity better here than in the US. After a couple more classes and breaks the clock struck 1 O’clock and it was time to go home for lunch, after almost 6 hours of school. The strange thing about Bolivia is that almost everyone goes back to their houses to eat lunch with their families. Here everything seems very family oriented to me, which is especially true in my family. Once we finished eating lunch we had just enough time for a short siesta, then it was back to school.
On Mondays and Tuesdays I have classes in the afternoon from 2:30 to 4:30. Honestly it was kind of exhausting. Everyone was incredibly loud and yelling, making understanding their already faster than usual and slang ridden Spanish even harder to understand. On top of this we had classes like chemistry where a lot of the vocabulary used is not the kind of things you learn in Spanish class. By the end of day one I was feeling a little bit down, asking myself how I was possibly going to get through a year of this. Luckily this feeling of despair was not long lived. Though the next few days were a little rough, here I am at the end of my fourth and I can honestly say that school is a lot of fun. I have really gotten to know some of the people in the classes, as well as the other exchange students. Though it is still a bit boring at times because there is a lack of work to do, there are always people to laugh with. Also, not to brag, but us exchange students have become pretty popular. All the time I have people come up to me to say buen dia and shake my hand or give me a kiss on the cheek.
I truly feel like I have begun to settle in here. Yesterday night I had what us Rotary kids call “the realization.” By that I mean realizing the fact that you are really doing it. I am really on an exchange in a foreign country, with a host family, doing things I’ll talk about for the rest of my life, and it is absolutely fantastic! It’s one of those feeling where a smile just creeps up on you and you couldn’t make it go away if you wanted to. I think that now I am going to call it a night for writing. I’m sure in the next week I will have had a million more experiences to update my blog with so make sure to keep checking. I love and miss all of you guys,