Last Friday marked the 4 week anniversary of my arrival here in Bolivia, but looking back on all that I have done it seems impossible that it has only been a little over 25 days. When doing foreign exchange, there is something often known as the honeymoon phase. Essentially it is the initial excitement and joy you experience from being in a new culture, meeting new people, and doing so many new things. This certainly has been the case with my experience. I’ve gotten to know more people than I ever have before, started school taught in Spanish, gone paintballing, tried new foods, and gone to a few fiestas, just to name a few things. Although there are many great adventures still left in my future, I feel like a routine has really been reached. I’ve found the perfect time to wake up in the morning so that I’ll be able to hit snooze once, and still have time to get ready. I’ve mostly figured out the order of my classes, but I still end up referring to my schedule every once and awhile. My initial worry about not learning much in school has gone away. Now that us exchange students aren’t quite so new, the teachers are having us take notes, and do all the homework that we can. This had been especially true in physics, where I already have a background in the subject, but have been learning lots of new vocabulary. In fact now that I mention it, I think that the best thing school has done for me is to develop a better vocabulary in Spanish, particularly for more abstract words like unions (sindicatos in Spanish).
In addition to learning brand new words, I’ve had to do a little bit of relearning Spanish as well. I’m very thankful that I got to study the language for 4 years with amazing teachers, because they gave me a solid backbone for communication, but conversational Spanish is much much different from that which you learn in a textbook. I’m still not entirely sure, but I believe that verb conjugations are subtly different here in Bolivia, especially with commands. Also a number of words that I thought I knew are not commonly used here. For example in Santa Cruz the word tú is almost always replaced with vos, frutilla is used in place of fresa for strawberry, colegio instead of escuela, and so on. One word that unintentionally got me some weird looks was simpático, which I learned from a textbook meant nice. Here in Bolivia simpático generally means good looking, hence why I got some weird looks saying that my tennis teacher and professors were all simpáticos.
Along with many new words came many new things. Before leaving Bellingham my Rotary district warned all of the outbound students that we would likely experience a great deal of culture shock. In any country there are bound to be differences that can be a little overwhelming. In all honesty the vast majority of changes that I have found aren’t really negative, but intead interesting. One of the first strange things that became apparent occurred while eating my first breakfast. I poured myself a bowl of cereal, but when I went for the milk it wasn’t in a gallon sized jug like usual. It was in a bag which is cut in the corner, then put into a special milk-bag holder which is a commonplace item down here. I soon found out that yogurt and juice is also often sold in bags, and at this point it seems very normal to me. Other strange things include seeing cows and chickens wandering along the sides of the street, everyone, I mean everyone owning crocs, wearing shoes inside all the time, having maids, and coming home from school for lunch.
One of the most fun days that I have had so far actually happened a few days ago. This week is the anniversary of my school Franco Boliviano, so there have been a number of activities going on. Early Sunday morning I woke up almost as if it was a weekday, headed down to the plaza right outside of the school, and prepared myself to run my first 4k. Even though I’ve been running for fun lately, and a 4k is a relatively short race, I was pretty pooped by the end. I ran as hard as I could, and according to my family I came 2nd in my grade, and 7th overall in the whole school, though it was a little hectic and I’m not sure how true that is. Fortunately after this my family took me home so me and my sister could shower before the school festivities started. After no time at all we were back at the school for the Kermesse. A Kermesse is basically a way that each grade raises money for things including their equivalent of prom, and the senior class trip to Cancun, Mexico. There was great food, fun activities like a horror house, and I got married to another exchange student in one of the booths! After this winded down my family and I went home and played with baby chickens that they had bought at the Kermesse. Later in the night was a school wide party called a Confratt, that was like no school party you’d ever see in the US. There was loud music, flashing lights, and lots of dancing. It was a lot of fun, and by the end of the night I was pretty ready to hit the sack. All in all it was a great day.