Giving Thanks

Whenever holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving come around people always talk about being thankful. I have never really taken that idea very seriously. Usually I just think of the holiday as a good excuse to eat a lot of food, and hang out in the house with family all day. This year has been different for me. I have had so many life changing things happen to me that it has made me realize how fortunate I’ve been. There are so many things in my life that I am thankful for that they deserve to be expressed.

First and foremost I am thankful for the opportunity to come on exchange to the beautiful country of Bolivia. I am thankful for the all the people who helped me to get here. From John Templeton who first got me involved with Rotary Youth Exchange, to the Bellingham Bay Rotary club who put down the money and effort to get me here, to my mom who filled out page after page of paperwork for Visas and applications, to my dad who supported me in the most stressful times, to the rest of my family who was just there for me. On the other end I am thankful for everyone in Bolivia. I can’t express how welcoming my host family has been, accepting me into their home and always making sure I am comfortable and having a good time, and to Rotary club Amboro, who facilitated my coming to Santa Cruz, and checks up on me to make sure I am doing well.

In addition to Rotary I want to thank the friends I have made here. I have become friends with people from all across the world to the point where they feel like my family. I truly feel cared about and I know that they will be there for me if I need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to tell my embarrassing stories and laugh with. Especially in this past month I’ve come to know people who make me happier than I have ever felt. I’m thankful for these people because they make me look forward to every day. I wake up every morning knowing it will be a great, and there is no better way to live than that.

I am also thankful for the person who I have become through this opportunity. I feel so much more forthcoming and confident when talking to new people. Just yesterday I met two people from Iran, and in no time we were having a conversation. Before I would have stayed silent in the background and let my friends do the talking, but instead I decided to see if they could understand the few words in Farsi that I was taught years ago. I’ve also become much more independent. When I have a problem I either need to solve it myself, or ask for help, which is another thing I am thankful for learning. Asking for help has always been difficult for me but now I know it is not the worst thing to do by any means. Without exchange I don’t think I would be the person I am today, and I am eternally grateful for that.

I really have had a lucky life up to this point, and it’s times like this that make me realize it. I think it is too easy to focus on the bad things that happen which is what makes these holidays so important. Of course there have been rough times, but I have so much to be thankful for that I would rather embrace and remember that. Happy holidays everyone!

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4 Months of Bolivia

When I realize that I have spent 4 months in Bolivia, I have two simultaneous trains of thought: How has it only been 4 months it seems like years ago when I was taking a plane out of Seattle and landing in Santa Cruz for the first time, and there is absolutely no way it has only been 4 months, it’s already gone by so fast. It seems strange that two contradictory thoughts can exist at the same time, but it’s truly how I feel. In this past month I have really had many opportunities of a lifetime. I got to travel across the whole country of Bolivia with the other Rotary exchange students, I got to go to a Bolivian prom, I’ve gotten to know people so well they feel like my family, and so many other small assorted experiences that make my life here so exciting. Now it is time to share all that I have done with my friends and family back in the States. I apologize in advance, because I know that this post is going to be lengthy, but there’s just so much to say!

Where to even start? How about on November 30th, the day that me and 30 other exchange students departed from Viru Viru Airport in Santa Cruz to our first stop of Tarija, Bolivia on a journey of a lifetime. At the crack of dawn our plane took off, just to come down again about 40 minutes later. The wonderful thing about Bolivia is that all the major cities are less than an hour in plane from each other, so we didn’t have very long commutes. Anyways, Tarija is a relatively small city at the bottom of Bolivia. It is known for having some of the highest vineyards in the whole world, which I had the opportunity to tour. The vineyards were absolutely beautiful, and the area where wine was produced was intriguing. It was mostly massive metal containers where the wine was created and purified, then packaged to be aged. Although getting to see all of this was amazing, I must admit the most enjoyable part of Tarija, and most of the other cities we went to, was the climate. I come from the Pacific Northwest with a mild rainy climate to the literal tropics where it is 90 degrees everyday. This 10 day trip was a refreshing break from constantly wiping away my forehead sweat and worrying if people could see my pit stains. Heck a couple days I even got to wear a sweatshirt!

Our next stop was in Cochabamba, another beautiful city, which is where my host mom’s side of the family comes from. What Cochabamba is most well known for is El Christo. Much like the better known Christo in Rio de Janeiro, there is a huge Christ statue on a mountain overlooking the city. Of course, because we are exchange students, we has to take a million pictures in various places with our flags. For just a couple Bolivian coins we also were able to climb inside of the statue to the level of it’s arms. This offered an unmatchable view of the whole city, even if climbing the somewhat perilous stairs was a little bit terrifying. I wish we would have spent a little more time in Cochabamba as it was a wonderful city, but at the end of just one day we were already headed onto our next stop, La Paz.

When I first learned I was going to Bolivia, La Paz was the first city that I really researched. It is one of the largest and most well known cities in all of Bolivia, and was in fact my favorite place on the whole trip. When we first exited the plane a strange feeling hit me. I was almost a little light headed, and now pulling my suitcase wasn’t quite as easy as it had been in the other cities. La Paz is known as the highest capital city in the whole world, and its average elevation is around 12,000 feet, therefore the air we were breathing was a little bit thinner. It only took me about an hour to really adjust, and from there I didn’t have any trouble with nausea or headaches. I won’t deny that walking up a hill or a flight of stairs got me winded every time though. In La Paz we toured some museums and churches that were really beautiful. the Plaza Principal was one of my favorites that I have seen, and I ate the best salteñas there since I’ve gotten here. One thing La Paz is known for is the Teleferico, which is a monorail that goes all the way through the city. To most of the people living there it is simply a means of transportation, but to us it was an adventure. The monorail took us for a little over an hour through the city, and all the way up the mountain side to the neighboring city El Alto. For the most part it was a purely enjoyable experience, but when there was a big gust of wind I was not so happy to swing back and forth suspended on a cable 50 feet in the air.

Smack dab in the middle of our 3 day stay in La Paz we took a short bus ride to Lake Titicaca. I can remember all the way back in 9th grade having to memorize its location for World Geography and giggling at its name, never once thinking I would see it myself. Lake Titicaca is an enormous lake, so big that it is partly in Bolivia, and partly in Peru. It is also remarkable because it is at such a high elevation, yet totally navigable by boat. We first arrived in a little tourist town called Copacabana. It was just a short stop there until we were off for a one hour boat ride into the middle of the lake, where we would spend the night on the island Isla del Sol. On this island there are absolutely no cars, so walking is the only mode of transportation. In fact, to get to our hotel we had to walk for an hour up the steep side of a hill. On our walk we saw a lot of llamas, sheep, and donkeys. Our hotel was really nice, and I got to stay in a little hut with my roommate who I had the whole trip, Albert who is from Denmark. On our bed there must have been 10 blankets, showing how chilly the weather was. The first night there was a thunder and lightning storm, and let me tell you there is nothing more picturesque than watching the flashing bolts of lightning illuminate the mountains of Peru not so far across the lake. The next day we woke up early and headed to another island to see the Incan ruins. The ruins were surprisingly in tact for being hundreds of years old. We visited one place where virgins were taken to be trained to be wives later in life. The men who guarded these ruins in the past were castrated as to avoid risk of temptation. Once the virgins were of age, a select few were taken by the Incan royals, and the rest were sacrificed to the gods. Fortunately that is an antiquated tradition, and now the ruins are simply a tourist attraction. That day we returned to La Paz, and a few days later we moved on to Uyuni.

The city of Uyuni in and of itself wasn’t too exciting. It was a little bit cold and dusty. It was remarkable small, but it had its own charm to it. What was really incredible was Salar de Uyuni which is about 30 minutes away in car from the city. We arrived to Uyuni in train at about 2 in the morning, and 5 hours later we were all in the hotel lobby running on only a little sleep lathering our whole bodies in sunscreen. With a combination of the high elevation, and the blinding white reflection from all the salt in Salar de Uyuni sunscreen was an absolute necessity. The first place we stopped was the train cemetery. Essentially all the old trains that were no longer in use were placed here, creating a graveyard like location. We were given about a half an hour to climb around and explore before we headed out again. From there we finally arrived at the Salar. Salar de Uyuni is the biggest salt flat on this planet, and is actually visible from space. When in space Neil Armstrong actually saw it while circling our planet from high above, and felt so moved by it that he came to Bolivia to see it in person after he landed. The salt flat was very uniform in appearance. It’s basically miles upon miles of white with raised cracks in roughly hexagonal shapes. The neverending landscape is in some ways humbling. You feel so small in the midst of something so large. In the salt flat we got to have a picnic, and watch the sunset go down. I also say a real life wild flamingo, unfortunately only from a distance flying away, but it was still incredible. After the sunset we went back to our hotel, which was partially made of salt. Even our bed frame was made of the stuff, which of course I had to give the lick taste to make sure I wasn’t being lied to.

Our last stop after Salar de Uyuni was Sucre, the constitutional capital of Bolivia. Sucre was a pristine city of white buildings, and was a great way to end the trip. I ate some of the best chocolate produced in Bolivia, and had some free time to look around the city. The last night of the trip we were all sad that it was over, so we stayed up late talking and laughing together. The next day we had a short city tour then went to the airport. We were all pretty tired and excited to sleep in our own beds, and shower in our showers. We got to the airport a little late, but it was alright because our plane was delayed for 15 minutes. Then 15 minutes passed and they still weren’t even boarding yet. Finally the news came that the plane had broken down in another city, and that we would be spending one more night in Sucre! Some people were a little aggravated, but I was ecstatic. In all honesty we were all tired from the past night so no one did much, but I really enjoyed having one last night with my new family all together. We left the hotel at 4:40 to catch our plane, and arrived in Santa Cruz a few hours later. As I am now adjusting to the Bolivian lifestyle I took a nice long siesta, then took it easy for the rest of the day.

Wow as if that wasn’t enough for one blog post, I want to talk about one more thing. I already wrote a brief post about going to a Graduacion in Bolivia, but I ended up going to another. One of my good friends Jose Maria invited me to go to my school’s party with him and his friends. I got all dressed up, borrowing a suit from a friend, which didn’t really fit me or match my pants, but who cares right? Like all things in Bolivia there was great food lots of dancing and excitement. It really made me realize how much more fun I have down here. I’ve learned that life isn’t all about being serious. You have to live, and that’s exactly what I am doing!  

Primer día en el hogar de niños

So today I started my first day volunteering at a foster home. As I am on summer break I have a lot of extra time, and wanted to do some form of volunteer work. Then it hit me. Why not do something I love at the same time and play with kids? So that’s exactly what I did. My host dad helped me to find a great place with kids that range from babies to about 7 years old. I must say I am very glad that I get to work with younger kids. One reason for that is that the second I walked in and they saw me, a bunch of them came up and starting hugging me. I stayed for about 3 and a half hours, and the whole time I had someone wanting to hold my hand and drag me around, or have me pick them up. Kids at that age live in a near constant state of fun and it is wonderful. At one point I was at the bottom of a doggie pile with 6 or 7 giggling kids on top of me. A couple of them really enjoyed my leg hair. By that I mean they really enjoyed pulling it out and laughing at the face I made. I’m a little sad that after just one day I am going to have to take a break, but then I realize it is to go on a tour around Bolivia so it will be alright I guess. Anyways, upon my return to Santa Cruz I am planning on volunteering 2-3 times a week. Also I am getting a gym membership with my brother, so goodbye exchange weight. But before losing all that weight, I have a dinner with all the other Rotary students tomorrow night for Thanksgiving. I am sad that I won’t be with my family, but if this holiday has taught me anything it’s that I should be thankful for this opportunity that I have had. I am so thankful for everything, from my amazing host family to delicious food to this opportunity to work with kids. Ciao!

3 Months

3 months ago I gave my mom a hug, and walked onto a plane in the SeaTac airport that would take me on my first leg to Bolivia. I remember having seeing one of my fellow exchange students named Claire in her blazer, who was also from Washington, board the plane before me. When I first saw her I knew she was a Rotary Youth Exchange student, but I thought it would be awkward to go up and talk to her. I mean I had never met her before, what would we talk about? I only bring up this point to exemplify one of the biggest changes to my personality that I have experienced down in Bolivia. After 3 months of meeting new people almost everyday, I never get that same feeling. In fact I actually enjoy meeting new people. I know it sounds crazy even to me, but now I realize that with new people come new stories, and you never know what you are going to get to hear by talking to someone you’ve never met before.

So now the question arises: What are some of the things that I have done in these past 3 months, and what does the rest of my exchange hold for me? As there is no way that I could talk about every little thing, in this post I will just focus on one event that I found interesting. Last night I went the the Bolivian equivalent of Prom, but this Prom wasn’t quite like the kind you would see in the states. They call it “Graduacion,” and basically people invite their whole families and friends to come celebrate. I was invited with my host brother and father, because one of my cousins is graduating high school this year. Around 8 O’clock at night we all started to get ready. I put on a pair of dress pants, a button up shirt, and a tie, yet I was still under dressed! My whole family was wearing suits and elaborate dresses. I didn’t have the full outfit, but my family assured me I would be fine. At 9 we headed to the party, and when we arrived it was time for each graduating student to walk by accompanied by a parent, friend, or other while being filmed. We all clapped as they walked by, which in my opinion is a really beautiful tradition. After this, the band started playing and dinner was served. During and after eating food, there was a lot of dancing and socializing. By 2 in the morning my family found me on the dance floor and we headed out. I was a little surprised that Prom went so late, but the crazy thing is that the graduating class was planning on staying there until 5:30 in the morning, only to head off to another place to continue the festivities. All in all it was a great night!

Although I can’t deny that I have already had some of the most fun in my life in Bolivia, I know that the best is yet to come. As all of my friends and family from the US probably know Thanksgiving is right around the corner. While I do feel a little sad that I don’t get to do a traditional Thanksgiving dinner with my family, the Rotary club anticipated this and found a solution. On Thanksgiving day all of the exchange students are going to a house to have a potluck where we will cook a food from our own country. I am planning on making some homemade rolls, but I am still not entirely sure. It’s going to be a really fun night, and some of the exchange students from two other cities in Bolivia that we all got really close to are going to be joining us as well.

Shortly after Thanksgiving, in fact in just a little over a week from today, I will be leaving the city of Santa Cruz for a tour of Bolivia. From the time I got my first email from my Rotary club and heard about this trip I have been excited about it. I am going to have the opportunity to visit cities all across this beautiful country. I m going to go from the humid tropics of my own city, to the vineyards of Tarija, to Cochabamba, known as the city of eternal spring, to La Paz situated in the Andes mountain range, and being the capital city at the greatest elevation in the world. I’ll visit places like Lake Titicaca, the highest navigable lake on the globe, and Salar de Uyuni, the biggest salt flat on this planet, which is actually visible from space. All of this will be with some of the best friends that I have made in my life. Last year I knew a girl who went on exchange and she made a Facebook post saying something along the lines of “You can’t understand the bond that exchange students make together until you have been one yourself.” When I read it I believe I rolled my eyes thinking it was just some cheesy post, but now I think its true. I’ve known some of these people less than 3 months, yet I feel so close to so many of them. Because of that, this 10 day trip is going to be an experience to never forget. Of course I will take lots of pictures, although who knows if I will be able to post them until I get back.

Finally this brings me to the present. Today I slept in late, and when I woke up found out that we are having a churrasco, the Bolivian equivalent of a barbecue. It’s a pleasant sunny day, and soon the house will be filled with family and friends to enjoy some delicious meat and conversation. As it is mango season, I just finished collecting what must have been 50 juicy ripe mangoes, which will probably end up being our dessert. Life is good!

Fruit!!!!

So basically everyone has told me that I haven’t been posting enough, and let’s be honest it’s true. Well now it is time to make up for it by posting two posts in just two days! So anyways, for the past couple days a few relatives of my host dad have been staying over at our house, and yesterday they went to one of the many markets here in Santa Cruz. There they bought a bunch of fruit, many of them that I had never seen in my whole life. The first fruit I tried was called chirimoya, which I put a picture of below.

chirimoya

It was so soft you could scoop it out of the peel with a spoon, and it had big black seeds that you had to pick out. Although I had never heard of it before, Mark Twain certainly had, and called it “The most delicious fruit known to man.” Next we tried another kind of acidic fruit that you popped out of the peel, to eat the white flesh inside that surrounded two big seeds. The last foreign fruit that I tried was the most strange of all. At first glance it looked like a couple of old leaves that had crumpled onto each other to make a roughly pyramid shaped object. In fact that’s kind of what it was, but once you peeled away the outer leaves, a little orange orb was revealed, roughly half the size of a cherry. I think I must of unwrapped about 50 of this little fruits, because they were the perfect combination of sweet and sour. Upon eating all of this food that I didn’t even know existed, I have bestowed a mission upon myself. I now have it in my head that I must go to a Bolivian market sometime soon with some friends, and try every fruit that I have never seen before. Of course I will see ordinary things like strawberries and papayas, but who knows what delicious flavors I am missing out on in the United States?three_physalis_fruits

The difference a year can make

Just about one year ago was when the seeds of world travel were planted in my mind. In fact before a year ago I had never even thought of it as a real possibility. A year ago I was looking at the program AFS, hoping to fly to Spain on the opposite end of the world as where I am today. How can so much have happened in just one measly year? If I had known 365 days ago where I would be now I wouldn’t believe it. Things can’t happen that fast right? You can’t just transform your whole life in the span of a few months? But you can, and I have. As a young child a year seemed like forever, and adults would always tell me “Just wait until you’re older and time will fly by.” This year most certainly has flown by, and the unbelievable thing is that in just one more year I will likely be sitting in college classes reflecting back on writing my applications in Bolivia, thinking there’s no way that another whole year has passed. But rather than worry about the elusiveness of time, this realization is a calling to me. An epiphany telling me to enjoy every last moment and get the most out of this short period of time that I get to be in Bolivia.

Finally Settling In

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.

Vamos a Colegio

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,

Ciao

Aaron

First days 

You would think it would be a funny feeling getting on a plane to fly 6,000 miles away from your home town and say goodbye to your whole family for 10 months, but I must admit that during the vast majority of the 30+ hours of travel I didn’t fully comprehend that I would soon be in Bolivia. Of course near the end of the last plane flight the reality of the situation became apparent, and even the mention of being in Bolivia and meeting my host family got my heart pounding, but now that I am here all of my worries and fears have been vanquished. I worried my host family wouldn’t get along with me, but they are wonderful people who love to laugh and have a good time. I worried that I wouldn’t have anything in common with other students at my school, but the few I did meet already took a selfie with me and told me the cat in my Facebook profile picture was adorable. So far everything has been absolutely amazing.
Upon arriving at the airport I was greeted by my entire family (my host parents Sandra and Pablo, and my two host siblings Pablo and Camila) who were holding balloons and a big sign saying “Bienvenido Aaron,” finally fulfilling my dream of being greeted at an airport with a giant sign. After this the adventure really began. We first drove back to my host moms house where we went through what they call the first night questions so that I knew all the rules and expectations to follow. Then me and my host brother and father went out to get some delicious frozen yogurt. After that we picked up Camila from school, because she had to take a test, and headed off to my host dad’s house. On the way we picked up a ton if fruit from a street vendor ranging from pears to papaya to strawberries to bananas. The best part was that we got more fruit than I could ever think to eat for only 24 bolivianos which is under 4 US dollars.

After all that we ate lunch, which is the major meal in Bolivia instead of dinner. We had a traditional dish called Plato paceño with consists of choclo, which is kind if like corn on the cob but better, a patty of really yummy cheese, and another Lima bean like food that is called habas. Anyways it was fantastic. After lunch it’s customary to take a siesta but I called my parents instead because I only had the chance to leave them a short message earlier in the day. Finally I had a little down time where we watched James Bond (in Spanish) and played with my host dad’s two dogs. At the very end of the day we went to the mall and ate crepes, then returned home to watch a soap opera and sleep. 

On my second day I got the chance to go to the mercado, where there are hundreds of little shops that sell iteams from one dollar clothes to freshly slaughtered llamas. There we took my uniform to get it refitted so that I am ready to start school Monday! My host brother also got me a soccer jersey of his team, which happens to be the rival team of his father, so we are wearing the today when we see him. After that we went to eat lunch with my host mom’s extended family, which is where many of my pictures on Facebook come from. They were all really nice and interested in hearing about the US and teaching me a little about Bolivia. After that we headed to a soccer game between my host mom’s coworkers, but there I mostly talked to my host sister Camila. At the end of the day we went to a restaurant and ate empanadas de queso and ice cream, then returned home to watch the movie Macfarland in Spanish, but with English subtitles. 

I ended up waking up earlier than my host family so I decided to write this. I am sure today will be filled with even more adventures, as will Monday when I start my first day at Franco Boliviano, my school. This is all for now, but I already miss all of my family in friends in the states. I will keep you all posted!

-Aaron 

9 More Days

Today I finally received confirmation of the last major piece of getting ready to leave: my airplane itinerary. I will be leaving Seattle at the crack of dawn on August 20th to arrive in Bolivia the following morning. All in all it will be a 19 hour endeavor taking me from Seattle to Phoenix to Miami, and then to my last destination Santa Cruz where I will be greeted by my host family. Receiving my ticket has truly put things in perspective for me. Before, the exchange was going to take place at some point in the near future, but now it’s a measurable number of days away. Being able to say “in 9 days I will be on my way to Bolivia” makes it feel all the more real. The next post I write will almost certainly be made from South America, so make sure to check my blog out in the next couple weeks to really see my adventure begin!