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Photo by Benjamin Swift, Andes & Amazon Semester.

Yakajwa

From Coroico to Sucre, Sucre to La Jastambo, La Jastambo to Yotala, Yotala to Uyuni, Uyuni to La Paz… So far, this gap year has been quite the adventure. Two months ago, the girl who sat in her room in Lafayette packing her bags and making routine trips to REI with her mom had no idea of the profound changes she would soon go through. There are so many layers to this program, each with challenging aspects and positive impacts.

The side effects of being away from home for the first time have forced me to embrace this whole experience with a much greater intensity. I’ve dearly missed my family and friends, sometimes to the extent where I have quite literally felt my heart hurting in my chest. But the feeling of being homesick is inevitable and, on the flip side, it has been completely mendable. My solution has been to simply divert my energy to my newly formed friendships and to immerse myself in the experience of being in a foreign place for the first time. In no way has being homesick hindered my time abroad, rather it has forced me to distract myself with my surroundings.

Everything we do here in Bolivia creates such concrete memories for me. I have journaled every few days, but even without this resource I have no doubt that a few years from now, I will remember everything that feels significant to me right now about this trip. Something very, very significant to me is the homestay in La Jastambo that just recently ended. Before this experience, I had one sole family. Now I have two. My second family opened their home to me with such generosity and kindness. We played Monopoly, we cooked good food together (well, there was one time I cooked food on my own with Sofie. We made some bad pesto, so bad that I don’t think they wanted me to cook solo ever again)… We discussed all sorts of things in Spanish which really helped my language comprehension come along, we mourned our baby goat together (rest in peace Mochito, I know I only knew you for a few weeks but you have my heart ❤️), and when it came time to leave, we hugged each other and cried together. It feels pretty damn good to reflect on the fact that while at first I was nervous to do a homestay, now, after its conclusion, I would be more than happy to go back and have a meal with my family.

Tonight we watched a film called The Devil’s Miner. We learned the story of a fourteen year old boy who worked in the mines in Potosí alongside his little brother. He started mining at the age of ten… In the film, he details how he has to work to support his family of four because his dad died when he was young. His mandatory school uniform is worth almost as much as his mom’s monthly salary, and he called school itself his “vacation” from the mines. The importance of education to this young boy was clear. Because the mines are so deadly, both him and his mother knew that his biggest hope of a healthy life was to go to school and find himself a different career. It was deeply moving to hear his story. At the end of the film, he spoke of how his dream was to visit new cities and to be a school teacher. Had we gone to Potosí, we would have actually had the opportunity to meet the main character of this film! Apparently he’s still working in the mines, and that makes me terribly sad. When the credits rolled, everyone in my group was silent… This was one of the many significant learning experiences I have undergone. I have been and will continue to encounter lessons that I am unlikely to ever forget.

It’s been 7 weeks… There are 5 to go… I wish I could be here all year. Tomorrow we head off to Perú. I’ll miss Bolivia so much 🙁

How lucky am I to have been here in Bolivia? How can it possibly be true that my parents support me enough to have put together the money and to have assisted with collecting the supplies that got me here in the first place? And what am I going to end up taking away from this once in a lifetime experience? How have I changed? Right now, I’m not sure where I stand with myself. Even at home, it feels like I shed my skin and become a whole new person every few years. But I’ve never had an experience like this one, and I think that at the end of this program, I’ll be happy with the ways it has shaped me.

More to come!