Sucre, Bolivia

After NYC, I had a series of flights over 25 hours that brought me to what could be my final stop on my year long trip… Sucre, Bolivia.  So why did I come all the way here?  It comes down to two main reasons… The main one being that I finally want to get fluent in another language.  If my travels have taught me anything, it’s that most of the people in the world speak multiple languages, but back home, it’s pretty much just English.  All the native English speaking countries are guilty actually… Australia, England, Ireland, Canada.  English has become the language of the world, and that means those of us who already speak it don’t need to learn another language to get a better job, move to a better neighborhood, or improve the lives of our families.  We’re lucky.  However, you can only go so deep in a country if you don’t speak the language.  You can’t read the paper, a menu or most of the signs.  Ordering food usually involves a lot of pointing with a stupid look on your face.  You can’t understand the conductor on the buses and trains, and you certainly can’t understand the conversations of everyday people on the street or in cafes.  I’m tired of that, and want the ability to dig deeper into a country.  That said, I’m really motivated now more than ever to get fluent in Spanish.  I had three years of it in high school, and ramped up on it during my one month in Spain.  I enjoy the language, and feel there are lots of countries I can use it in.  It really makes the most sense to choose this as my second language.  So that’s the motivation for this next adventure.  

When I was in Thailand recovering from my motorbike accident, I gave serious thought to what I would do after my brother’s wedding.  Would I call it quits after nine months and go back to Columbus, OH?  Or, would I continue the adventure, and keep my promise to myself to travel for one year?  I felt exhausted from all the travel, and the accident didn’t help.  I was also tired of only spending a week at most in a single place.  I wanted to experience living in another city.  Also, hostel life had become tiresome and incredibly dull for me.  The idea of meeting new people for a day or two of adventures, followed by never hearing or seeing from them again wasn’t appealing.  Couchsurfing is a good alternative to hostels for getting more of a local feel, but you can’t live in stranger’s home for months on end.  I needed another type of accommodation.  I did a home-stay in India with a family that was a pretty cool experience, so I thought about trying to incorporate something similar into my next adventure.  When you add in my desire to finally get fluent in Spanish, it was pretty easy to decide my next move… I needed to find a city and family to live with where I could devote an entire three months to nothing but learning Spanish and experiencing daily life as a local.

There are basically four main locations in the world I have for this latest project… Spain, Mexico, Central America and South America.  Spain would be awesome, and probably my first choice if possible, but it’s a bit expensive.  Mexico just seems too dangerous right now, even though I’ve met travelers who’ve been there recently, and didn’t have a problem.  Central America seemed a little iffy as well, and all of my research seemed to be pointing me to South America anyway.  I met a couple in Spain who had taken private lessons in Argentina and really got a lot from them.  South America has a few other things going well for it.  One is that it can be really cheap.  It’s possible to find private lessons for only $6 an hour.  For anyone else looking to do this, here’s a quick summary of what I found, but may not necessarily be true in every part of every country….

Chile – The Spanish is really odd here and difficult to understand.  It’s also really expensive.

Argentina – Can be a bit pricey as well, and there’s a unique accent you might pickup.

Columbia – Awesome quality of Spanish, perhaps the best in the world, but it’s really expensive to take private lessons there.

Ecuador – Great quality of Spanish, cheap, but also really dangerous.

Bolivia – Awesome, clear Spanish, cheap, and there’s a city filled with great Spanish schools that’s really safe to live in.  The schools also arrange for home stays which allow you to live with a local family and be totally immersed in Spanish.

I have two friends with Bolivian roots as well, so it felt like all signs were pointing me to Bolivia.  I found a school in the city of Sucre, Bolivia with insanely great reviews on Trip Advisor.  Sucre is considered the cultural capital of Bolivia and is home to the country’s best universities.  After several emails with the school, I felt comfortable with booking a flight to Sucre.  As I’m writing this, I’ve now been in Sucre for about a week and half.  I’ve been taking four hours of private Spanish lessons every weekday.  The lessons are taught in Spanish since the school has a “no english” rule.  I was a bit intimated by this at first, even though I knew it would be for the best.  I’ve been surprised at how much I can understand from my teachers.  If I get really stuck, the teacher will usually say a word or two in english to keep me on track.  Best of all, the school helped arrange for me to move in with a local family.  Between my lessons, and life with the family, it’s Spanish 24/7 for me.  The only time I get to speak English is during the 15 minute break at the school during my lessons when I get to mingle with the other students.  It’s a bit overwhelming at the moment, but definitely what I want.  My vocabulary has skyrocketed in just one week.  I also have moments here and there where I’m in a zone and understanding everything being said and I’m able to respond quickly.  However, most of the time, I’m still struggling to get the words out of my mouth.  Hopefully, after three months, I’ll be able to speak fluently.  That’s the plan anyway.  I like the family I’m living with a lot.  There’s the dad, Luis, who works in a bank in the city center of Sucre.  There’s the mom, Rocio, who is a great cook, who I have lots of good conversations with (on those rare moments when the Spanish is flowing from my mouth).  There are two kids as well, Pablo who is four, and Adriana who is six.  Talking with kids in a new language is awesome practice for me as well.  We play games and make fun of each other like any other family.

The only downside at the moment is that the internet in Bolivia isn’t so good.  Neither the family I’m living with, nor the school have it, so I have to go to a cafe which is a pain.  Between life with the family, and my daily Spanish lessons, I just don’t have time to get to a cafe to do updates.  I’m not here in Sucre for adventure anyway.  It’s really about experiencing life in another city and learning Spanish.  Hence, the blog has really taken a backseat.  However, now that I’ve cheated and summarized two months of travel in a single post, I’m going to try and find time to go a cafe once a week and post an update on my experiences in Sucre, life with my host family, and attempts to speak Spanish.  I’m actually really motivated to write updates on this experience since I want to document it, so hopefully I’ll make time for tracking down various cafes with decent Internet.  Ciao

4 thoughts on “Sucre, Bolivia

  1. Tom – now I’m really interested in hearing your accident story. I’m glad you’re OK. Good choice on studying Spanish in Sucre. I hope you like the city as much as I did.

    • Thanks Dan. Yeah, I really need to write about my accident. I think I will do a post in the future about it. It was such an awful experience and definitely marked the lowest point in the whole trip. I also feel like a wuss wrecking on a scooter. I think if I had stuck to city traffic I would have been find, but the mountains were too much.

  2. Hi There

    Thanks for the tips. I’m about to embark on a similar journey and my chosen spot to learn Spanish is Bolivia! Could you please share the school you are attending in Sucre? Is it Me Gusta?



    • Hi Julia, I studied at The Continental Spanish school. I heard some negative things about Me Gusta from people in my hostel when I first arrived. It’s probably good to check out a couple places. Sucre Spanish School is another people talk about. For me, I loved Continental. The two sisters who run it, Maria Elena and Patricia were awesome. I loved their approach and methods for getting to use what you were learning and not just try and move through as much material as possible. The weekly cooking classes were great too. I’m back home now and miss everyone there at the school. Good luck.

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