I can’t believe I’ve been living in Sucre for over six weeks already. The plan all along has been to stay here for three months and hopefully leave with a level of fluency in Spanish. I’ve been away from home for 11 months now, and I’m tired of the usual hostel life and seeing the big attractions in each city. I wanted to do a deeper dive into a particular locale and hopefully walk away with a valuable skill. It seemed like a great way to wrap things up for my trip. However, now that I’m at the halfway point, I have a lot of mixed feeling about the situation here. There’s a lot that’s happened in the three weeks since my last update. There have been changes in everything from my Spanish, my feelings toward my living arrangements, the school I’m attending and my feelings towards coming home.
For starters, my Spanish has definitely improved a lot in the last three weeks. I’m in a phase in second language learning commonly referred to as “speech emergence”. I understand a great deal of what is said to me, and I’m able to have basic conversations with people. My vocabulary has really grown a lot in the last three weeks… probably doubled or tripled. I’m getting faster with verb conjugations and I’ve also broken away from only using the present tense in my speech. I’m fairly comfortable with one form of the past tense, and working on two others. Future tense in Spanish is actually a little easy, and not that much of challenge to work into my speech when needed. I’ve even started reading a book of short stories. Of course, I need my dictionary nearby to read it, but I understand a great deal, and can usually identify the words I don’t know as verbs, nouns or adjectives prior to looking them up. All of that said, I still feel like I’m a very long way from fluency. For me, fluency is being able to speak with little to no effort. It’s speech that’s automatic. Everything from correct conjugation, to correct usage of adjectives, articles and pronouns is what makes a person fluent in a language. It also means being able to understand every conversation heard. That means personal conversations, chatter in cafes and on the street as well as what’s on television. Television remains a mystery to me. I don’t know why it just seems like noise to me when I hear it. The spanish is so fast on TV and I still only pick out a few words. While my ability to understand what’s being said in personal conversations or in my lessons has improved a great deal, my ability to understand what’s on TV is virtually unchanged after six weeks of working on the language. It’s actually depressing to think about. I realize now that my original goals were a bit overinflated. The fact of the matter is that I’m kind of old, and my brain has hardened a bit. Learning a new language at the age of 38 is quite the challenge, even being in-country only helps to a degree. I’m not completely discouraged, and don’t mean to sound negative. I still have six weeks of Spanish immersion and hope to realize more gains. However, I’m not going to beat myself up if I’m not fluent in Spanish when I leave Sucre.
As for my lessons and the school, I kind of have mixed feelings on the place. I’ve had some professors who I didn’t care for, and actually didn’t teach me very much. They were often late for lessons, or cut our time short. In one particular case, my teacher simply gave me handouts to work on in class while she went for a cup of tea. It really made me mad and I said something to the owner of the school. She said I would never have that teacher again, but I feel like I lost a week of lessons on a bad teacher. For the following week, I felt like things improved. However, my lessons lately have mainly involved practicing what I’ve learned and not learning anything new. I guess it’s part of the process, and I understand the importance of practice, but I feel like I’m spinning my wheels at the moment. I’m contemplating changing schools, but wonder if that might be counterproductive to the time I have left. I have another week and half of lessons that I’ve paid for at my current school, so I have that much more time to decide if a change is in order.
I’m really sorry to continue what feels like a rant, but I’m also having some issues with the family I’m staying with. For starters, about two weeks ago, the mom was really upset at breakfast and started telling me about a financial problem they were having. I don’t like financial speak in English, and in Spanish, it’s ten times as painful. However, from what I was able to grasp from our post-breakfast conversation, the family is in danger of losing their home of they don’t come up with $10,000 USD by the end of the month. The words my host mom used to describe their mortgage situation don’t have translations in English. I also wonder after hearing the description of the situation in Spanish if such things are now illegal in the States. It kind of sounds like the family has an arrangement with the bank where the loan on the house can be called in at anytime. The whole situation really bummed me out because I like the family and routine I have with them. I don’t want to change families halfway into this project, nor do I want to move into a hostal with a bunch of English speaking backpackers.
Fast-forward two weeks now, and it seems like everything is normal again. The family isn’t talking about it anymore, and there doesn’t seem to be any rush to find a new place to live. I honestly don’t know what’s up, but before I pay for another month of accommodation, I’m going to make sure there will be a place to live.
In other family news, a pattern of behavior has emerged that I find disturbing. I currently pay $13/day (paid a month in advance) for my room and board in the home. From time to time, I do buy additional food to share with the family. Middle class existence in Bolivia would be considered borderline poverty in the US, so I don’t mind helping out beyond my required contribution. I’ll buy the kids snacks at the corner store, and even the occasional beer to enjoy with the parents on the weekends. 14 cents for a pack of cookies or $1.50 for a 40 once beer isn’t breaking the bank. However, it’s reached a point where it’s expected, and being taken advantage of. This past weekend, the mom asked me to go buy all the food for Sunday dinner. I kind of expected to be reimbursed, but I wasn’t and there’s this general sense that I’m the wealthy American traveling around the world, so I can afford it. Grant it the amounts were talking about aren’t that much, but it’s the principle. I think it could all be related to the family having financial problems, but not sure. I feel like a bit of an ass even posting about someone else’s personal problems on the internet, but I think this blog is only read by friends and family anyway. I’m pretty sure none of you reading this will ever meet anyone in the family anyway during your lifetimes. Bolivia is a bit of an exotic destination and I recommend Portland, Seattle, London, Paris, Prague or Budapest before visiting Bolivia.
So that’s the situation. Sorry if it sounds like one big rant, but I’m really just stating the truth of what’s going on. I’m actually really beginning to think a lot about coming back to Columbus. I think about it every day, and even wake up in the middle of the night thinking about it. It’s not helping that the situation here isn’t as good as it was in the beginning. Hopefully I’ll have more positive news in my next update.
Hasta pronto… ciao