So I’ve returned to the States after spending almost four months in Bolivia. I was pretty bad about keeping this blog up-to-date while in Bolivia. It wasn’t intentional, and it wasn’t as if I didn’t want to write about my experiences there. It basically came down to three things… 1) Not having much time in between my Spanish classes, 2) Having a social life and 3) The painfully slow internet. It was almost physically painful to use the internet in Bolivia for anything other than checking email. Sometimes it would take a couple minutes just to login to my WordPress account. Add in the fact it took a few minutes to upload a single photo and you get a lack of updates about what I was up to there.
Ok, enough of the whining. I’m here now doing an update, so here we go. First, I just want to thank everyone who messaged me after my last update. I was having a bad time and was getting discouraged with my inability to learn the language faster. Life with my local family there wasn’t going so well either. I guess everything I was experiencing was normal, and part of the process. I’m really happy to report that in the nearly three months since my last update, things definitely improved. A lot of it had to do with a change in my perspective, but also my Spanish has improved as well. There was also an incident in the home that reminded me of why I was there. In June, another student like me who was taking Spanish lessons, moved into the same family home I’m staying in. He knew absolutely no Spanish and was planning on living with the family for two weeks. However, within an hour of arriving, he left citing the lack of internet. I also sort of think he got a little spooked that the family hardly spoke any English. I tried convincing him to stay and offered to translate when necessary, but he wasn’t interested and just wanted to move into a hostel. The family had spent money on a cab ride to pick him up from the bus station, and now he was just going to leave. The money for the cab is trivial for a westerner, but not for a Bolivian family. The mom, Rocio, was on the verge of tears. She took it personally that he didn’t want to stay in her home. It was a complete jerk move on the part of the other student and I felt bad for the family. There’s no better way to learn a language than to be completely immersed in it, living in it everyday with no option to use your native tongue. Life in a hostel in another country is basically like being in America, Canada, Ireland, UK, or Australia. Those places are filled with people speaking English all the time and lots of other distractions to keep you from focusing on learning the local language if that’s truly your goal. The whole incident reminded me of why I was here. I’ve had months of adventure and exploring other lands, meeting people from different countries and even a little partying in the most famous cities in the world. But Bolivia is different. It’s about making a serious attempt to learn the language and culture. All families have their problems, and things will never be perfect. However, at the end of the day, my situation there was perfect for my objectives. From that moment on, I knew I would just stay with the family. I really became something like another child here. The two little kids always called me “hermano” (brother) and it’s quite touching. It was very sad for all when I left.
So after almost four months in Bolivia, I still feel like I can’t say I’m fluent in Spanish. However, to say I can only “get by” is definitely an understatement. I can hold my own in most conversations, however, when native speakers start rambling to each other, I’m usually lost. My vocabulary is pretty huge, though. I have all the vocabulary I need for fluency, it’s just a matter of practice, especially when it comes to verb conjugations. A lot of verbs that aren’t used with high frequency still require thought to conjugate correctly. There are, of course, other aspects of the grammar that are difficult and will take years to fully master, but all in all, I’m very pleased with where my Spanish is at this point.
I plan to do at least one more update on Bolivia with photos since I couldn’t do that while in Bolivia due to the internet bandwidth. I’ll then do one more update to wrap up the trip with final thoughts. It was a hell of a ride, and I’m still processing it.