Bolivia Global May
For my transformational project, I traveled to three cities of Bolivia: Santa Cruz, Cochabamba, and La Paz. There, we studied the culture, history, politics and economics of the country. We took classes and first handedly experienced the diversity of Bolivia through museums, cultural outings, personal interactions and teaching from our Bolivian instructors.
As I reflect on the two weeks we spent traveling around Bolivia, the word that continuously comes to mind is diversity. The United States is often called a melting pot and is rapidly becoming even more diverse. In Bolivia, I saw diversity in the wide range of geographical regions, cultures, languages, political views and economic exports. It was so interesting to me to take classes and learn about everything through lectures and then see the obvious diversity while even walking the streets. The range of geographical regions was pretty similar to the diversity found in the United States. In the US, one can travel across the country to see the dry, hot grand canyons, cold snowy north east coast and down to the hot, humid south east. Similarly, in Bolivia, we saw the most extreme geographical regions from the hot, humid lowlands in Santa Cruz to the cool, dry highlands of La Paz then onto the tropical regions of the Yungas. The difference is that all the geographical diversity in Bolivia is concentrated into a smaller country which made it so fascinating.
Another comparison is while in the US we have a large cultural diversity, Bolivia also has this diversity but among indigenous groups. We traveled to Lake Titicaca and learned about the Tiwanaku people, we saw women throughout Bolivia dressed in beautiful clothes signifying whether they identified as Quechua, Aymara, Chiquitano, Guaraní etc. We also could hear languages being spoken that were not Spanish and we learned that Bolivia has over 30 different official languages. In the US, it is evident that there is a similar sense of a melting pot, however a difference we discussed is the sense of nationalism. We examined in detail during our lectures the controversial topic of Nationalism within a country of outstanding diversity. While the US has its issues in terms of nationalism, I also found this in Bolivia, even talking to the locals. Several of our lectures dealt with the growing diversity of cultural backgrounds and identification. With such different beliefs, languages and traditions, it can be hard to come together politically to create a national unity. On our free day, we traveled to the top of La Paz by teleférico and on the way back, it stopped several times which prompted us to converse with a woman accompanying us on the trip. Earlier that day, there was a beautiful festival throughout the streets with music, dance and many costumes. We asked her what the meaning was and she explained that it was an Aymara festival with pagan traditions and we could feel the animosity she had to this indigenous group.
Towards the beginning of the trip, I felt discouraged as I went to use my “years of Spanish” and ran into problems communicating effectively. The past Spanish class I took was intermediate composition which was less focused on verbal communication and more so on written. I learned a lot in the class but I wasn’t as confident in my fluency as I tried to communicate with the locals. The times I felt I best could practice my Spanish abroad was during free time. When we temporarily got lost, I was forced to use my Spanish to get us back to where we needed to go; when we went shopping, I practiced my Spanish to barter; and when we got stuck on the teleférico, we had a very interesting conversation with the woman on board with us. This trip fueled my goal of becoming fluent in Spanish and desire to communicate effectively in a non-English speaking country. It made me also realize the long way I have in becoming fluent and reminded me of the work that goes along with constantly practicing to keep up with it. It motivated me and I want to practice a lot in this upcoming summer through online apps and discussion. One day I hope to become a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner and with the constantly growing Spanish speaking population in the US, being fluent can help immensely in providing competent care. This trip allowed me to practice and encouraged me to continue practicing.
Another transformation that occurred during this trip is confidence while traveling. Normally when I travel, I go in groups and/or family. While this trip was organized with a group, we had some free time to travel alone in the evenings and one day empty to explore the city of La Paz on our own. The first free evening, I was a little unsure of what to do or how to best see the city spontaneously. By the end of the trip, when we had our entire day of travel, we independently navigated our way through taxis and telefericos all the way up to the top of the mountain to explore that part of town and watch the sunset. This independence made me feel like I could truly experience the country on my own and gave me the confidence to take on traveling in small groups.
I have a passion for Latin American cultures as they are so diverse and oftentimes not commonly discussed in US schools. Before going to college, I had limited knowledge on the continent but after taking university classes and now having traveled to two South American countries, I have learned about its uniqueness and want to share this knowledge with fellow OSU students who might not know anything about it. I will present this trip with confidence and persuasion because it was an incredible trip to learn about such an underestimated and under discussed country. I reached this trip by chance but I want others to learn about it so they too can experience Bolivia.