I definitely came into this trip with my fair share of worries. During my first few days, it was hard for me to focus on anything except the fact that I was so far away from home and how different everything seemed. But as my first week progressed, I slowly realized that La Paz is not as different from home as I thought. One of the hardest adjustments for me when arriving in the city was when half of my host family left. I really wanted to live with a family with younger children, because I grew up with younger siblings and that’s what is comfortable to me. I was paired with a great host family, a single mom and her two elementary-age kids, who were nothing but sweet and welcoming towards me. My first night in La Paz, I went to a symphonic rendition of Les Miserables that was directed by my host mom, Ana, with the youngest daughter, Luciana, and her two abuelos, who also lived with us. Luciana made me feel like I was at home. She is seven years old, only one year older than my youngest brother, and she was the only one in my host family who I could talk to easily. She didn’t make me feel frustrated when I couldn’t translate something perfectly into Spanish, and I really enjoyed feeling like I had a companion on the other side of the world. Les Miserables is one of my favorite musicals, and I loved getting to hear it in Spanish for the first time and comparing the translations. I felt like I already had something to bond over with my family. But, the next morning, Ana and her two kids left for New York City for the rest of the month. I had no idea they would be leaving, so I felt almost a sense of abandonment at their leaving.
Adjusting to living with just the two abuelos was hard. While I was used to people always talking over each other, suddenly most of our meals were spent in silence. It was a totally different energy than I was used to. It forced me to give a totally different way of life a chance, and as the week progressed, I began to adjust. I realized how sweet my abuelos were, despite being quite reserved people. They could tell that I was feeling homesick, so they asked what kind of food I liked and they took me out for Mexican food because that’s my favorite. They helped me figure out La Paz’s confusing public transportation system, which is something I have little to no experience with in any city. By the end of my first week, I realized how kind Paceños are, how uncomplicated the public transportation system actually is, and how much I actually like this city.
Of course, I did have some mishaps during my first week. On Tuesday, I attempted to take a minibus to the University for the first time. I thought that as long as the sign in the front window said “Obrajes” or “Miraflores” on it, I would eventually end up in the right place. What I didn’t know was that which side of the street the bus was on mattered a lot. I ended up riding a minibus literally up a mountain, where the paved streets slowly transitioned to cobblestone and eventually to just dirt. Everyone on the previously-crowded bus slowly filed out, until I was the only one left and the driver literally parked the bus outside his house. I had no idea where I was, no data on my phone, and hardly any money. At this point, it was already past 9AM, when class started, and there were no other cars in sight. I had no other option but to wait on the side of the road, praying that a taxi, trufi, or minibus would eventually show up to rescue me. After about ten minutes of conspicuously standing there with my thousand-dollar laptop in my backpack that I hoped nobody would know I had, a minibus finally saved me. It ended up taking me an extra 40 minutes to get to the University, but I finally made it there. What started out as a study abroad nightmare for me ended up making me more confident in myself and in my abilities to be on my own. It made me realize that studying abroad might not be a fun vacation for me, and it may be hard at times, but if nothing else, it’s a great opportunity for personal growth. It will help me learn more about myself and other parts of the world that aren’t as scary as I may think they are.