Without a doubt my biggest reservation when I was deciding whether or not to participate in the Bolivia Field School this year was my limited familiarity with the Spanish language. I made it a point to request a family who spoke decent English so that my trip would go as smoothly as possible. When the Catholic University of Bolivia finally sent me the information on my host family, the Choque-Arroyo family, I was quite surprised to discover that under the same roof lived the mother and father, 4 brothers (all in their 20’s), as well as two grandparents. I was the most taken aback, though, after discovering through a short string of Facebook messages with my host brother Gabriel, that not a single person in the entire family spoke a word of English. I began to wonder just how much this could damage my experience in Bolivia. Would I even be able to get to know my family at all? Would I be able to communicate with them the problems I would have and the things I would need?
Once I arrived in Bolivia in the middle of the cold, dry night in El Alto, my nervousness mounted as we made the treacherous drive into the valley that is La Paz. Eventually we made it to the place that would be my home for the next month in the quaint residential neighborhood of Cotacota, and there stood Gabriel Choque-Arroyo waiting outside for me. I now know that he was just as nervous as I was.
I entered the home and Gabriel nervously offered me a mug of Coca tea to help with my altitude adjustment, and I was surprised I was even able to decipher his words. There we sat in relative silence as I sipped my tea, two strangers that came from walks of life and cultures that are very, very different. I finished my tea and went up to bed, then even more worried about the month ahead of me. But as days passed Gabriel and I learned the most effective way to communicate with each other, and he quickly learned which words to use for me understand, and all the while my Spanish improved exponentially. It did not take long for me to realize that being with a family that speaks no English would benefit me infinitely more than being with one who did. Over the past three and a half weeks I have become closer to my host family than I ever imagined I would. Slowly I have become able to participate in dinner conversations, and I have developed my own unique relationships with every member of my host family. And as for Gabriel, he in no time has become one of the closest things to a brother that I have ever had, and I know this is largely because of the struggle to communicate that we have managed to overcome. So no, my host family may not speak any English, but my time with the Choque-Arroyos has allowed me to see what life in a very real Bolivian family without an abnormally impressive source of income is like. The Choque-Arroyos, and especially Gabriel, have taught me so much about La Paz and Bolivia, but most importantly they have taught me more about life than I ever expected. I only have 4 more days with my host family, and I do not know if they feel the same way I do, but I will be heartbroken to leave them, and I will remember them forever.