Though I haven’t had all the time in the world to sit and reflect on this trip yet, it’s hard to believe how far I’ve come as a traveler, researcher and person in this incredibly short time. Dr. Kate said they other day that they pick Bolivia for this program precisely because it can present a challenge to bright-eyed college students. I’ve certainly seen that to be the case. The altitude creates the most formidable opponents out of staircases, Bolivian belly plagues both the finicky and voracious eaters alike, traffic is horrendous and figuring out to circumnavigate the entire metropolitan city of La Paz by minibuses can be enigmatic, with many more culture shocks for young Americans looming at every corner. That being said, overcoming these experiences, and situations even more difficult, has given me unforgettable memories and tools I will have for the rest of my life.
After overcoming the two most rustic and venturesome weekends of my life in the Salar de Uyuni and Amboró National Park in the Amazon basin, I certainly feel like I can go anywhere in the world now. Having to rely mostly on Spanish to ask questions concerning my research project was a subject that I was particularly nervous about but after doing so and getting in a rhythm it has equipped me with a new kind of confidence as a researcher, one that I hope will push me to unabashedly take my analyses further. Even more so, asking these questions about a particularly sensitive topic in the rate of infant mortality in Bolivia has given me empathy for groups of people I would have never talked to and a resolve to help.
My trip in Bolivia certainly has been one for the books. Along the way, I’ve made Bolivian friends and family, immersed myself in a shocking yet enthralling culture, seen strides in my Spanish, gotten a stomach infection, witnessed the most dramatic contrasts of natural beauty in my life, and even learned more about myself and where I come from. These experiences are among some I will never forget. Hopefully, I will be able to return to Bolivia someday soon, reuniting with old friends in the familiar yet mystifying city of La Paz.