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Jae Goes to Bolivia: My New Family [Part 3]

Jae Maeng

After a hectic first few days trying to get to Bolivia, I’m finally back on track and ready to get this adventure going.

In the morning, I took the flight to my final destinatioon: Tarija, Bolivia. Tarija is a city of 200,000 people located in Southern Bolivia about two hours north of the border to Argentina. When I touched down, the first thing I saw was not something I was expecting.

Apparently, Saint John Paul II had visited Tarija sometime around 1999 and so the people of Bolivia had built a giant picture of him and placed it on the mountainside. Outside the airport, there was Karina Gamarra, the program coordinator and Fabricio, her husband. Karina came to me to say hi and then it happened… she moved her face towards me in my direction. I think to myself, “What is she doing?” And then I realized she was going in for the cheek kiss. It caught me off-guard. Do I go left or right? She’s getting closer. And then I remember how they do it in the movies. Left! I go left. Boom. Nailed it.

After that encounter, they took me into their car to take me to the host family. On the drive, the first thing I noticed was the number of stray dogs. I really like dogs. And from that moment on, I started my puppy album where I took photos of dogs on the street.

When I arrived at the host family, there was no-one home except for the house maid. So i sat in my room and settled in. Then, I found out there was another student in the same program living in the house together with me. When she returned home, i met Brittani, 25 year old graduate from UC Davis who had been travelling in South America since November. She spoke very good Spanish and little did she know, she would become my translator for the rest of the month.

Then, it was lunch time. Bolivia, like many other Spanish countries, have siesta and so the entire family gets together for a big lunch. I met the rest of the family. Maria Estel was the head of the house and the grandmother of the family. She lived with her husband, her son, her son’s wife and their child, Faby. The house maid and her daughter lived outback and worked for the family. Lunch was my first test with the family. Crash and burn. Had no idea what they were asking me. Eventually, they stopped asking questions to me. Brittani covered my back though and helped me where she could.

After lunch, everyone went to nap but not I. They gave me a TV in my room which was a mistake because I never left my room after that. I found a series of channels where they showed movies in English with Spanish subtitles. I struck gold.

Later that night, we had dinner with Karina and “all the other participants” aka Me, Brittani and one other student. The other student was Gabby. 26 year old Nurse from the great country of Canada. She would always say “eh?” and it was the greatest thing ever. For the month, I would purposely mumble things so that she would say “eh?”

During dinner, Karina explained the basics of the program and I tried to understand as much as I could. In the morning we would go to a clinic or a hospital and in the afternoons we would either go to Spanish classes or go volunteer at an after-school program for kids. Our clinical rotations were going to be a week long at different clinics and hospitals around the city. I would start the next day at the “Plataforma de Chagas.”

I headed home and watch Rocky to prepare for my first day.

  • brittanieg

    Wow, your trip sounds so interesting already! And the way you write your entries are gold lol, so relatable. I’m definitley studying abroad at some part of my four years!

    • Jae Maeng

      Haha, thanks. You definitely should. It’s an incredible experience being able to see a completely new place. I highly recommend it. Anywhere specific you’d like to go?

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