Vanina Preney - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Bolivia
When we first arrived in Cochabamba, Flor Alazraki (the friend I was going to share this experience with) and I thought we would be helping French and English teachers, but we soon had to face our new reality: we were needed to teach beginners starting from scratch, and to intermediates in need of practice.
At first it was a strange feeling being the ones standing in front of students (our age or older) after being used to sitting lazily on university benches during the year! It’s been quite a challenge adjusting to the different levels present in each class, but what a reward when a beginner succeeds in building his first correct sentence! The students only confirmed the general impression given by Cochabamba’s inhabitants: they are peaceful, friendly, warm-hearted and respectful people. We took inspiration from teachers we’ve had ourselves and who have really changed our conception of teaching, and tried to avoid as much as possible being academic and boring.
For example, we once took everybody to the Plaza 14 de Septiembre - which is in the centre of the city - in order to teach them “live” the vocabulary of their daily environment. At the end of the month, we had the feeling that we had developed real friendships with our students, rather than a mere teacher-pupil relationship. On our last teaching day, we’ve been overwhelmed with gifts, postcards, such kind words, promises, invitations (even for a wedding!); this is a time when we can say “we will come back” and we truly mean it.
Our host family are a couple, their 30 year old daughter and their 28 year old son, made us feel at home from the very minute we arrived at their house. They insisted on us sharing all the meals together, which thus became moments of cultural exchange of great authenticity. Indeed, they took a great pleasure in making us discover Bolivian food (which is very good, but makes you feel full very quickly: you often get a huge plate filled with potatoes AND rice AND beans AND meat!). We also felt that they really enjoyed explaining the customs of Bolivia to us and including us in their daily life. We are very grateful for this - this experience in Bolivia would never have been the same without them.
It is also thanks to our host family that we could go paragliding. Indeed, their daughter’s husband, who goes paragliding every week as a hobby, offered us to go with him. This Sunday’s activity turned out to be one of the greatest memories of our lives. Not only did we go paragliding, but we also met people who have since become some of our best friends. From that day on, we have spent most of our time in Bolivia with them, discovering the real “young Bolivians’ life”. We are still in contact now.
Our weekends enabled us to visit interesting places near Cochabamba, such as Villa Tunari, which is a small village located in the Bolivian rainforest. We visited the natural park “Parque Tunari”, where mischievous monkeys run everywhere about the place! We also had the opportunity to go rafting, which was a very exciting experience!
Cochabamba is the city where the possible is impossible and the impossible becomes possible...Indeed, here, it’s harder to do your laundry than to go paragliding in the mountains!
For us it has proved impossible to leave Cochabamba on the planned day: not a matter of flights but a vital need to stay, even only for a few days more. Before landing in Cochabamba, we had imagined it as a very poor – almost third-world – city, where we would have to focus only on our teaching – which already seemed more than fine to us! But from the first day on, we realized that it would be a very “complete” life experience. Indeed, the locals we met were so genuinely warm and generous that, coming from a sometimes so cold and anonymous city like Paris, meeting such people really felt like a balm to the heart.
We also had the luck to work with other Projects Abroad volunteers coming from various places such as England, Scotland and the U.S.A, who were also very interesting and communicative. This way, we also got to know their cultures better. Also, Cochabamba is full with nice places such as restaurants and bars where you will be able to discover the great Latin-American nightlife!