Torey Siebart is Amizade’s Outreach Assistant, and she’s also an Amizade alum! Torey reflects on her experience in Cochabamba, where she studied abroad as part of Amizade’s semester in Bolivia in partnership with WVU.
Three years ago today, I was an undergraduate on the adventure of a lifetime in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Often, I struggle to articulate or even measure the total value those three months with Amizade in Bolivia gave me. But still everyday, the effects are glaringly obvious. To say my study abroad with Amizade changed my life for the better would be an understatement. Fast forward to today and I am working with the very organization that gave me those opportunities in the first place.
With more free time than usual, I find myself reflecting on what’s important to me and subsequently, some of my favorite memories from my time spent living in The City of Eternal Spring. I flip through a photo album. The album shell is made of a typical hand-stitched Bolivian pattern, and is one that I purchased from La Cancha, South America’s largest open-air market, on one of my last days in the city. I anticipated the frequent reflection. What I hadn’t anticipated, however, was stuffing the album with so many photos and memories that the spine would begin to split. Oh well, I’ll add that to the list of a thousand reasons to go back.
I open to an aerial view of the Andes from my plane ride over, and recall the feeling of leaving home for the first time. I flip to a photo of hundreds of stairs leading up to Cristo de la Concordia and then to the breathtaking view from above, where Cochabamba looks like the biggest city I’ve ever seen. I flip through photos of excursions I went on and see the vibrant colors of Oruro’s Carnival celebration and the salt flat’s otherworldly white geometric shapes stretching for miles, contrasting perfectly against a bright blue sky. I see waterfalls, rainforests, and ancient Incan ruins. I think about Cochabamba’s beauty and it’s comforting landscapes, which I used as geographical locators to help me find my way around when I’d call Ariel, our Cochabamba site assistant, thinking I was lost.
Immediately, I am transported back. I can almost hear the jingle the garbage truck plays as it bustles through the city picking up trash, and taste the salteñas I’d buy on my way home from teaching English at the school. I can almost smell the flowers in my Spanish teacher’s garden as we waited for class to begin and feel the love that my host family gave me, which to me felt warmer than the sun in the Southern Hemisphere.
I see a picture of a trufi, a common mode of public transportation in the city—each trufi has a number that signifies a direct route and runs until someone shouts some variation of “voy a bajar” (I’m going to get off). I think about when I met a kind older gentleman on a trufi who was learning English. We had wonderful conversations—the first half in English so he could practice and the second half in Spanish so I could. I was delighted to find out we were both getting off at the same stop. We exchanged pleasant goodbyes, and then in English, he said “you need to cut your hair,” gave me a mischievous yet endearing smile, and then we parted ways. It’s such a silly memory to me. I think about how proud and accomplished I would feel whenever I achieved the even most basic of tasks like taking public transportation, grocery shopping, and loading more data to my phone.
I flip to a picture of Dafne, my host sister. As much emotion and memories the previous photos evoked in me, this one multiplies it tenfold. I think about the time she asked me if I would like to play dress up with her, using her mother’s high heels. Giving what I thought was a polite yet foolproof excuse, I declined, telling her I didn’t know how to walk in heels. I quickly learned how wrong that response was and how grateful I am to have said it. What resulted was weekly “lessons” where she, a spunky 6 year old, would teach me, a 20 year old gringa, how to walk in heels. It was truly something to see.
I think about the time she and her cousin Mateo taught me how to dance by shouting commands like “arriba,” (I had to throw my hands in the air) “cintura,” (hands on my hips) and “costado,” (hands out to the side) and how hard we would laugh when I’d mix up my movements and the expressions. I think about watching the movie “Trolls” together, washing dishes while butchering the words to Justin Bieber’s “Sorry”, and replaying over and over the only music video I accidentally downloaded on my phone which was “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart” by Alicia Keys. Mostly, however, I think about what it was like to have a little sister.
I flip through many more amazing photos and even better memories. I marvel at how each and every one of these little and big experiences alike taught me Spanish, confidence, and what service and global citizenship look like. They helped shape who I am, and perhaps most importantly, gave me so many wonderful lifelong friendships and even a second family. I close the album with a genuine smile on my face, a near overwhelming feeling of gratitude, and the satisfaction of knowing that—with such powerful memories and the human connections that Amizade programs create—no matter the situation, the journey always continues.