Recently, Amizade Ghana alumna and Virginia State University student Verlisha Brandon went on her first ever solo expedition outside of the United States to the stunning and historical country of Bolivia. In this article, she shares her eventful latin experience that stretched her in ways she would never imagine. Thank you Verlisha for allowing us to share on the Amizade blog.

Upon arrival at La Paz, Bolivia, I was welcomed by the site director, Jean Carla, and my mentor throughout the program, Nathalie Rocabado. Although I spoke very little Spanish, my host family still made me feel at home and displayed great hospitality. The first day in Cochabamba, I arrived at the family’s home around 7:30 am. After meeting the family and having orientation, I immediately went to my room to catch up on some rest since I was too anxious to sleep during the 15-hour transit. I woke up around 1:15 pm to shower before having lunch at 1:30. I have gotten the question, “What was the food like?” more than any other question since I have returned to the U.S. I must say, that if I had the recipe to every meal that I ate while I was there, I would make a serious change in my diet because everything was so delicious!

Verlisha volunteered at OESER while serving and learning with usMy first day in the community, Nathalie and I visited the statue, Cristo de la Concordia, which translates to “Christ of Peace.” We took a cable car up to the statue located at the top of San Pedro Hill. During my stay in Cochabamba, I was also able to take a beginner Spanish class for 14 days with an amazing instructor, Toni. He was very understanding and patient with my level of Spanish knowledge and after having her instruct me for two weeks, I can now easily engage in a basic conversation in Spanish. One of the most influential moments I had while in Bolivia was getting to attend the graduation of the kindergarten group that I volunteered with through OESER (Organization for Education and Community Service). This experience influenced me the most because I was able to see, first-hand, how kids in a school setting with limited access to electronics were engaged with each other and how grateful they were to have a volunteer like me come in and be a part of their learning process. When I saw the students that were a part of the class I volunteered with a walk on stage, it felt like I had brothers and sisters advancing to the next grade!

I expanded my Spanish language skills and was given deep insight into the different history and culture through hands-on experience and interaction in Bolivia. This experience was one that I will never forget; not only did I meet some amazing unforgettable people, but after this individual placement experience, I am confident that I can travel just about anywhere in the world on my own. I want to say many thanks to Amizade for making these types of programs available for people of interest like myself. Without this program, I couldn’t say when I would have traveled outside the U.S. myself!

Verlisha on a bike ride in Cochabamba