Having a week to settle in a little was very nice. It allowed me to catch my breath a little, as well as get familiar with the nearby area and survival basics. It was also great to get to spend time with my host family and develop a great relationship right off the bat. Towards the end of the week, I got my Bolivian phone number, as well as my uniform for school. The only things missing were some friends!
I did not actually meet any classmates or exchange students in my first entire week, and it wasn’t until the day before school that I did. Because it was the birthday of Celine, an RYE student from Belgium, a bunch of my classmates and the Tarija exchange students met at Celine’s host family’s house for a barbecue and hang out. For a few hours, we talked, played games, listened to music, danced, and took lots of pictures! It was great to spend time with my soon-to-be classmates and I learned a lot about social structure and school. I had no idea that it would be so complicated or stressful just trying to figure out who to hang out with or which group I fit into. Friend groups each have a name, and even if everybody mingles at school they seem more clearly defined compared to anything I have ever experienced. This, in particular, is one of the more difficult things for me to try to deal with.
Balance of time is an important thing, especially with friends. Considering I have now made great friends at school and also among the exchange students, it can be very hard to solve the logistics of just one evening social activities. Fortunately, my house is just a ten-minute walk from the center of Tarija, so I don’t have to take a bus to meet people. This is very convenient! There are so many gems throughout Tarija and I can’t wait to explore it more and more.. Of course, as my Spanish improves so to will my appreciation and understanding of situations and people improve as well.
As an exchange student, I would definitely say I stand out a bit. Because of this, many people are interested in hanging out and showing me the town or playing sports, etc. This is very kind but also puts me in awkward situations often. The goal primarily is to be friendly with as many people as possible to get a good start to the year, but I also have to set some guidelines for my social activities. The Four-Way Test (a rotary thing) is a framework for how we communicate and interact with others, and I have found making decisions easier if I just refer to it. In general, I try to only hang out with groups of people (not one-on-one) unless we have a shared interest such as photography or something. Because Bolivian teens are very tech-savvy, somehow many people have my phone number and Instagram so I have been getting invitations to go to cafes, do photography, hang out in Tarija, and even do paintball! While great to have people interested in showing me around, getting invitations through Instagram and WhatsApp from people from my school but who I haven’t met or don’t know makes me uncomfortable. Not because I am concerned, I just like to meet people first and have an established group at school first, before committing to out-of-school activities. I have fortunately had a few great evenings around Tarija with friends just walking the streets, trying new foods, taking pictures and having a great time. I am very lucky to have so many great people around!
I really don’t want to have to pick a friend group, because I have met really great people from different groups and I wouldn’t want that to come between us. I never knew high school social life could be so complicated, and I have already graduated from one! In general, my classmates have been extremely welcoming and kind with big smiles and great vibes all around. I can’t wait to get to know them better and see which sports and hobbies I like the best!