School!

School! In California and in Germany I attended Waldorf schools, so other than during speech and debate I have not experienced much of other types of schools. In Bolivia, as in most South American countries, RYE students almost always attend private schools and junior colleges. Some students that I have heard from in Brazil have gone to Waldorf schools during their exchanges as well. In Bolivia, many RYE students, including me, attend La Salle schools. My school, the Colegio La Salle Tarija, is a part of the Lasallian educational system. Founded by Saint Jean-Baptiste de La Salle, the Roman Catholic teaching order the De La Salle Brothers is over 300 years old and has over 850,000 students in 1000+ institutions in 80+ countries. This is my first experience in a religious school, yet other than the obvious differences like the crucifix in the classrooms and the chapel at school, there are only a few things that were really new for me. 

The biggest and most obvious change is wearing a school uniform. In the most basic definition, the uniform for boys consists of gray dress pants and black dress shoes, a button-down white shirt, and a La Salle sweater. However, and this is the confusing thing for me, other than similar colors in the classroom nobody really looks the same. This is because there is so much La Salle clothing including sports clothing, special jackets for each grade, different sweater, shirt, and pants designs, skirts or pants for girls, etc. that nobody matches. Also, some people wear ties, some don’t, some wear totally different colored jackets and some just wear normal shoes. I understand the concept of having a uniform, but it feels like the effect goes away when everybody dresses completely different. For me though, I really don’t mind at all. It makes things simple and I don’t have to think much about it when I get up in the morning. The one more relaxed day is Saturday when we have to go to school but we get to wear our sports uniforms. Saturday school is the only day that we have physical education, either basketball, soccer, or volleyball, as well as art classes. It is a shorter day and it seems to finish at 11:30. 

Every Monday there is an all-school assembly called formation that occurs outside on the central plaza of the school. There are announcements, prayer, recognition of recent academic and athletic successes, and the singing of the anthem. For the rest of the week, there is a shorter prayer and ethics discussion for the first 15-20 minutes of the day with just the people in my classroom. I am in class 5B, with 40 students aged 16-17. There are two parallel classes 5A and 5C, that are the same grade and age but with different academic concentrations. That is a blog post for a later time! I have yet to decide if my concentration in 5B(Chemistry and Biology) is best for me, but I have made so many friends there I don’t see much gained by switching.

Since the bus leaves at 07:00, I have to wake up at 06:00. That leaves me just enough time to wake up, iron my shirt or pants, and consume some bread, cereal, and tea. School goes until 12:30, after which I get back on the same bus, number 60(not sure how many there are but I know at least 40), and ride home. There is one 25 minutes break at 10:00, and other than that there are no breaks between classes. During the break, there is a store where students can buy snacks, candy, soda, chips, or hot food like burgers or meat sandwiches. The special local drink that everybody drinks is called Karpil, which is a Bolivian milk and fruit drink that costs just 1 Bs. or about 15 cents. You never know what flavor you will get, and it comes in a little plastic bag which you have to break open with your teeth. Fortunately, I love it and have one every day. Going to the bathroom, eating, or drinking during class is so strongly discouraged that in 5 days at school, in a classroom full of 40 people, I have not seen one person leave to go to the bathroom during class. While strict in some ways, the classes tend to be distracted often, and louder than I am used to. While friendly, the teachers have said little to me and speak so quickly I can’t understand anything right now. The students, on the other hand, have been very welcoming and friendly!

Having had a first day of school in Germany, I knew coming into it that day one was going to be overwhelming and a chaotic blur. As I had imagined, it was a roller coaster of new faces, names, and Spanish that I didn’t understand. My classmates are very friendly and often all trying to talk to me at once! They quickly realized that I wasn’t understanding anything and so they slowed down a lot. Fortunately, there are a few classmates who speak very good English and have helped introduce me to teachers and arrange class assignments for me. Since I was expecting to be completely overwhelmed, I just rolled with it and accepted the fact that it would be a while before I was really able to understand what the teachers(or anybody else) were saying. I keep having to remind myself that I never studied advanced Spanish in school and I have only been here for two weeks. If I was already fluent that would be a miracle! I have been working very hard learning vocab, and working on basic conversation. In class, I filled 5 pages with words I knew I would need to learn. 

Even though the materials covered in class are all things I learned 3 or 4 years ago, focusing on learning Spanish keeps things interesting during the two-hour classes. My goals for my second week of school are to keep progressing with vocabulary and to try to use the Spanish I know as much as I can just to keep getting more comfortable.

4 Comments

  1. Good start, Charlie. You’re doing all the right things. Each week will seem easier. Your description is vivid and gives a good sense of what you are experiencing. One thing isn’t clear. Does school only go to 12:30?

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  2. Thanks so much for the update Charlie. Sounds so different than we’re used to here Stateside, but I’m sure things will get easier as you get more familiar with the culture. Can’t wait for future blogs from you!

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