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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16


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    [post_content] => At Princeton orientation I learned it implied humility, or coming from below, like the words "servant" or "servitude."

My first day in Tiquipaya I learned it's not such a great word to use, generating awkward responses, forcing me to confront my privilege, and perhaps even reinforcing an unhealthy power dynamic.

Over six months teaching at the Kusikuna Eco-Active School, I realized that they had greater lessons to offer me than I had for the students.

By April it became clear that the relationships I had made at work, in the homestay, and elsewhere were the richest part of my experience.  I'm not exactly sure how that's "service," but my gut says it's all connected.

So when I come home in 15 days, please don't applaud me for doing a good deed or serving the less fortunate or any of that nonsense.  It's so much more complicated than that.  I still don't entirely know what service is or if I successfully did it.  All I know is that so many people have touched me here and I just hope that I touched them, too.
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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What is Service?

Jacob Wachspress,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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At Princeton orientation I learned it implied humility, or coming from below, like the words “servant” or “servitude.” My first day in Tiquipaya I learned it’s not such a great word to use, generating awkward responses, forcing me to confront my privilege, and perhaps even reinforcing an unhealthy power dynamic. Over six months teaching at […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Jacob Wachspress

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“What is service?” Gina familiarly and slowly, laid these words out in front of us. Chuckles and gasps waved through our group circle as we considered, yet again, the impossibility of answering this three-word question: what is service? It certainly wasn’t the first time, head Dragona Gina had asked this question, but as June 1st rapidly approaches it may have been the last.

“Before this trip I probably could’ve written a 5-page paper about service,” Rachel said as her thoughts escaped through her tongue.  “Now I can write one sentence. Maybe.”

The word service, originally an Old French word, meant “an act of homage” and later in the early 1700’s began to mean the "state of being bound to undertake tasks for someone or at someone's direction; labor performed or undertaken for another".

If we do service, then we are servicing, and there is something being serviced to. We served something here.

Then I ask myself, who really got served during these nine months? If not who, then what? What got served? What did we serve?

Based on the word’s etymology and definition, service seems to me to be, inherently humble. However, combined with my experiences in Bolivia, it seems more like a way of doing something; like an attitude, as our temporary instructor Alan thoughtfully put it.

It’s been the same question these 9 months: what is service? The use of the word is becoming more and more repulsive to me, so I often ask myself if it even exists. As we get closer and closer to completing our year-long service trip, the definition of service begins to feel more and more like hazy clouds, as if we we’ve been thinning a piece of cotton this entire time. Thinning it out in an attempt to get to its deepest fibers, only to realize that it just it doesn’t get smaller, and you start to make holes.

  Rachel said it best. We’ve been in Bolivia for so long, putting to actions our mental concepts of what service is and looks like, but our definition only gets smaller and vaguer.

How much time, vulnerability, and Service-Learning Pedagogy articles does it take to get to a definition of “service”?

The world may never know.

 

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Asia Matthews,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

“What is service?” Gina familiarly and slowly, laid these words out in front of us. Chuckles and gasps waved through our group circle as we considered, yet again, the impossibility of answering this three-word question: what is service? It certainly wasn’t the first time, head Dragona Gina had asked this question, but as June 1st […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Asia Matthews

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    [post_content] => “A man travels the world over in search of what he needs
and returns home to find it”

George Moore

An index card with this quote hung on my wall in Tiquipaya, a parting gift from a friend before I boarded the plane to New York. When she handed I to me, we were in the front hall of my house, standing between piles of hastily packed bags. I interpreted the message as a promise that, no matter what happened in these nine months, I would come back home.
Now, reclined in a frigid hotel room in La Paz, I find myself in the surreal and uncomfortable position of having most of the nine months behind me. But despite my imminent departure, I feel anything but a sense of closure. In fact, I feel that the “service” I was sent here to perform hasn’t even begun.
One common conclusion from our many attempts to define service is that it is something you share with others. Over the past nine months, the people of Bolivia have shared more of their lives with me than I have with them. My day to day interactions with grumpy trufi drivers and the cholita with the popcorn stand have, in subtle tugs, expanded my awareness of the complexity in other peoples’ lives. I had the opportunity to work at Gaia Pacha, where my k’ochala friends showed me what it means to serve your own community. And I was blessed with Dani and Valentina, who gave me a bed to sleep in, countless adventures and a family to love for the rest of my life. I’m leaving Bolivia with more family, more friends and a greater appreciation of contradiction. All I gave was a willingness to receive.
Over the past few days spent shivering in the hotel room, I have begun to regard my arrival in the U.S. with dread. The flight home in two weeks now feels like reality, not some fuzzy mirage reserved for the distant future. And with two weeks between St. Louis and me, I feel unprepared to take what I learned here and apply it to my life back home. I already feel the pull of the behaviors I meant to leave behind—revering empty accomplishments, narcissism and a closed-minded acceptance of the bubble I live in—and I feel myself pulled away from what I’ve learned here.
All of this leads me to believe that the brunt of my service work is ahead of me. My friends at Gaia Pacha showed me that you can only change what you know. So that’s the task ahead of me: to implement the lessons I learned here when I return to the life I had before. But to change what I know, I have to become a part of it once again—and that pulls me in two directions.
So I’m returning to the U.S. with a rather unsure definition of service. I have to go home, reconcile the two ways of life I’ve experienced, and try to share my awareness with others. I’ve traveled a tiny corner of the world over in search of the meaning of service, and I have to return home to find it.
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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Service

Peter Schmidt,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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“A man travels the world over in search of what he needs and returns home to find it” George Moore An index card with this quote hung on my wall in Tiquipaya, a parting gift from a friend before I boarded the plane to New York. When she handed I to me, we were in […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Peter Schmidt

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I was recently called a hero by a peer back in the United States. It took me a little while to figure out what they were refering to: they were calling me a hero for dedicating nine months before college to do service in Bolivia. I would like to reject the the idea that I am a hero, though, for multiple reasons. The term hero implies that I have powers that are above and beyond those of the people with whom I am engaging in service. This is a power dynamic that has all too often been interwoven into the idea of service to the detriment of those being “served,” or “saved,” by a “selfless hero.” Rather, I have come to think of service as the exchange of resources, knowledge, or time. We live in a world of great inequality, wherein people have been dealt drastically different hands. My vision of service is the redistribution, on no matter how big of scale, of those cards. In this sense, I, or anyone doing service, is no hero because my privilege to have resources, knowledge and time are inextricably tied to other people´s lacking them. I have come to believe that acknowledging our drastically different circumstances despite our shared humanity is essential in taking part in genuine service.
Furthermore, the exchange of resources, knowledge and time must be carried out according to a mutual understanding between both parties involved. I believe that an essential part of engaging in service is recognizing the inherent value, and dignity, in all people. With that, the values and ideas of what a good life looks like that other people or communities hold must be honored. To protect these values, the end goal of service must be shared and agreed upon by all involved parties to ensure that the value system of more resource-rich people or societies are not being blindly imposed upon those participating in the exchange who are less resource-rich.
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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A rough answer to an impossible question: what is service?

Rachel Kasdin,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

The exchange of resources, knowledge or time with the mutual goal of bettering our shared lives. I was recently called a hero by a peer back in the United States. It took me a little while to figure out what they were refering to: they were calling me a hero for dedicating nine months before […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Rachel Kasdin

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    [post_content] => “An attitude of humility and manifestation of love…”

I had written these words a total of seven times over a period of about fifteen minutes. And, each time I did, I heard Jacob groan and laugh just a little bit louder. “Really?? I’m just writing A of H and M of L at this point.”

We were sitting in a circle of white plastic chairs in the humid, leafy-green space of Samaipata. Gina had passed around a package of blank paper and now looked at each of us with the mischievous smile that we knew meant the coming of a near-impossible assignment.

“Write your response to this question then pass it to the person next to you. Keep it going, editing the definitions as they pass.”

The question?
What is service?

Now, I find myself sitting alone, freed of the lighthearted giggles of my group mates and the assertions that my responses feel more like more questions than answers. And so, I will take this opportunity to be as inexact and “exploratory” as my fuzzy heart desires.

But, first, to start off with the archaically concrete:

If my time in Spanish-speaking Bolivia has taught me anything, it is that if you get a chance to use your four years of Latin education, take it.

The word service comes from the Latin word servitium – “servitude; slave or servant class.”

So then, for me, it follows that a definition of service would be “an act of servitude.” But then the bigger question that follows is ‘at the service of whom’?

This is where my train of thought gets split into the branches and bubbles of a near-infinite brain map, with my first boxed response being “the common good.”

But what does the common good really mean? Rather than give an answer, all I can think of is what the common good is not. What it has been distorted to be - absolute individual liberty, national interests, the interests of only those in power, of those already with ‘privilege.’

And from those not inherently bad but incomplete ideas of the common good, stems what I believe to be not necessarily inherently bad but incomplete ideas of service.

Public services, ‘goods and’ services: acts undertaken in the service of an individual, often entrenched in a power dynamic or for-profit systems without deepening personal relationships.

Military service: acts undertaken in the service of a state or nation that sever rather than forge or restore relationship between individuals and groups and fall short of recognizing a common human dignity – not necessarily wrong, but imperfect, incomplete.

Civic service: actions of governments or those in leadership positions at the service of a defined city, state, nation; and, under pressure to make change and make it timely, that often simplify and deny complexity; necessary and can be done well, but often is incomplete.

And so, common good is complicated. It is a fuzzy idea made nearly indefinable when one honors our incredible human diversity. It is a concept that has become nearly impossible to articulate as acts of “service” become more and more international and globalized. It is a term that has become corrupted by those who used it to justify a history of conquest in the name of enlightening a ‘savage’ people or civilizing a ‘new’ world. More recently, it has become impossibly muddied through an incredibly complicated history of international development and waves of ‘voluntourism.’

And, for me, when things get messy, rather than turning to “facts,” I take to the side of emotion and intention—the place where “an attitude of humility and manifestation of love” comes in.

Despite its complications, I do not find the idea of common good a bad one, nor do I find its place in a definition of ‘service’ to be arbitrary or meaningless. Rather, I see it has a call to action. The phrase’s very use serves as a call to discern where our ideas and manifestations of the common good go so very wrong: when we fail to recognize others’ human dignity and ability to determine their own standards of wellness; when we fail to listen; when we fail to be open to learning from those we come to “serve” and to see them as the best and most authentic of teachers; when we are distracted by our desire for simplicity. But, if we choose to engage in these acts of listening and learning, we not only delve deeper into the idea of a ‘common good,’ but simultaneously build relationships. And, like in any good relationship, love and humility are essential components.

And so, even when given more time and space, I do not find my initial fuzzy definition – “an attitude of humility and manifestation of love”—to be wrong, just hard to enact.

-

Humility is hard to hang on to. It is easy to lose as soon as a mistake is made. Love is messy work. It does anything it can to evade our desires for neatness and ease and simplicity. For, in “authentic” service, we must love someone or a place enough and have an authentic enough relationship with it or them, to see and honor his or hers or its complexity. And we must have an authentic enough relationship with ourselves to honor our own complexity, our own cultural backgrounds and values. We must have enough humility to honor how narrow our vision is and the limitations of our skills and understanding and experience. In authentic, humble, “complete” service, all parties are made open and vulnerable and willing to reevaluate and to change. And, through the relationships forged, we must honor that we, as those ‘serving,’ too, are vulnerable with a personal stake because our welfares—our common goods—are inextricably linked.

And so I come, finally, to a definition of service, however still far from satisfying: “an attitude of humility and act of love that promotes relationships that recognize and work for our shared common good.”

My time in Bolivia was framed as “a year of service-learning.” When I boarded that plane eight and a half months ago, I interpreted this phrase as “learning from service.” What I did not anticipate was learning how to serve. That before I can undertake action in the name of the “common good” I must first wrestle with ideas and complexities.

Yet, this “learning to serve” was my lived experience in Fundación EnseñARTE’s Cochabamba office. I did not anticipate that even though I arrived at my service site fully ‘oriented’ by four years of justice-centered Jesuit education, a week Princeton slideshows, and a month fuzzy Dragons talks, I would still have to sit, do “nothing,” and just watch. Watch and learn and unlearn.

I did not anticipate that I would have to ‘relearn’ myself. That the words I used and the way I defined myself would be entirely changed in a new context. That my humility would have to be deeper. That my ways of “manifesting love” and building relationships would have to be different. That my “service” would take the form of Word documents and interviews and fellow volunteers and Skype calls than ‘hands on’ work or smiling children’s faces. I did not anticipate learning that the things I took for granted about what is ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and how the world works were actually these things called ‘values’ stemming from this idea called ‘culture.’

I did not anticipate that that even after nine months of trying and failing and working and reflecting, I would walk away with a “definition” of service two typed pages long and full of even fuzzier ideas than those I landed with.

What I lack in conciseness I am gaining in complexity and depth as I walk away from this experience with the influence of so many more voices. The voice of John, the founder of EnseñARTE, saying the future is not enough, that “these kids, the youth are now, this is our world now” (and the experience of sitting with the sense of immediacy that results from that mentality.) I have gained the voice of an El Alto homestay sister that asserts that a change of Bolivian reality will come only through a change of mentality, a re-embracing of culture and connection through the arts. In response to the foundation survey question “Why do you participate in EnseñARTE?”, I have gained the heavy reality of “Tengo hambre” written in seven-year-olds’ slanted writing. I have gained the voice of Gina ending almost every group discussion with, “Well, it’s complicated!” – and I’ve come to believe her.

And, finally, I have gained the power of the Saya Afro-Bolivian tune that speaks to the difficult reality of “global service-learning”: Hoy estoy aqui, mañana me voy.

Luckily, we still have four years plus a lifetime of becoming anthropologists and mathematicians, of listening and experiencing, of constructing and reconstructing—of failing forward—to try to get it right.
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That thing called service

Emma Coley,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

“An attitude of humility and manifestation of love…” I had written these words a total of seven times over a period of about fifteen minutes. And, each time I did, I heard Jacob groan and laugh just a little bit louder. “Really?? I’m just writing A of H and M of L at this point.” […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Emma Coley

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    [post_content] => What is Service?
Service, in my opinion, is the application of skills, resources, and/or support to a community defined project, involving yourself in both the logistics and physical labor. However, what should remain in the forefront of service at all times is the community’s desires, as well as understanding that there should always be a consistent dialogue with the community itself. In addition, whoever is participating in the service - from the level of volunteer to larger organizations - need to be open to new ideas, practices, and methods, as well as very self-critical of projects and processes.
From the start of any service project or venture, there needs to be research done on whether or not the service may end up hurting other aspects of the community unintentionally (example: U.S. exporting tons of corn to Mexico and causing, for many farmers, a fall in income). In addition, consideration should be included toward ideas of whether the service is lasting and will not leave unintended, undesired residual effects/dependencies, or if the service is of a shorter time period, will it create problems when the project leaves the community. Thus, service should make sure to avoid pitfalls of unintended residual consequences to cultures, societies, and economies in addition to avoiding the creation of dependency.
In terms of actually serving - from the perspective of a volunteer - service should always be seen through a self-critiquing lense. Constantly asking yourself if you may be doing harm, if you are helping as much as you can for the task you are given, and making sure to do all work in humble solidarity with the community, instead of overseeing such projects and inevitably creating a power dynamic - these are the questions and frames of mind that will keep you more honest in your work and limit the pitfalls of seeing yourself as a “helper” (above others), instead of one being there to “aid” (hand in hand approach).
Additionally, service from the perspective of a volunteer should be carried out under the guidance of the service site, with them placing the volunteer not where he/she feels fit to work, but where the help is most needed. Service is often adaptation to a project or task, and whatever skills can be used to such a task should be implemented with full intention to do the best job possible. Thus, when serving, you may feel that your best skills are not being taken advantage of by the service site/project, but you must always work to the best of your abilities to become a “malleable volunteer.”
In terms of what service is on a more general level, it would be dialoging at all times with a community to use an organization’s/community’s skills, in order to carry out a community identified project. These projects should have the goal to create lasting, constant interplay between the community, volunteers, and organization, over the years increasing access to community deemed necessary resources.
Thus, a main component of service is creating projects between organizations and communities, and creating a dialogue that promotes community based decisions, instead of outside views that do not help as they remain too generic for practical use. Therefore, strong, trustworthy relationships have to be made - relationships that foster interchange of ideas and a willingness to see each other eye to eye instead of an outstretched hand.
In order to create such relationships, time becomes an important aspect of service, as it creates the environment possible to foster lasting relationships and community based ideas. It then becomes necessary to have a long, continuous relationship with a community. Even if projects are small and not large in time, service should look to continue dialogue in the form of meetings, reunions, check-ups, etc. before, during, after, and even in between projects/service. In this way, there is always a feeling of continuity and fraternity among the community, volunteers who come, and organizations.
From the importance of time, it would be hoped that relationships are made, and desire is shown to better understand the community and its needs, and that these things would lead to sustainable, non-harmful practices and projects. As dialogue, time, and relationships expand and grow, so should more sustainable projects, as well as an understanding of how to avoid dependency on foreign or outside help.
However, in my opinion the ultimate goal of service would be to always continue dialogue and relations, but even more than that, make a network of change. Hopefully, helping serve in one community will lead to a domino-like movement, in which communities take what they learned, use skills they have, take advantages of resources, and/or use cutting-edge ideas to transfer that to other communities. All parts of service should be transparent, and above all, created in such a way that can be repeated, improved, and spread by communities themselves. Thus, service should create a network, in all facets of the word - from volunteer networks across countries, to links among communities that help each other, etc.
In general, service should try and cause no harm, create lasting, meaningful relationships with communities, involve human to human contact, work done hand in hand with a community, and be at all points driven by community identified needs. As long as the person, volunteer, organization, etc. remains self-critical of such service and keeps the aforementioned central ideas of service in mind, sustainable, non-dependent practices and projects should be created.
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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What is Service?

Matthew Oakland,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

What is Service? Service, in my opinion, is the application of skills, resources, and/or support to a community defined project, involving yourself in both the logistics and physical labor. However, what should remain in the forefront of service at all times is the community’s desires, as well as understanding that there should always be a […]

Posted On

05/20/16

Author

Matthew Oakland

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Hello!

The PBY Bolivia group will be leaving Tiquipaya today to begin our final month of travel and relection. Below is our itinerary. We hope to use this month to look back, to look forward, and to choose with intention how we hope to reintegrate into our lives in the US.

More soon.

 

May Itinerary, BY Bolivia 2015-2016

May 3rd: Travel to Santa Cruz

May 4th: Travel from Santa Cruz to Samaipata

May 4th – May 9th: Retreat in Samaipata.

May 10th: Explore Santa Cruz!

May 11th: Travel to La Paz

May 12th – 16th: Charlas and activities centered on our educational themes in La Paz.

May 17th: Travel to Tomata

May 18th: Day in Tomata to reexamine our first service project.

May 19th: Return to La Paz.

May 20th: Day in La Paz

May 21st: La Paz to Sorata

May 22nd: Leave Sorata for first camp at Laguna Chilata, a beautiful Andean lake outside of town

May 23rd: Optional day hike: Laguna Chilata to Laguna Glacial.

May 24th: Back to Sorata, to La Paz.

May 25th: La Paz to Copacabana

May 26th – May 29th: Transference in Copacabana.

May 29th: Leave Copacabana for La Paz.

May 30th: Day in La Paz.

May 31st: Flight from El Alto, Lan Chile 2567, 4:50 pm.

 
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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May Itinerary

Gina,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

  Hello! The PBY Bolivia group will be leaving Tiquipaya today to begin our final month of travel and relection. Below is our itinerary. We hope to use this month to look back, to look forward, and to choose with intention how we hope to reintegrate into our lives in the US. More soon.   […]

Posted On

05/3/16

Author

Gina

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Although Bridge Year has thus far provided me with answers to a myriad of questions I had before I came to Bolivia, one pesky question about my experience here has begun to rear its confounding headfor what purpose did I come here?

The community of people that make up my everyday life here have a variety of opinions on the matter. RosseMary, my homestay mom, believes that in a past life I lived in the Andes, and that I’ve come to relearn my original mother tongue of Quechua. Don Boris, my music teacher, is convinced that I’ve come in order to bring back to the United States as many traditional wind instruments as I can physically carry. Rodrigo, my homestay brother, tells me I’ve come to have fun, and then proceeds to artfully slip a card for the discoteca he works at into my hand.

 

It’s pretty hard to buy into some of this logic. But there is one idea that I’ve come to view as  a viable reason why I came to Cochabamba in the first place. RosseMary also says that for my group mates and me, this year is an opportunity to get to know “another reality.” We get to live with families and communities that speak different languages than our own, we get to immerse ourselves in a culture and customs previously unknown to us, and we get to see people who live in the “developing world” as humans instead of numbers in a textbook. “Another reality.” When you first come, the otherness of this place can be striking. It’s a reality criss-crossed by sacred mountains of megalithic proportions, dotted with seemingly-ancient women selling strange fruits and speaking alien tongues, and filtered through a worldview that suggests that everything, even the ground beneath your feet, is alive. If you stay for long enough, you realize something that just might throw off the inner compass that helps you orient yourself in relation to the world: this “other reality” is much closer to the reality in which the majority of the world lives than the version of reality we know in the United States. The lives of many Americans are made possible everyday by a luxury that many of them don’t even know they haveprivilege. Privilege, whether assigned at birth through race, gender, or country of origin or acquired later through education, migration, or economic opportunity, is a peculiar property. It buffers against adversity and oppression, making it hard for those who have it to feel hardships undergone by most of humanity, realize that there are people who don’t have it, and know that they have it themselves. Privilege is also strange because although it tends to numb you to the reality of the unprivileged world, it can also have the exact opposite effect.

 

Upon acquiring access to the immense privilege that is going to a university like Princeton that can afford to pay for you to spend nine months in a foreign country, I came to Bolivia. For the first time in my life, I encountered people who did not have the same privilege I did growing up. I lived among families whose lives are affected everyday by climate change, something we can afford to ignore in the U.S.. I met activists whose rights were violated for being indigenous to this place, something I never had to deal with. I worked with children who, due to their economic situations, may not be able to choose the course of their own lives, something I was told I could do from the day I learned to walk.

These revelations were jarring to the way I used to see the world; of course, whenever your world gets turned upside-down, it’s not going to be an easy transition. The most revolutionary epiphany I’ve had here is this one: for me, having privilege and not using it to better the lives of those without it is like having a lifeboat but not allowing others in because you want to lay down. With this conclusion in mind, it’s pretty easy to see now what the purpose of my year in Bolivia has been. I came to Bolivia to find out what reality I came from, to see what others are out there, and to realize that I have a duty to use my reality to better those of the rest of humanity. Maybe one day, when the gap between the oppressed and the privileged peoples of the world is bridged and we have one shared, human reality, maybe then we will start to make sense of the dizzyingly, complex world we share.

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What I think I learned in Bolivia

Manny Ramirez,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

Although Bridge Year has thus far provided me with answers to a myriad of questions I had before I came to Bolivia, one pesky question about my experience here has begun to rear its confounding head―for what purpose did I come here? The community of people that make up my everyday life here have a […]

Posted On

04/14/16

Author

Manny Ramirez

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    [post_content] => Your phone has not been backed up to the iCloud in 31 weeks.  Security backups occur automatically when your phone is unlocked, plugged in, and connected to wifi.

I don't quite understand why, but my phone has been giving me these notifications ever since I got to Bolivia.  I'm sure that at some point since September my phone has been unlocked, plugged in, and connected to wifi, but the backups are never realized.

The security backups, of course, are far from the point.  The point is that for each of the last 31 weeks, my iPhone has slapped me with a reminder of exactly how long I have been in Bolivia and inevitably draws my thoughts to the unyielding passage of time.

Time has emerged as an unexpected motif of my Bridge Year experience.  It pops up each day in the form of the "Bolivian hour," which allows me to leave the house at 8:01 to catch an 8:00 school bus five blocks away or arrive home at 7:30 with no apologies when I had told my homestay family 6:00.  It manifests on the weekly level as I juggle teaching, lesson prep, and group activities in a perpetual obstacle course toward the weekend.  And most saliently, it works on a monthly scale, creating nine natural blocks to measure our development and reflect on the concept of time throughout our experience.

I once read that above a certain number (about 12), our brains can no longer truly comprehend discrete integers; we think in terms of "few," "some," and "many."  Time shares this frustrating property, which leaves me playing weird, unproductive mind games to try to understand how much longer I'll be here.  I note that (as of this writing) John's arrival for his visit is just as far in the past as our departure from Tiquipaya is in the future.  And John was just here.  I open up my journal, now so thick in my left hand and so thin in my right, and remember when the sides were reversed.  For months I have been aware of Julianne's growing belly, a different sort of 9-month timer, knowing that she's due for two weeks before we leave Tiquipaya.  And then the games bring my inner mathematician out to play.  I calculate that our trip's 3/4 point was about a week ago, and the 4/5 point is about a week away.  5/6, 6/7, 7/8, etc. will only come faster and faster, both mathematically and emotionally.  I have just 4 more peanut soups in the family restaurant, 3 more hellish, never-ending staff meetings at Kusikuna, 7 more lessons with my favorite group of sixth graders, 1 more Quechua class.

There is no logical reason to play these mind games.  In fact, I don't even know if I'm rooting for the time to pass faster or slower.  I feel immersed in this rich, enlightening, and incredibly fun Bolivian experience, yet every time I look at the calendar, I viscerally root for a higher number.  Even at Kusikuna, my favorite aspect of this experience, with my aforementioned favorite group of sixth graders, I hope for the clock to say 12:45 as soon as possible.  This feeling is not at all rational; it already seems dumb and will surely seem dumber when I'm back in my bed at home wondering why I was in such a rush to get there.  But irrational doesn't necessarily mean unnatural.

"Seize the day" is easy to say but impossible to do- or at least impossible to do at all times.  But that's not a problem because I don't remember days.  Or weeks, or months, or for that matter any of the other units of time I've contrived here.  I remember moments.  I remember the crispness of the air in El Alto airport, the barks of stray dogs in Coroico breaking night's heavy silence, the motherly mountains to the north watching over us as we first entered Tiquipaya.  I remember Mamita María laughing and yelling at me as she demonstrated how to hand wash clothes, 19-month-old Lupe calling me "uh-KOB" for the first time, John trying to help teach my algebra class by replacing variables with ducks. I remember doing the Cotton Eyed Joe with ten other teachers at Kusikuna's end-of-year show, getting foam spray in every opening in my face during the street-melee that was Carnaval, nervously tossing the ball to first for the last out of a national baseball championship.  This is what defines my time in Bolivia, not an obsession over the concept of a month nor a reminder of how long my iPhone has gone without a backup.

I'll no longer try to defy human nature by seizing every moment.  Instead, I'll be content to plant my feet in the ground, stay as present as I can, and be ready to relish those moments that engulf me before I can even reach out to seize them.
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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Time

Jacob Wachspress,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

Your phone has not been backed up to the iCloud in 31 weeks.  Security backups occur automatically when your phone is unlocked, plugged in, and connected to wifi. I don’t quite understand why, but my phone has been giving me these notifications ever since I got to Bolivia.  I’m sure that at some point since […]

Posted On

04/14/16

Author

Jacob Wachspress

WP_Post Object
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    [post_date] => 2016-02-26 10:59:46
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    [post_content] => What is “my Bolivia” going to be? Emma turned her head slightly to the left, as she always does while thinking, after posing this question to me. We were sitting in a café in Sucre, nursing our mutual coffee addiction during my group’s two week winter vacation. What she meant by this question, which I understood immediately, was that she wanted to know what aspect of these nine months would come to define my Bridge Year in Bolivia, what aspect would be held dearest to my heart come June when I arrive back home in New York. My daily swim team practices? Potentially. My service placement? Maybe. My pueblito, Tiquipaya? Perhaps. My cooking or weaving classes? Eh. My homestay family? Yes, that’s it.

Almost a month later, I think my answer to Emma’s question in Sucre is still spot-on.

Dona Catalina, a.k.a. Mamita

“Mamita, estoy saliendo con mis amigos. Voy a llegar tarde por la noche,” I told Mamita, my abuelita, last night as I was heading out to watch the Super Bowl at Jacob’s house. A look of terror spread across her face as she started scolding me. “Hija, it’s Carnaval and it is absolutely too dangerous for you to go! Why do you need to leave tonight? Can’t you just stay safely at home?” She continued to recount horror stories that she has gathered over her last 70 years of living in Tiquipaya of what drunk men have done to young women out at night alone. I push a bit, saying that the Super Bowl isn’t missable for someone from the US. “Ok, fine, you’ll go but you must be back by 10 p.m. and you have promise that one of the boys will walk you home,” she says to me sternly and sits back down with her great-great grandson, sorting the flowers she had bought earlier in the day. It was settled.

Mamita, the matriarch of the family, combines a sternness that keeps us all safe and in line with the deep tenderness of the grandmother we all dream of. Most nights as we sit together at dinner, before I’ve even taken my third bite, she tells me that’s there’s more food and that I should put more on plate if I would like to. She laughs as she admits that she was too tired and busy to peel the potatoes before boiling them, saying that the name of the dish is “La cholita flojera.”After dinner she relaxes into her seat, ready to watch TV with the rest of us. Her hand gently rests on one of her granddaughters legs, always reminding them that she is there.

Amidst her appreciative laughs, her loving smile, her warm touch, she stands  with an authority that makes her definitely the most bad-ass 70 year old woman I have ever met. She holds high standards for her granddaughters who she is raising, making sure they work hard in their classes and remember to clean the house and don’t slack off in making lunch and dinner. She can herd four cows each the size of cars with an ease that confuses me even to this day, reprimanding them in Quechua, her native language. She raises them to be sold for meat and treats them like kings. Rain or hail or sun or cold she is out there, milking one of the cows, fattening up the others. The glimmer in her eyes lets you into the secret of just how much inner strength she has. But don’t you think for even a second that her power and strength leads to fear. No, it is delicately intertwined with fierce love.

Janeth

I don’t typically think of practicality going hand in hand with a great sense of humor and playfulness. Apparently it can be done, as Janeth has shown me in the past four months. As the oldest of Mamita’s grandchildren, Janeth has quite a lot of responsibility. She is the glue that holds it all together, acting as a bridge between Mamita and Mamita’s younger grandchildren.

It’s funny, Janeth seems to know how to do everything. She’s the one you go to if you have hundreds of ants swarming your bedroom, if you want to learn how to cook something, if you need help figuring out where to take your ripped jeans to be repaired. When Liz Beth was having trouble figuring out what to do with a problem she was having in university, Janeth sat with her for an hour strategizing. When one day no one was available to attend to Janeth’s store, she eagerly taught me how to do it. When no one else mobilizes to cook lunch for the family, Janeth just does it without complaining and creates something delicious. When everyone feels a bit lazy and doesn’t want to clean the house on Sunday morning, Janeth creates a lottery system and makes a game out of us all randomly being assigned chores. She then comes and teaches me how to do some of my chore after she finishes her’s early, taking on tasks she isn’t obligated to do.

Between the moments of making sure everything runs smoothly, Janeth has not lost any sense of how to have fun. At breakfast this morning she picked up the cardboard tube from an old roll of toilet paper and talked to her 1 ½ year old son through it, changing her voice to sound like a different cartoon character with every sentence. When we went to Liz Beth’s soccer game a couple weeks ago, she started one of the most enthusiastic waves I’ve ever seen in the crowd of spectators. When dinner one day was cow hooves, even though she kindly made me chicken instead, she joked all throughout dinner that I would wake up the next morning to a bed filled with all the parts of a cow that I have absolutely no desire to eat. If I sleep in particularly late on a Saturday, when I enter the kitchen she yells out “Buenas noches, Raquel!” instead of the appropriate “Buenos dias!”

Rueben

Janeth’s husband, Rueben, is quite a cool guy. He knows more about different religions (he was the only one that had heard of Judaism before I arrived), politics, and the US than most of the people in my homestay family. He gets a kick out of saying his favorite English phrases to me and his most frequent one is describing something as “muy very good” in his accented English. But despite his joking in English and his love for calling me a gringa at every chance he gets, he has a genuine interest in my life and my experience here that is always touching. After a long day at work, he asks me how it was and what made it so tiring. When he realized that I only have a couple more months in Bolivia, he wanted to know how I feel about that and if I feel mostly excited to get home or sad to leave. When I leave at dawn every morning to go to swim practice, he asks me if I slept well and then jokes about how I can sleep more in the pool. When I have activities with my Bridge Year group, he is always curious about what they are and if I enjoy them. But most importantly, he never, ever fails to crack me up.

Leonardo

Leo is Janeth and Rueben’s 1 ½ year old son who never fails to keep us all entertained. His first word was “puta” which roughly translates to whore in English and happens to be one of the most offensive words someone could use in Spanish. But even when he calls us “puta,” he does so in the most loving, playful way. I don’t think he has any idea what it means other than that it makes us laugh really hard when he says it.  When he’s not going around saying “puta,” he is always looking to play with one of us. He has a total obsession with with my two 1-liter Nalgene water bottles; every evening when I get home he comes running towards me, either saying “Tia gringa” or some version of “Rachel,” while reaching up to my backpack trying to grab my water bottles to play with. He likes to roll them, throw them, or hide them and then bring them to me a couple minutes later. Apparently to a kid his age this is an endlessly fascinating, endlessly fun way to spend time. Unfortunately for his parents, he also is fond of getting mud all over his clean clothes and trying to bathe in the dirty water we use with the mop. Let’s just say he goes through many, many outfits each day.

Liz Karren

Liz Karren is Janeth’s 18 year-old sister and is simultaneously incredibly smart and goofy as heck. From the very beginning of my time in Bolivia, Liz Karren never failed to give me random bear hugs, joke around with me, and braid my hair in the coolest designs. Even after a long day at one of the top universities in Bolivia studying to be an orthodontist, Liz Karren is always up for trying to teach me how to roller skate or make origami mouths. She likes breaking out in random songs and forcing me to dance with her even though she should know by this point that I suck at dancing. But that doesn’t stop her and I’m pretty sure it never will.

Liz Beth

Liz Beth is technically Liz Karren and Janeth’s cousin. It doesn’t matter to me though, I think of them all as my “sisters” with absolutely no distinction because they are all Mamita’s grandchildren. At age 19, Liz Beth is responsible way beyond her years. She is always on top of everything: when Mamita needs to go out, Liz Beth quickly offers to milk the cows and feed the pigs. She finishes making the cheese when Mamita gets tired and wants to go to bed, she cuts the grass when she sees that it’s getting long, she takes care of Leo when his parents are out or busy. And oh boy does she take care of Leo well… she has one of the most special relationships with that boy that I’ve ever seen. I like to say that she has a magic touch. When he is crying, she always knows exactly what to do. When he hits her, she asks him not to because it hurts. When he is hungry, she heats up some fresh milk from the cow for him. But it’s funny: her generosity extends to the rest of us, too, even though we aren’t all young children.

Rodrigo

Rodrigo is Liz Beth’s 24 year old brother. He’s not home much between studying engineering at the university and driving a Trufi to make some money on the side, but he’s a sweet guy and is very loving towards his younger sisters.

Kati

Kati is Liz Beth and Rodrigo’s 15 year-old younger sister and is defined, at least in my mind, by having  an endless enthusiasm for doing things and hanging out with me. A couple of Sundays ago, I helped Kati sweep the outside area of our house. As soon as she was done, she walked over to the sink, filled her cupped hands with water, and turned to me and said: “Can I get you wet?” Sure, I responded, because what the heck. It quickly turned into a full fledged water fight between Kati and me. There was a hose involved, two buckets involved, and two sink taps involved. We were absolutely soaked to the bone but continued and continued with our water fight, determined not to be the first to call it quits. When we’re not throwing buckets of water at each other, she frequently asks me after dinner if I want to go play volleyball or soccer or basketball with her on the nearby courts. The answer is always yes no matter how tired I am because I’ve learned that it always ends up being a great time.

~~~~~~~~~~

Almost five months ago, I spent my days struggling to communicate with my homestay family in a language that is not my mother tongue and had no clue how to live in the home of strangers. I was skiddish, I was shy, I was unsure of myself. I knew that they were supposed to be like my family and heard all of my Bridge Year peers calling the people they live with mothers and brothers and fathers but that just didn’t yet make sense to me. The power of time is a funny thing; after a certain number of shared meals, rain storms, jokes, and rounds of food poisoning, the terms grandmother and sister not only felt appropriate but natural. I have grown so deeply appreciative of this family that agreed to take in a gringa they didn’t know and accept me as a sister or aunt or granddaughter. They have been my gate, my window, my key into the culture of Bolivia and I have learned and grown so much from them.

 

 
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Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

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Mi Familia Boliviana

Rachel Kasdin,Princeton Bridge Year Bolivia 2015-16

Description

What is “my Bolivia” going to be? Emma turned her head slightly to the left, as she always does while thinking, after posing this question to me. We were sitting in a café in Sucre, nursing our mutual coffee addiction during my group’s two week winter vacation. What she meant by this question, which I […]

Posted On

02/26/16

Author

Rachel Kasdin

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