Expat Stories: I Love Bolivia's People and how Accepting they are of Foreigners (Part 2 of 2)

by Debbie

13. For those of you who have lived in Bolivia for at least 6 months, now that you are here, what have you learned about Bolivia that you did not know before?

I guess I didn’t know much before so everything I learned was new. But I think the biggest thing I learned from being there is that in North America we see everything as “the right way” (our way) and “the wrong way” (everyone else’s way). We need to learn that different does not mean wrong, and in fact, North American culture is actually the minority in this world. When I feel like criticizing Bolivian culture or people, I try to look at things from their perspective and ask myself, “Why do they do it this way?” Often when we understand the reason and the history, culture and thought processes behind things, they aren’t as “weird”, “bad” or “wrong” as we originally thought. They are coming at things from a different angle.

14. Is there anything about Bolivia that turned out to be very unexpected to you?

Perhaps one thing was that (at least in those days) Bolivian churches (I worked a lot with different churches there) tended to put missionaries on pedestals, so at first I found it very hard to make friends, as they saw me as a different “class” of person. I did eventually find a place where I didn’t feel that and made some very close friends. Also, I think that has changed quite a bit now.

15. What special skills or attitudes do you think a person or family needs in order to ensure their stay in Bolivia is enjoyable/successful?

I think you need patience (you do a lot more waiting, paperwork is incredibly time consuming and inefficiently organized etc.) and you need to have a very open mind. If you are going there because it’s cheap and you will be able to live like a rich man, then I think the people will pick up on that and you will not be as welcome. If you go there and want to become “one of them” they will love you. Immerse yourself in Bolivia and its culture; learn its history, its national anthem, the reasons why the government is what it is, etc. Then you will begin to understand the people around you.

16. Is there any reason you would NOT recommend Bolivia as a place to live, work or retire?

Don’t go if you are not able to adapt, and you will spend your time complaining about how “backward” or “slow” the country is. If someone came to Canada and complained about it all the time I’d say “So why don’t you go home?” I think they would want to say the same thing.

17. What is the most negative aspect about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

If you don’t have a good economic situation, then you do end up living at a lower standard than what you would probably have at home, so you have to be ready and willing to lower your expectations and standard of living (I lived that way for many years there as I was not paid on North American salaries). Also, even if you have a lot of patience, it can get frustrating at times waiting for things. Oh, and road blockades are very annoying – especially when the roads are all blockaded and you’re expecting any day to go into labour and will have to rush to the hospital (yup – happened to me)!

18. What are some of the most positive aspects about living in Bolivia in your opinion?

I think I’ve covered them already – the people, the slow pace of life, the family oriented life, less “stuff” to crowd your life, and el “Día del Peatón” where you don’t have any choice but to have a lazy Sunday walking around the neighbourhood …

19. Have you faced any unexpected difficulties while living here? Were you able to overcome those obstacles? Are they serious enough to cause you to want to leave?

Well, the economic and social problems were one reason we decided to move to Canada to raise our family. We couldn’t afford to put the children in the school we would have wanted for them to ensure they could come home for university if they chose to. Besides, we couldn’t afford the trips home to visit them, or the university tuition either for that matter! We were there through the “Guerra del Agua” and the next uprising in early 2001 and it is very scary to have small children and not know what’s going to happen, or if there will be any food for them.

Second, there are very few things in place to help with special-needs children, and that is one of the main reasons we are thankful we are in Canada right now.

20. If your children moved overseas with you, how did you prepare them for the differences in lifestyle or culture shock?

They were born there, and moved back to Canada when they were still very small. Now we spend a lot of time talking about Bolivia, and we visit when we can so that they still learn about it, and as they grow older they are learning to see things through different eyes and hopefully learning some lessons about what is really important in life. It is a challenge in North America to maintain that balance when they are surrounded by so much “stuff”.

21. For future potential expatriates who are considering living in Bolivia, what advice would you give them (how to prepare, what to bring or not bring, etc.)

I took very little, but then I was single at the time. What I needed I borrowed and/or bought over time while I was there. When we moved back we sold most of our things in order to have some money to start with here. Learn as much Spanish as you can, and learn about the country as I’ve already mentioned.

22. What are some of the things that were most difficult for you to accept or adjust to in Bolivia?

Honestly, the attitudes of some of the other foreigners who really acted like they were a “cut above” the Bolivians.

23. Prior to moving here, what aspects of living in Bolivia would you have liked to know more about or have more assistance with? Is there anything anyone could have done, or informed you about that would have made your choice to move to Bolivia, the relocation process itself, or your initial adjustment period easier, less stressful, less frightening?

Nothing really. Make Bolivian friends there as soon as possible and ask them all the questions you can think of. My initial adjustment was not difficult at all, but maybe it’s because I was young and single and ignorant of what I was supposed to be afraid of .

24. Hindsight is 20/20. If you could go back in time to the months before you moved to Bolivia, is there were anything you would do differently to prepare for living in Bolivia?

It’s hard to remember that far back, but I don’t think so, except now with the internet I would be reading everything I could get my hands on about the country.

25. Just for statistical purposes, had you heard of BoliviaBella.com or Expat Services prior to moving to Bolivia? If so, which parts of our website were most helpful to you? What information would you like to see added for future potential expats?

I read something about it online while I was searching the internet here in Canada a few years ago. I would like to see the information a bit more general in nature – not just related to Santa Cruz, and the US, though I know that a lot of it applies to everyone anyways. Please click here to return to Part 1.

Photo: "Cochabamba Edificio Los Tiempos y Cine Center" by C Maranon - 1. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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