Senior gets schooled in Bolivia

Alana Richards, senior elementary education/art major, already knows what the next two years of her life will look like. After traveling out of the country for the first time this past semester, she received an offer to be a third grade teacher at the American Cooperative School in Bolivia.

Located outside of La Paz, one of Bolivia’s capitals, the American Cooperative School is one of the richest schools in Bolivia.

Outside of the school however, it was a different story. Bolivia is the poorest country in South America.

“I worked in a great school but when you drove out of the city, there were huts made of mud,” Richards said.

Though the school was located in Bolivia, the classes were all in English with a Spanish language session for 45 minutes a day, which made it possible for Richards to work there. The students were bilingual and from all over the world.

Being a senior, however, Richards was unsure whether to travel abroad during her last semester of college.

“It was a hard decision,” she said. “It was the last time you’ll be living at college. I said that I was going to wait and see where they placed me and then decide from there.”

Richards finally made the decision when she was placed at the school in Bolivia. She quickly made arrangements and left for Bolivia in January. With the landscape, the tight-knit community of the American school and the favorable exchange rate, she did not have a difficult time acclimating to the new environment.

“Going down there was different but it wasn’t that hard,” Richards said. “It was just different. I was just so excited to find out about the culture. I walked around all the time and pinched myself, just thinking that I was there. The people are nice, accepting and warm.”

The biggest cultural experience she participated in was “Carnaval de Oruro,” a Bolivian celebration that takes place four days before Lent.

“The dancers dance for four days straight which is their offering to Virgin Mary,” Richards said. “It is phenomenal, beautiful and great.”

As one of Richards’ favorite hobbies is hiking, she was also able to climb Mount Chacalataya while in Bolivia.

“Once I reached the top, I thought I was taking pictures for National Geographic.”

According to Richards, ice climbing on a glacier on the Huayna Potosi Mountains was even more phenomenal.

Almost all the snow on the mountain has melted due to climate change. The glacier she climbed is predicted to melt in 15 years, according to Richards.

Richards hopes to do more traveling when she returns in July.

“I really want to see the salt flats in Uyuni,” she said. “It’s just fields of salt and lagoons with flamingos.”

Even though she has a set job for the next two years, she does not know where her experiences will take her, whether it will be teaching in Bolivia, America or another country.

“Compared to everything that happened in two months, who knows what will happen in two years?” Richards said. “I’m just seizing the day, living for the moment. That’s all I can do.”