Student leader expands mind, experiences culture shifts

Emily Garcia Anson (right) with her host family Ada Suáraman and Lorena Jimenez. Anson will be in Bolivia until June 2020. PHOTO PROVIDED

SANTA CRUZ, Bolivia – Emily Garcia Anson, 17, of Creswell, is following her dream of seeing the world by partaking in a Rotary Youth Exchange, which has placed her in Santa Cruz, Bolivia for a year.
These exchanges give students who are ”leaders in their schools and communities” the opportunity to attend local schools and live with host families in a city abroad. Students range from 15 to 19 years of age, and Rotary pays for room, board and school fees, with students responsible for airfare, documents and spending money.
”Emily’s exchange to Bolivia means to me that she is achieving her goals,” Alejandra Garcia, Anson’s mom, said. ”She has a plan and travel is part of it. I am fiercely proud of her tenacity and clear direction.”
Anson said that her dad was in the Navy for 20 years and that inspired her to see more parts of the world. She was originally chosen as an alternate, but another student dropped out, and she was able to take her place. She said she was asked if she wanted to go to Bolivia, and she told them yes.
In order to participate, she had to graduate early from Creswell High School. Anson started the application process in July 2018 and Garcia said she made it clear to her daughter that ”this was her project.”
”She did everything, including applying for her passport and driving herself to the appointment,” Garcia explained. ”Rotary requires that parents and students attend many meetings and weekend-long training sessions prior to the selection process and even afterward.”
Anson has been in Santa Cruz since mid-August and will be staying there until June. She is attending classes as a junior in a Catholic high school and said that it’s a stricter environment than in the U.S.
The classes she’s taking are all in Spanish, and she said that reading has been the easiest for her to understand. While she understands the math equations, she said the math teacher talks fast and it makes it harder to know what’s going on; however, her Spanish classes are quickly improving her language skills.
”Every day I know more than the day before,” she said.
She also has opportunities to practice her Spanish outside of the school setting, because her host family doesn’t speak a lot of English. She is staying with Lorena and Chuly Jimenez, and their daughter is doing an exchange in Grants Pass, Oregon.
”My family has been really great,” Anson said. She added that they make sure to have things in the house that she likes.
Family is a big part of Bolivian culture, and Anson said that they will have four-hour dinners each Saturday with multiple courses and a break for espresso; she added that the food involves a lot of rice.
Another cultural shift, outside of eating patterns, is that Bolivians do very little driving to adjoining cities because the roads aren’t as easy to drive on; instead, everyone flies to other destinations. She also added that Bolivians don’t drink water straight from the tap; they have to either buy it or filter it.
Santa Cruz is the largest city in Bolivia and Anson said she hasn’t ever lived in a city this large. At the moment, it’s the rainy season and she said that everyone has been bundled up in coats and all she needs is a light running jacket.
”It feels like Oregon in September,” she said.
Despite it being the rainy season, it has done little to help the Amazon rainforest that has been burning in Brazil; the fire has since spread into Bolivia near its borders with Brazil and Paraguay, the BBC reported, and Anson said that it is smoky.
”You see it on the news every day,” she said. ”People are talking about it in America but it’s a big deal here because it’s so close.”
Garcia said that she ”cannot praise the Rotary Club enough for their amazing work” and she has been impressed by their dedication, kindness and thoroughness. She added that she hopes Anson’s experience in Bolivia through the Rotary Youth Exchange will teach her the value of human connection.
”I hope her Bolivian experience brings her back into the real world and shows her that digital platforms are no equivalent to the experience of actual life,” she said.



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