Hannah Patterson—Cochabamba, Bolivia

hannahMy name is Hannah Patterson and I am a 23-year-old super senior at West Virginia University. I am a multidisciplinary studies major, which means I have 4 minors: business administration, communication studies, public relations, and Spanish.

Though I am originally from Columbus, Ohio, I will be spending this spring semester in Cochabamba, Bolivia. Here in Cochabamba, I will be taking a Spanish class and a history class. I will also have to choose a service-learning project to assist the community, which will probably involve teaching.

What made you want to study abroad?

As a freshman, I had planned to study abroad at some point during my college career. Yet as the years passed, I found myself scared to leave my friends and became overrun with class requirements. However, in what I thought was my final semester at WVU, I learned about an opportunity to study abroad in Bolivia.

A friend of mine went on this same trip in the past year and loved it. She shared so many of her adventures and experiences with me once she returned, all of which piqued my interest and had me longing to study abroad. So when my Spanish professor mentioned this program in class, I was sold. What better way to end my undergraduate career than to finally study abroad?

What were your expectations for this trip?

The first few weeks here, I expect to feel a bit overwhelmed—this is a new country with different customs, poor internet service, I’m far from my family and friends and I’m surrounded by a language I’m not completely comfortable with yet. But, like most things, I know I will adjust, learn and grow from each encounter and situation.

What do you hope to accomplish or do while abroad?

My primary goal for this trip is to immerse myself in Bolivian culture and its lifestyle. I hope to improve my Spanish while also gaining a new perspective on the world and the way others live. Ultimately, I want to experience what Bolivia has to offer and to eventually feel (almost) like a native.

What has been your biggest culture shock, if anything?

When our group arrived at the La Paz airport, most of us were relieved to be able to a break from the various flights. We had been flying off and on for nearly 10 hours already, but the flight for Cochabamba wouldn’t be for another 5 hours.

Naturally, one of the first things we wanted to do after our overnight flight was to use to the bathroom. However, we were quickly stopped by our program leader. She informed us that here in Bolivia, we would not be allowed to flush toilet paper—instead, we had to throw the used paper in the trash.

Boom. Culture shock set in.

“All of it goes in the trash?” I asked hesitantly. “Like…for everything?”

“Yes, you can’t flush any toilet paper here due to the sewage system. Doing so will cause the toilet to overflow.”

I expected to have difficulties with the language and even to struggle with some cultural differences, but for some reason, this threw me off the most. I imagine that I will, eventually, become adjusted, but as for right now… I’m still feeling the shock.

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