I've always enjoyed adventure, from bike riding down steep hills to horseback riding. The Faces of America and Quest Scholarships I received helped me to continue my adventures by travelling abroad to South America and experiencing living life in Asunción, Paraguay.
I struggled with the language: I had no idea what anyone was saying, even on the short airplane flight from Buenos Aires to Asunción. The first night in Asunción, everyone decided to speak Spanish to each other, including when we played card games. We translated every rule of the game, but those were probably the only words I could understand. I knew vocabulary, but I could barely hold a conversation. I remember having to think hard before responding to anyone because I had to translate every Spanish word to English in my head first. However, luckily my Paraguayan family spoke English as well as Spanish. They were nice enough to speak slower and/or translate when I didn't understand at all.
I wouldn’t consider my struggle a bad thing because I did learn from it; I learned what I needed to work on, what I already knew and what I was completely oblivious to. The classes were completely in Spanish as well, forcing me to play charades with teachers. Sometimes the other students would translate and other times I was able to translate; I didn't get to do so as often, but I enjoyed the moments I did. My struggle with the language lasted throughout the entire summer program, but now that I've returned I can definitely see the improvement. I can actually understand when people talk and respond when necessary. I like to talk to the high school Spanish teacher as well as with my Spanish professor in my dual enrollment Spanish conversation class at the college. My only problem is that I still can't roll my tongue for pronunciation purposes, but I'm working on it.
Not even one day in, I learned there was a native language that everyone learned in school: Guaraní. The only word I can recall from memory alone is “Mba’eíchapa,” meaning “How are you?” Guaraní was only the beginning of all of the traditions I learned; a few of the traditional foods were sopa and mate y tereré. Sopa reminds me of cornbread visually but definitely doesn’t taste like it. Strangely, sopa is a solid because the direct translation for sopa is soup. As for mate y tereré, almost everyone drinks the herbal tea nearly everyday. There are special cups, gourds, and spoons with filters, bombillas,that are used to drink mate y tereré. Those are only a couple of the traditional foods/drinks I was able to try, but there are many more in Paraguay. It felt as if there was a different holiday every week. The first week we arrived, AFS hosted a San Juan party. There were games, empanadas, fake marriages and more. On the first day of August, everyone drinks “Carrulím,” or the “magic potion of August.” The traditional drink is made of sugar cane liquor (caña), rue (ruda), and lemon (limón); the name was formed with the first few letters of each ingredient. I remember having to take seven sips, but I don’t remember what exactly for.
The traditions were probably my favorite thing about Paraguay, right before the tourist spots. I visited the highest point of Asunción and different museums around Asunción, Santo del Monday and Ipaitú in Ciudad del Este, la iglesia de Aregua (church), Loma San Jerónimo, la palacio de los lopez (their version of the white house) and more. If I could name all the places I visited, I would. There is more to share, but this essay alone couldn’t do my experience justice.
I would like to again thank AFS and Quest for making this experience possible for me.