jueves, 16 de junio de 2016

The top 10 stereotypical expats living in La Paz.

La Paz welcomes a small number of new foreign residents each year.  Although immigration statistics are hard to come by, it’s fair to say it’s not the world’s premier expat destination.  This little-known capital of a landlocked and hard to reach country has a modest economy and limited foreign investment opportunities.  What expats get instead is a very low cost of living, warm and friendly people, fascinating indigenous culture and unparalleled natural beauty.
We all have different motivations for living in La Paz.  “What are you doing here?” is the go-to question between newly acquainted expats.  Although responses are always interesting and insightful, the typical expat can easily be stereotyped.
Therefore, I present to you my list of the top 10 only slightly offensive stereotypical expats living in La Paz.

1. The English Teacher
The English Teacher is an adventurous nomad who has lived in countless exotic locations around the world.  They love nothing more than to step out of their comfort zone and immerse themselves in an unfamiliar foreign culture.  The English Teacher isn’t here for the money; they admit to living a comparatively modest lifestyle.  Instead, they come for the unique culture and breathtaking landscapes that La Paz has on offer.  You’ll often find The English teacher in their institute’s staff room discussing the most effective way to explain the Present Perfect Continuous to a lower intermediate student.

2. The Significant Other
The Significant Other met the Bolivian man or woman of their dreams, fell in love and decided to make it work by packing up everything they own and moving across the globe.  It’s a big risk to take but it happens all the time.  You’ll often find The Significant Other at the Multicine eating Pollos Copacabana before a movie date with the love of their life (especially on Wednesday’s two-for-one special).  Love has no boundaries.

3. The NGO Worker
The NGO Worker is a 20-something-year-old European with endless energy and enthusiasm.  They come to La Paz en masse to gain interesting life experience and help the less fortunate.  Many work here as volunteers, but that doesn’t faze them because they can survive on their home back account and know the extra work experience on their résumé  will pay serious dividends.  You’ll often find The NGO Worker chain smoking cigarettes at a Sopocachi café while discussing the local politics of some far-flung pueblo in Chuquisaca.

4. The Academic Researcher
The Academic Researcher comes to Bolivia to write a thesis potentially titled “The adverse effects of illegal logging on the blue-throated macaw”.  They are ridiculously knowledgeable on their chosen subject and are always happy to share said knowledge.  You’ll often find The Academic Researcher at a party stressing about how their thesis is due next week and they’ve only written two pages.

5. The Retiree
The Retiree doesn’t mind Bolivia’s below average salaries because their working years are well and truly behind them.  While they might run a small business to keep them occupied; it’s their foreign pension that brings in the real money.  Bolivia’s becoming more popular as a retirement destination for its low cost of living and decent (private) healthcare system.  However, most retirees look for somewhere warm to spend their twilight years so it’s no surprise that there aren’t that many calling La Paz home.  Santa Cruz on the other hand, has plenty.  You’ll often find The Retiree complaining on Facebook about how things “just ain’t as good as they are in the US”.

6. The Missionaries
The Missionaries are a married couple in their fifties who moved to Bolivia 20 years ago from Utah.  They’ve settled here permanently to spread the word of God by helping those most in need.  The Missionaries’ modus operandi is to start a small NGO that provides food and shelter, hand out bibles and convince the locals of their need to be closer to the Almighty.  You’ll often find The Missionaries reading a passionate sermon in a low socio-economic neighbourhood church or saying “Que Dios te bendiga” to random passers-by.

7. The Businessman
The Businessman settled in La Paz years ago at the insistence of their locally born significant other.  With savings earned or inherited in their home country, The Businessman successfully invested in a bar, restaurant or hostel that caters to the tourism industry.  You’ll often find The Businessman complaining to his cashed up colleagues in an upmarket watering hole about Evo Morales’ excessive increases to the minimum wage.

8. The Student
The student moved here in order to take advantage of Bolivia’s ridiculously cheap educational system.  They often hail from other Latin American countries and assimilate effortlessly into the Bolivian way of life.  The Student typically only stays for the duration of their degree at which point they happily return home with their new-found knowledge and expertise.  You’ll often find The Student complaining to anyone who’ll listen about how poorly funded their university is.

9. The Professional 
The Professional has extensive qualifications and experience in the field of Petroleum Extraction Engineering or the like.  They originally moved here for their job in a large multinational energy company, but eventually fell in love with the place (or a significant other) and decided to stay.  The Professional can be found indulging in beer and tapas at a high-end Zona Sur “After Office” with a table of rowdy Armani suit wearing compatriots.

10. The Digital Nomad
The Digital Nomad has mastered the art of making a living online.  They are skilled writers, programmers, web designers or online marketers.  The Digital Nomad loves Bolivia for its low cost of living and easily avoidable tax regulations.  You’ll often find The Digital Nomad at home on the telephone complaining to their Internet Service Provider about how f*^@ing slow their connection is.

jueves, 5 de mayo de 2016

Peggy in La Paz!

Six months ago today I remember my first, very memorable view of La Paz. Dozing in the back of a taxi after a long flight I was suddenly and unexpectedly aware of a sprawling and colourful city. Thousands and thousands of multi-coloured houses, precariously stacked on top of each other, watched over by the majestic snow-capped Illimani, winking in the morning sun. It was a wonderful start to a wonderful adventure. I was taken to San Pedro, a bustling neighbourhood where there is never a dull moment and my home for the next 6 months.

I’ve loved living in and exploring this incredible and diverse country. Living at 12, 000 feet makes everyday spectacular and allows for some truly breathtaking (in more sense than one) adventures. Tucked in amongst the monstrous Cordilleras range there is unlimited trekking and exploring to enjoy.  Head 569km south and you can find the other-worldly splendour of Salar de Uyuni with its moon-scapes, pink flamingos, volcanic plains, and dark night skies crammed with stars. To the west there is steamy jungle teeming with birds and wildlife. My highlights have been camping trips in the mountains, whizzing down the dramatic and infamous death road, and exploring the beautiful Toro Toro National Park

Working at Instituto Exclusivo has been a real pleasure. There is a lovely team of teachers here and I felt very welcomed from my very first day. Our classes are usually one on one or small groups which means you end up getting to know your students really well. We teach in class, on Skype, and at people’s homes or work. This makes for a diverse group of students making everyday unique. From Bolivian businesswomen, to Spanish UN ambassadors, to plastic surgeons in Italy, to Bolivian teenagers, I’ve definitely had an eclectic bunch of people. It’s been really fun teaching them and they’ve taught me some things too.

If you’re thinking of coming to teach and live in La Paz I would highly recommend packing your sunscreen (particularly if you’re a fellow scot) and heading out here. It’s an interesting, diverse and lively place and I feel very privileged to have lived and worked here. 
Good luck and happy travels!

jueves, 21 de enero de 2016

Kateri's Top 4 La Paz Experiences!

So you’ve arrived in La Paz and are wondering what to do with your time.  There is no easy answer to this question, La Paz is an incredible tourist destination and at times can be extremely overwhelming with its plethora of activities and guiding companies welcoming you at every turn.  Sometimes even searching online won’t give you the upfront honest answers you are looking for.  If this is the case for you, I am here to help.  I have had the opportunity to live in this city for the past 6 months and pretty much every weekend has been a different adventure of sorts.  I’m here to tell you about my top 4 experiences so far, both on and off the tourist map.  All of these are within a 45 minute mini bus/taxi ride of the city and are extremely low budget.  If you find yourself in La Paz for only a few days and want to make the most of them, I highly recommend any of the following:  

#1: Paragliding with AndesXtremo
AndesXtremo is a small local company that specializes in extreme sports.  They do everything from paragliding, to trekking to rock climbing.  The guides are incredibly safe, professional and helpful.  I chose to partake in a once in a lifetime opportunity to fly over the Andean mountains on the outskirts of La Paz.  The cost is 450 Bs, which is on the lower end of the usual guided tour prices.  A paragliding trip with AndesXtremo will begin in La Paz, followed by a beautiful drive through the south and then up a steep road that will bring you to the right altitude for takeoff.  The launch point offers you stunning views of Illimani and the surrounding mountains.  After a safety talk and gear check, you will be ready to fly eye to eye with the birds.  These are the best guides in Bolivia and I had the time of my life.  After a thrilling thin air, Andean style paragliding experience they will take you for some popular local food and drink in Mallassa.  Overall a 10/10 experience and I would recommend it to anyone who has an extra day to spare and the taste for a little La Paz Xtreme.  

#2: Hiking the Tuni Condoriri
Tuni Condoriri is a wonderful, high altitude hike achievable in one day if you are short on time, or two days if you would rather take your time and camp among the mountains and glacial lakes at base camp.  This “short” trek takes you through the spectacular, glaciated Andes, and is possible for anyone in good physical condition and well acclimated to the altitude.  No special equipment is required, just good hiking boots, warm, layered clothing, sun, wind and rain protection. The trek starts at an altitude of 4500m and rises slowly to the turquoise Chiar Khota Lake, at the base of massive glaciated peaks.  The summit is at a stunning 5400m viewpoint with views of the Cordillera and Lake Titicaca.  You could use a guiding company for this trek if you like, but it is also possible to organize your own transport to the base of the hike at Janchillani, and (as long as you are well prepared) do the trek on your own!  Transportation takes about 2 hours and will take you through El Alto, the Bolivian Antiplano , and the Cordillera Real.  I did this trek in two days with a group of 6 friends.  We had a fantastic time both hiking and camping.  It is a solid hike with stunning views without too much technicality and preparation necessary.  Definitely a must-do! 

#3:  Rocking Climbing and Hiking La Muela del Diablo
La Muela del Diablo is an iconic feature of the La Paz landscape.  The name means “Devil’s Molar” and refers to the shape of this massive rock feature.  It is visible from all parts of the city -  always reminding you to go check it out! Many people know that it is possible to hike this, but not many people know that you can actually rock climb it as well! There are bolted sport routes hidden in plain sight all over the formation.  Unfortunately, not much is written online about the specific routes, but if you are an experienced climber, know your personal limits and have the right gear, it is well worth a try.  The only website I have found any beta about the type of climbs available is on https://www.mountainproject.com/v/west-tower/110875008. My brother and I did this without using a guide because we are experienced climbers and had brought all our gear with us.  It is possible, however, to find a Bolivian guiding company to “show you the ropes”.  Even if you can’t rock climb La Muela, I highly recommend the 4 hour day hike from La Muela to the town of Jupapina.  You can access La Muela cheaply using the mini bus system, or a taxi service.  A taxi would cost around 80 bolivianos, but if you take a mini bus it will only be 3bs! Take the mini bus to Los Pinos as far as it will go and then just hike up through the town and you will find your way to La Muela.  Definitely worth checking out and it is only about 30 minutes away from the city center!

#4: Colibri Camping night out with friends 
Finally, if you are feeling city cramped and needing a quick escape into nature and silence, I recommend a trip to Colibri Camping Eco Lodge.  This is a beautiful camping facility with tents, teepees, cabins, a fully equipped outdoor kitchen, hot showers, hammocks, firepits and more! The best part is that it is an easy minibus ride from La Paz to Jupapina, it´ll only cost you 3bs!  I would recommend combining a day hike from La Muela del Diablo with a night camping at Colibri for an extremely full day and night of outdoor fun.  The owners of the camping facility would be more than happy to organize transport and tell you everything you need to know to make this adventure a success. It is amazing how wonderful it feels to find silence and stars no more than 40 minutes away from the hustle bustle of La Paz city center. If you are looking for a break from it all, this is the place to go! 

These are only a handful of the wonderful activities La Paz has to offer.  I hope this has inspired you to find yourself on an epic adventure, even if you only have a day or two and under 100 dollars to spare.  Good Luck and Happy Trails!

- Kateri Raglow 

jueves, 1 de octubre de 2015

A welcome from our new director

This month I’d like to introduce myself as a new member of the i.e. team. As I enter my third month as Executive Director, I feel lucky to lead this dynamic institute powered by qualified, experienced and well-trained teachers and further bolstered by a handful of friendly, resourceful and gifted administrators.  At the moment, we have Spanish teachers, English teachers, Aymara teachers, Quechua teachers and Dutch teachers on staff. This talented group impacts students way beyond La Paz thanks to our online classes.

I arrived in La Paz last December and immediately heard of the Institute as the place to go to learn Spanish. I signed up, sat on the comfortable couch and looked around.  Students from around the world were learning to communicate in new ways. I saw a group of 18 year old Germans on their first  experience abroad. I chatted with a 60 year American volunteer still dusty from an afternoon of work. Also, through closed doors, I heard Bolivians learning English. By February, I was a full-time student and by June 1, my portenhol (a blend of Portuguese and Spanish because I started as a Portuguese speaker) had almost completely converted to Spanish. On my study breaks, I explored our neighborhood of Sopocachi with its lovely park, many coffee shops, tasty food options and plenty of hills where I could get a little exercise. 

The opportunity to lead the Institute unfolded through conversations between my Spanish classes. My work experience as a Director of Study Abroad combined with my years as an international development professional complements the exciting and burgeoning opportunities the Institute will face in the near future. 

As Director, I continue to be amazed at the diversity of students who pass through our doors and sit in our classrooms. We’ve had groups of international volunteers from Japan and Korea, study abroad students from Norway and travelers from Holland hoping to gain experience and skills during their gap year. 

During this time many individual students have studied with us as well. Although it’s difficult to describe a typical i.e. student, they do have some qualities in common. The students I’ve chatted with are bold and adventurous - they’re willing to wade deep into the waters beyond their comfort zone. There’s also a palpable respect for culture and a desire to tap into it through language. As an example, one of our long term students is researching (for her Phd) how indigenous women understand their legal rights as women and as members of an indigenous group. The project involves enormous amounts of listening. When she arrived here a year ago, she thought she’d bitten off more than she could chew as her Spanish was basic. After several months as a full time i.e. student, she developed the skills and confidence needed to conduct her research. “For me”, she said, “Learning Spanish at the Institute was essential for me to be able to build rapport and understand the perspectives of the women I interview.” 

Another student came to i.e. to learn survival Spanish as he biked across South America. However, once his classes started, he didn’t want to leave La Paz and yearned for a level of Spanish beyond the basic. Eventually, he did leave and biked for five months across Bolivia, Chile and Argentina. After only a couple months back home in Alaska, he decided to return to i.e. and explore more of La Paz. He told me, as we conversed in Spanish, “I think I’ll have to go back home in November but then again I really love La Paz - I may stay an extra couple of weeks.” 

I hope you too can join the i.e. family. If you don´t happen to find yourself in La Paz, how about learning with us online? I’m sure you’ll understand why our students choose ie . Or, if you fancy trying out life on the other side of the desk, why not train to be an English teacher with our accredited TEFL course or look into one of our internship opportunities.  In the meantime, check out our website and feel free to email us any questions you may have. 

I hope to see you soon and hear your story.

Mansir Petrie

jueves, 10 de septiembre de 2015

Places and rituals

August: Month of Pachamama

No doubt when we travel, we dream of visiting different and almost magical places that are out of the ordinary; We seek adventure, traditions and new customs;  We want to meet new people, and face challenges of climate and infrastructure and create new memories through the awakening of our senses.

Bolivia is mystical, exotic and modern. It is a place where there is always something to see, visit and do. Places have exotic names such as ‘The Death Road’, ‘The Witches Market’, ‘Laguna Colorada’ etc, and there a multitude of holidays and festivals throughout the year. If there happens to be a month with no special day, then it is up to commercial enterprises to create a new one. Holidays range from the more common celebrations such as Christmas and New Year, to some more popular Latin America ones such as the ‘Day of the Dead’, ‘All Saints’, ‘Carnival´. Due to the cultural symbiosis that we have, there is always a good cause for celebration, such as in August which is the month of Pachamama.

Pachamama is the goddess of the Earth. According to the yatiris or wise Aymaras, August is regarded as the period of the Laqan pajxi (month of the open mouth), because it is the time when Pachamama opens her mouth to receive offerings.  The Andean cosmovision teaches us that everything has a soul, that everything lives, and goes on living after death.  This is not only true of people but of tools and utensils, and of the land and the hills. The offering given to Pachamama (Mother Earth) is called Koa and is made up of sweets, koa (a ceremonial plant), coloured wood, untu (camelid fat), "mysteries" or symbols from kallawaya and aymaran culture, coca leaves, as well as a sullus or llama foetus.   They are offered to Pachamama as a symbol of appreciation for the agricultural production in rural areas, and to the prosperity of business, health and family in cities.

Pachamama is the highest divinity of the Andean people, because, in addition to providing protection, she alludes to fertility, abundance, femininity, generosity, and the maturity of crops. The term Pachamama translates as ‘Mother Earth’ - Pacha is a Quechua and Aymaran word which means Earth, Mara translate as cosmos, universe, time, and space, and Mama means Mother.

The concept of Pachamama is directly related to agrarian wealth, as the economy of the native people is based largely on agricultural production. However, a large part of the urban population maintains that their customs and beliefs are still valid in modern society. These beliefs have undergone some changes though,  in order to exist alongside the Catholic faith and in some ceremonies, Pachamama worship is even done through the Virgin Mary.

In Andean culture, Pachamama is the protective goddess of all material goods and, at the same time, master of the spiritual universe. Thus, she symbolizes the human being in its entirety. As a result, those who believe in her must maintain a relationship of balance and reciprocity. 

De lugares y rituales: Agosto mes de la Pachamama

Bolivia mística, exótica y moderna. El lugar donde siempre hay algo que ver, visitar y hacer. Los lugares están revestidos con nombres exóticos, como ¨Camino de la muerte¨ ¨Mercado de las brujas¨ Laguna colorada¨ etc.  También sus diferentes actividades y celebraciones, nos transportan al mundo de lo místico y debido a la simbiosis cultural que tenemos siempre hay un buen motivo de  celebración, Agosto fue Mes de la Pachamama

Pachamana diosa de la tierra. Según los yatiris o sabios aymaras agosto es considerado como el periodo del Laqan pajxi (mes de la boca abierta), porque es el tiempo cuando la Pachamama abre su boca para recibir las ofrendas.

La cosmovisión andina nos enseña que todo tiene alma, todo vive; creyendo que no sólo las personas viven después de la muerte: las herramientas, los utensilios de casa, el suelo que se pisa, los cerros pequeños o grandes tienen ánima, están vivos y hay que estimarlos; siendo por ello que se preparan ofrendas. El ritual a la Pachamama  y la ofrenda se llama Koa que contiene dulces, koa (planta ceremonial), lana de colores, untu (grasa de camélido), “misterios” o simbología de la cultura kallawaya y aymara, mixtura y hojas de coca, además de los sullus o fetos de llama es entregada a la Pachamama como un símbolo de agradecimiento por la producción agrícola en el área rural y por la prosperidad de los negocios, la salud y la familia en las ciudades.

El término Pachamama se traduce al castellano como Madre Tierra, puesto que pacha es una palabra Quechua - Aymara y mara que en español significa tierra, cosmos, universo, tiempo, espacio y mama quiere decir madre.

El concepto de Pachamama guarda una directa relación con la riqueza agraria, ya que la economía de los pueblos originarios se basa en la producción agrícola. No obstante, una gran parte de la población urbana mantiene sus costumbres, creencias y mantienen vigencia en la sociedad moderna. Sin embargo sufrieron algunas alteraciones, al sincretizarse con la fe católica. Incluso, en algunas ceremonias, se adora a la Pachamama a través de la Virgen María.

Esta simbiosis se puede ver claramente en el cuadro “La Virgen del Cerro”, donde se observa que la Madre Tierra, representada por el cerro, además de ser la falda de la Virgen María queda por encima de la misma. 

Igualmente, en las reuniones sociales, es muy habitual que la Pachamama reciba los primeros tragos de cerveza, ya que los creyentes antes de llevarse el primer sorbo a la boca, dejan caer unos chorros sobre la tierra, a modo de agradecer y alimentar a la Pachamama.

En la cultura andina, la Pachama es la diosa protectora de todos los bienes materiales y, a la vez, domina el universo de lo espiritual. Por ello, simboliza al entorno del ser humano en su totalidad. En consecuencia, los que creen en ella deben mantener una relación de equilibrio y reciprocidad con la misma.

viernes, 26 de junio de 2015

Gran Poder

The festival of Gran Poder is the clearest representation of multiculturalism in Bolivia.At 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, May 30th, the first fraternity (folkloric group) enters and the government headquarters initiates the party, with 65 fraternities showing their faith, gratitude and culture along the way. One of the most important reasons for this celebration is to worship and show devotion to the Lord Jesus del Gran Poder. This festival is one of the ways in which we celebrate what it means to be Andean.

The streets are filled with people and vendors of all kinds selling food, beer as well as other traders seeking the ability to sell their products more freely. The audience is diverse, with large families moving hurriedly from one place to another in search of a space, carrying even the smallest children.  Overall, Gran Poder is a cathartic experience where the community comes together with nature, affirming its willingness to ensure the survival of the Andean heritage.

The start of the Gran Poder is a religious holiday which is expressed through dance and rhythms from different regions.  Each and every one of the dances represents a region of the country, and all of these carry a story behind them. There are countless colors, masks, costumes, and decorations which can be seen in the moves of the fraternities, not to mention the spectacle of the bands. The vibrant sound of their instruments makes the people and the dancers feel the vibrant notes of Bolivian folkloric music.

The origin of the Fiesta del Gran Poder dates far back to December 8, 1663 when they founded the Convent of the Conception Mothers.  Since its creation this celebration has undergone some changes and incorporated new dances and fraternities.  In the 30s and 40s there was an integration of native bands from Los Yungas, with drumbeats which worshipped the image of the Lord Jesus del Gran Poder. Having become a departmental event in 1952, there were departmental Paceña dance festivals at the stadium, where the idea of a more organised event was realised, drawing together the various cultural ideas.  The new version of Gran Poder 2015 seeks to achieve the title of Intangible Heritage from UNESCO. 

lunes, 15 de diciembre de 2014

Language and Identity

This week´s entry is guest post written by one of our Spanish students, Ashley.  She is here in La Paz to do research for her phd and is keeping an insightful and interesting blog detailing her experience of doing fieldwork abroad while negotiating a new life in a new city .
Check out her blog here: http://llamalass.com/

Language and Identity: Who is that voice?

Language and identity have been at the forefront of my mind not only since I arrived here in Bolivia, but since I started learning another language. I am speaking Spanish when I am at home and a mixture of English and Spanish when I am out. Negotiating my way between the languages and attempting to express myself in a way that feels like me, like who I am at home, is extremely complicated. My engagement with language and identity is very brief here, however it is something I will be exploring in greater detail throughout the course of my research. For now, it is a brief personal reflection.


My interest in identity in general has always meant that I frequently take a step back in order to consider my own identity and how it may be changing. I am currently reading Connecting Self to Society by Vanessa May, a book recommended to me by my good friend Jenny. Thanks Jenny! This book explores the idea of belonging, from the different possible definitions that exist and the to how people place themselves in society, with their surroundings, family, friends, strangers. It is an interesting read, for academics and non-academics alike.

Moving away from home and everything that is familiar is difficult for anyone, and it is inevitable that being removed from the familiar and situated in an unfamiliar world can affect your notion of belonging, and of who you are and what you do. Whilst this sounds negative, and in many ways when I feel homesick it certainly is, it also provides the space to re-evaluate yourself, your identity, your likes and dislikes, the things that you are comfortable with and the things you might not be so comfortable with. The first thing I felt uncomfortable with was language, and I soon realized that living in a language which is not my native one, was having an affect on me, my personality, how people relate to me, and in turn, my identity.

Speaking Spanish

Speaking another language has felt strange. I realized earlier on today whilst talking to my husband on Skype, that that was the first I had spoken English today. I had my breakfast this morning and my host sat down to ask all about my day yesterday (as I didn’t get back in until after 1am), and our conversations are always in Spanish. Eli and Pepe, my hosts, do not speak any English at all.

Whilst I am able to express myself and people understand me, there are subtle things missing that I feel make me who I am. These might be things that you say that are funny or silly, that add some character to your expressions and descriptions. Those things in English do not often translate well to Spanish and instead I find myself feeling a little frustrated that I can’t be funny, or make someone laugh (intentionally). The ability to do so may come with time, but it certainly affects the way that you think people might perceive you, which is central to your identity.

I have also found it difficult to switch between English and Spanish. I have made friends with people from Germany, Norway and Belgium, and when I am with them, we switch between English and Spanish. Getting used to switching between the two will take some time. I have also found that speaking Spanish has affected the way that I speak English. Instead of saying I am going to my friend’s house, I have said “I am going to the house of my friend” (in Spanish “voy ala casa de mi amiga”). My English feels simplified at times and I realise how strange I sometimes sound.

When I listen to myself speak Spanish, it feels strange, as if I am listening to another person. The tone and pitch of my voice is different and my expressions are likely to be different too. It doesn’t sound like me. Who is that person?

Language and Identity

Identity must be considered alongside language in relation to language use, choice and preference. Whilst I talk about identity here, I do not consider there to be just one identity. Identity is, of course, ‘constructed’. We often have multiple identities, and they are reshaped and restructured throughout our entire lives. Identities are continuously being negotiated and re-negotiated. As I negotiate my way through the Spanish language, stepping every now and then back in to English, I can feel a change in my identity, or at least the one I am most conscious of.

It can be suggested that our realities are reflected in our language and so I often wonder what reality is being reflected when I speak in a language that is not as familiar to me, and one in which I cannot always successfully express myself. There is no real answer here, but it is something that I have considered deeply at various points over the last two days, questioning who this voice is that is coming from me, but not able to say exactly what I want it to. I feel like a child, frustrated and anxious; trying to understand and be understood.

The value of speaking another language

Negotiating identities does not need to be negative, and in fact I have come to really appreciate that I am able to speak a language other than English. There are people I have spoken with that I would never have had the ability to before. Not knowing another language means that there are a ton of people out there in the world that you can’t communicate with; a massive myriad of personalities that you’ll never get to know; a wide range of life experiences that you’d never get to understand. Learning a language is not easy, and speaking that language more than your native one is also not easy, but I appreciate the time and effort I invested (and continue to invest) in learning Spanish.

Before I left Scotland, people told me I would change and that I would come back a different person. I’m not sure that is strictly true. I have always been reflective about my surroundings, my feelings of belonging and the influences on my identity, but I do know that I appreciate language more than I ever have.