I’ve traveled to quite a few places around the world, and the list of places I want to visit is probably a mile long, but I have to be honest in saying that the Plurinational State of Bolivia wasn’t even on my radar.
So how did I end up booking a month-long trip to La Paz? First, it’s important to state that I am not in Bolivia solely for a vacation. I’m here to complete the practicum requirement for my Master’s degree in Global Health.
Northwestern’s Global Health program partners with a fantastic organization called Child Family Health International (CFHI). CFHI specializes in developing/coordinating public health practicums and international medical rotations for students around the world. CFHI will recommend programs based on each student’s needs and interests, but the student has the final say in program selection.
I am vegetarian and have some chronic health conditions, so living in the bush in Uganda for a month simply wasn’t an option. After speaking with CFHI staff, they recommended their programs in New Delhi, India, La Paz, Bolivia, and Ecuador. I’ve been to New Delhi several times, so it wasn’t my top choice. Yes, I’d be able to easily find food and I have family there to help me out when needed, but I really wanted to understand what it’s like to work in a country or culture that I know nothing about. We spend a lot of time in this master’s program learning about the challenges and ethics of working in an unfamiliar culture and I wanted to put those lessons into practice. So that left Bolivia and Ecuador. There wasn’t a significant difference between the programs, but La Paz won based on two points: it’s a major city and it doesn’t have mosquitoes. If there is a single mosquito within a 10 mile radius of me, it will find me and bite me. I am that person. So the idea of working in a tropical zone without being subjected to mosquitoes and all the nasty diseases they carry was VERY appealing!
I can’t say I regret my decision in any way, shape, or form. I’ve only been in La Paz for a few days, but it’s a beautiful city and my host organization has assigned me to a very interesting project (which I’ll discuss in future posts). Despite the altitude sickness, I wake up in the morning and look forward to going to work. I can’t remember the last time I felt this way!