In the north of Argentina, almost as far north as you can get, you will find the town La Quiaca. With its 15 000 inhabitants and 3442 metres above the sea level, it is a quite charming, but windswept place. Bolivia is situated only a five minutes walk from the city center, so it should not be a surprise that the environment and the way of living is more alike the Bolivian culture than the Argentinian culture in many ways. Even though La Quiaca is a pretty new town of 107 years, the people there have lots of tradition and are proud of their town. They really care about their surroundings and they are very interested getting to know those who come to stay in La Quiaca.
Because of the altitude, you will probably feel it physically when you arrive. There is something called “altitude sickness”, with symptoms that can be light headache, dizziness and that you feel you are out of breath. After a couple of days, you will get used to the altitude. Even those who have lived there for their whole life notices it if the travel some thousands meters “down” for a weekend and then travel “up” again. The altitude also makes the climate a bit colder than it probably will be during the preparation camp in Buenos Aires, especially during the nights. You have to be prepared that the combination of the altitude, the climate and all the new impressions you receive will make you tired in the beginning. Take a deep breath and try to get to know people! They are so nice and helpful, and are ready to get to know you and show you the wonders of La Quiaca!
I went to La Quiaca for my exchange year with YFU in 2010, and I had such a nice experience. Today I have another home on the other side of the world, and I have actually been back with my parents and siblings to visit, even though it is far away from Norway. My host family, my classmates, teachers and the rest of the community wanted me to learn Spanish as fast as possible, and they had a lot of patience! I am impressed of the citizens that were so willing to help me with anything.
Since exchange mainly contains of the everyday life, it is very important to show your interest in what the locals do! Soon after my arrival, I found out that the best way to get into the society and to get to know the culture and people is to participate in the surroundings. I entered the last year of La Secundaria, high school, so there was many happenings for the seniors; prom, graduation, we designed our own school uniforms and decorated the stage before some special occasions. Besides that, I danced some salsa, got to experience Minicarnaval, stayed in the park after school with classmates, went to a show with folklore, had a lot of asados (Argentinian barbeque), joined a volleyball team, went to Yavi (a beautiful place close to La Quiaca), dressed up as a clown on my school’s birthday, shopped at the markets of Bolivia, participated in the parade of 25 de Mayo (Argentina’s National Day) and got a lot of friendships.
The Quiaqueños celebrate and marks everything with parades and acts with speeches, flags and songs. It is a nice way to gather the society! Briefly summarized I got to experience a lot, and after a year I really felt like a part of the host family and of La Quiaca itself, even though I came as a total stranger ten months earlier! I have experienced that the society is willing to guide you through, and make your exchange year memorable with many wonderful moments, but eventually, it is your choice whether you participate and join in on what La Quiaca offers or not. My advice to you is to participate! Good luck, and enjoy your exchange year!
Norwegian exchange student in La Quiaca, Argentina with Youth For Understanding 2010/2011