Kaya Groff

Bolivia

Hometown: Marietta, Georgia
School: Walton High School
Sponsor District : District 6900
Sponsor Club: Rotary Club of East Cobb-Marietta, Georgia
Host District: 4690
Host Club: The Rotary Club of Sucre


My Bio


¡Hola, me llamo Kaya! Hello, My name is Kaya! I am from Cobb County in Georgia where I’ve lived with my parents, younger brother, and dog since before I can remember. Currently, I’m a sophomore at Walton High School but next year I will be spending my junior year somewhere in Bolivia. In my free time I enjoy playing musical instruments, reading, listening to music, spending time with friends and family, and practicing photography. I play 4 instruments (or 5 instruments, if you can call a one-string cigar box guitar an instrument), but mainly I play the violin and bass. I’ve been playing the violin in my school orchestra for nearly 5 years and the bass guitar for 4 years. I like to read realistic fiction and fantasy and I listen to most genres of music, but my favorite musical artist is David Bowie. I’ve been interested in social sciences and learning about new cultures and languages since I was young making the Rotary Youth Exchange one of the most, if not the most, exciting opportunities of my whole life so far. I’m so excited for this opportunity to grow and expand my own and others’ perspectives of the world, gain insight into who I am as a person, experience a new culture and make many new friends. I’m so excited for the next year of my life in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program and all the things I’ll learn, from a new language to a foreign culture. I am so thankful for this opportunity.

With my host family at my host moms birthday party

With my host family at my host moms birthday party

science project with my class

science project with my class

At a party with some school friends

At a party with some school friends

A view of Sucre from my house

A view of Sucre from my house

Watching the sunset on the Salar on one of the cars we took for our tour.

Watching the sunset on the Salar on one of the cars we took for our tour.

My younger sisters dance presentation

My younger sisters dance presentation

A baby llama at Isla del Sol

A baby llama at Isla del Sol

Thanksgiving Dinner

Thanksgiving Dinner

My birthday cake!

My birthday cake!

A view from the Teleferico (La Paz's public transport system)

A view from the Teleferico (La Paz's public transport system)

  • Kaya, Outbound to Bolivia

    I’ve been super busy here in Sucre and traveling recently and haven’t posted in a while, but I have had the opportunity to do and see so many fantastic things that I’m excited to share!

    In early September, I went to the Orchid Festival with all of the other RYE students in Bolivia. The Orchid Festival is in a town about 5 hours outside of Santa Cruz called Concepcion. While we were there, we visited a few restored churches in the area and saw concerts in two of them as well. We also visited a town nearby our hotel to see their celebration for the Orchid Festival and danced with some of the locals before going on a hike up a mountain (by Georgian standards) near the town. We finally saw some orchids our last day of the trip during a presentation about growing and breeding orchids. The Orchid Festival was a really cool opportunity to experience one of Bolivia’s celebrations, and I met many new RYE students and can’t wait to spend more time with.

    In October, I went to a Rotary meeting here in Sucre, finally, and finally did my presentation. The Rotary meetings in Sucre are much different than what I’m used to in the US. In East Cobb, Rotary meets at 7:00 a.m., but here in Sucre the meeting started at 8:30 at night (but it didn’t really start until around 9) and went until about 11 p.m. I didn’t quite understand everything that happened during the meeting but I understood enough to volunteer myself and all my other Sucre RYE friends to help with the Rotary fundraising effort for World Polio Eradication Day. I was the first exchange student in the Exchange student in Sucre to give my presentation. Although I’m pretty sure I mispronounced a couple of words, and forgot a few points I wanted to bring up, my presentation was well received. Although I felt uncomfortable presenting first, I know my friends were happy to have more time to practice so I felt good about being able to help my friends make sure they have the best presentations possible.

    In late October, we learned that Halloween which isn't really widely celebrated here in Bolivia (although from what I understand it's growing in popularity). My friends and I didn’t really celebrate Halloween except for watching a horror movie or two and eating some American candies the day of Halloween (which killed off the last my Jolly Rancher supply). My younger sister did a lot more to celebrate. Her class had a party, she went trick or treating in our neighborhood, and I gave her some of my American candies.

    In early November, I watched my younger sister and her kindergarten classmates perform a couple of traditional Bolivian dances from different regions around Bolivia. The entire presentation was really cute and I was proud of my sister too because the day before she seemed a little anxious about performing in front of people but she did really well in the end. Also in November, there was an international trade fair in Sucre called the Feria. I went to the trade fair with a couple of friends. It was basically just an eclectic collection of different companies presenting their products, but it was cool and there were some cool artisans there. It and it was fun for a couple of hours, but then we got stranded there for a while. The day we went was the last day of the Feria and my friend’s moms who were picking us up couldn't get there to pick us up due to traffic. The traffic was so bad, they were delayed for a couple of hours—which gave me extra time to spend with friends. A few days after the trade fair, I went to a Rotary project where hearing aids were distributed to those that needed them around Sucre. I got to spend some time with my RYE friends and help people in need which was really nice.

    A few days later, I went to the valley (which is about 40 outside of Sucre) with my family. It finally felt like summer for the first time since Sucre's weather is a little weird. I spent a lot of time with my brother and younger cousin, Coni, just hanging out and my whole family went swimming. I ended up getting sunburnt somehow (maybe it had something to do with forgetting to put on sunscreen until I saw how red I was). That same weekend, I went with my brother to my cousin, Fer’s, Quiñce (which from what I understand was pretty laid back for a quince) but I was too tired to really enjoy it. The day after the Quince was my birthday. I woke up late and opened a few birthday gifts before going to a family event to celebrate (whose) birthday. At the celebration, we ate cake for my birthday (as well as cake for the other birthday) and I got my face slammed into a cake as is tradition. On the night of my birthday, I went out for dinner with a couple of friends and I had a lot of fun. The end of the night was bittersweet though because we all had to say goodbye to a friend that was going back to Switzerland.

    Also, in November, my friends and I set up a dinner for Thanksgiving since there are three RYE students from the US in Sucre. We invited our families and a couple of friends. Making the food for Thanksgiving was kind of difficult because none of us had ever made Thanksgiving before and we didn't quite know what we were doing, but it got done and it was pretty good (the turkey was kind of dry though) plus it was nice to share part of our culture. After our Thanksgiving dinner we got hail, or as I like to call it "big snow", to ring in the Christmas season.

    The day after Thanksgiving the RYE students began the 2-week long Bolivia Tour. RYE students all met in Tarija which is the wine production area of Bolivia. The main thing we did in Tarija was a really boring wine tour that no one really enjoyed but it was fine because next we came to the best city in the country, Sucre. In Sucre we saw a couple things I hadn’t seen yet since I hadn’t previously been particularly interested in the museums. After Sucre we drove through Potosi, to get to Salar de Uyuni, the famous salt flats of Bolivia. The altitude was so bad in Potosi that when we were talking during lunch I could barely hear anyone that was talking to me, even if we were only a foot apart. After lunch we went to a cool old convent. My friends felt sick at the convent, and swore it was because the place was haunted although I would bet it was just the altitude messing with them. After the convent, we continued our route to Uyuni and we saw llamas (it was my first time seeing them and it was really cool) and we got out of the bus and got pretty close to them one time! Then we went to Salar and did a tour of it for the full day, we saw so many things including an very old, very dead coral reef (the whole salar used to be an ocean). We went to a hotel made of salt (it really is made of salt, trust me I tasted a wall and a chair). It was my favorite part of the whole trip, the Salar not tasting the wall!

    After the salt flats, we took an overnight train to Oruro. I didn’t get much sleep on the train, so the next day in Oruro was rough. We then took a bus to La Paz. La Paz is such a cool city, and we spent about 2 days exploring there. While we were in La Paz, we threw a RYE class Christmas party where students from every country tried to make traditional food (every country but Denmark succeeded). The Americans made mac and cheese, but I was busy helping the Germans make potato pancakes (I forgot the German name). It was so nice to be with everyone on the exchange.

    While we were in La Paz we drove 4 hours Lake Titicaca, the highest lake in the world. At Lake Titicaca we took a boat tour to Isla del Sol, the largest Island on lake Titicaca and a sacred land to the Inca people (it’s the supposed origin of the sun god). The visit to the island was great since it was on my list of things I wanted to see while I was here in Bolivia. However, the hike on Isla del Sol nearly killed all of us because of the altitude. The next city was Cochabamba where we saw a little bit of life in the countryside and a bit of the city life as well. Our last night together, all of the RYE students put on a and each country did something different. The students from the US performed the Pledge of Allegiance, danced a little bit of the Cupid Shuffle and the Cotton Eyed Joe, and we sang the National anthem, rather poorly. We all left from Cochabamba yesterday. Saying goodbye to everyone after getting so close in those two weeks was really difficult and I cried while I said goodbye to all my new friends. I really hope I can see these new friends again soon.

    I got home to my family here in Sucre around ten at night and tried to help decorate for Christmas (I did a little bit and it was really nice) but I had to go to sleep because after two weeks of travel I was exhausted.

    Speaking of Christmas, I celebrated my first Christmas away from my family! Although I really missed my family and some of our traditions, I did my best to bring some traditions to Bolivia. Namely, baking and eating lots of sweets with friends and family. My first endeavor being baking and frosting sugar cookies with my little sister, then making chocolate chip cookies and brownies with some friends, then making snickerdoodles on Christmas Eve out of boredom and homesickness (which was surprisingly helpful). I also went to a Rotary Christmas dinner with my other exchange friends, and we ate picana (which is soup that traditionally is Christmas Eve dish here). Then two days ago on Christmas Eve I found out that the more important day here is Christmas Eve, or Nochebuena, as opposed to the US where the more important day is Christmas itself. For Nochebuena my family and I went to a Christmas party for both sides of the family where we ate picana and buñuelo (a really good pastry), made toasts, and opened a couple gifts. Christmas day I spent with my family and we opened gifts together and we made and ate breakfast together. This Sunday my family is taking a trip to Santa Cruz for a couple days and I’m so excited to celebrate with them and some friends in Santa Cruz, as well as spend part of the new year with my friends and family here in Bolivia!

    Click HERE to read more about Kaya and all her blogs

  • Kaya, Outbound to Bolivia

    I arrived in Sucre just a little over a month ago now and it has been an amazing experience. When I first arrived, to be honest, I had nearly forgotten why I even wanted to be an exchange student in the first place. Everything was unfamiliar, I barely understood what anyone was saying to me, and I just wanted to go home.

    I went to school on my first full day in Sucre, which was probably for the best, since it forced me to spend time with my new classmates right off the bat. I made a couple of friends from Sucre on my first day. And, even though I tried to focus on meeting people from Sucre, I made friends with some other exchange students too, since we’re all in the same class together at school. My friends and classmates from Sucre are really friendly and everyone has been more than willing to help me out when I need help, especially with Spanish. Most of my classmates speak really good English and if I forget or don’t know a word they can help me out. A lot of them speak English to me just out of habit from previous exchange students, so I try to respond in Spanish which normally makes people switch back to Spanish. It’s difficult to always remember to respond to English with Spanish, but I want to be easier to talk to and improve my Spanish so I can make friends more easily.

    And my Spanish has already improved. I can finally understand more than I can’t understand when someone is speaking directly to me, but when people aren’t speaking directly to me I still have a lot of trouble understanding. For example, when my local friends have a conversation between themselves or when my teachers are speaking to the class I can barely understand and I’m lucky to just get the gist of what someone is saying.

    Another adjustment I’ve had to make is that in Bolivia people are very social and it’s normal to go out with friends a lot more than I’m used to. When I can, I try to be in the plaza (or the town square) after lunch, or after any classes I have after lunch , so I can find someone to do something with. During the weekends I try to go the same parties as my local friends. Through this I’ve discovered that I’m far more extroverted than I thought I was at first.

    I have had a little bit more of a hard time acclimating at home though. My family is wonderful and very inviting, but when I first got here I started finding excuses to be in my room. My family spends a lot of their time in their rooms because it’s winter here and its more comfortable. I felt like I was intruding when I went to their rooms and had trouble getting used to the idea that it was alright to be there. But I’m getting significantly more accustomed to being in their room even if I’m not always able to talk to them. I’m trying to put Rotary’s advice about socializing and not isolating yourself in your bedroom to use, since what we learned in RYE training has worked in every other facet of my life thus far. I told my host mom about this issue I’d been having and she was really helpful and supportive, and my whole host family was really inviting towards me when I finally started getting over this.

    Lately, I’ve been feeling much better than I was after first arriving, and I want to thank Rotary for giving me the skills and knowledge to be able to acclimate and make friends here. And even though it’s hard sometimes to be so far from my friends in Georgia and my family, I love it here in Sucre. I am so grateful to Rotary and RYE for this opportunity, and I’m also grateful for my host family and friends here in Bolivia who have shown me nothing but kindness and warmth, which I hope to continue to return.

    Click HERE to read more about Kaya and all her blogs

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