Family means everything to her, and she means everything to her family. After 18 years of living at home, she left Bolivia for college. She does not have any relatives in the States. She only relies on God, conversation with her family on the phone, and their family pictures to find solace.
Danika Salas always greets and smiles at everyone she walks past. Being tired and homesick does not prevent her from smiling. Her family encourages her to stay strong.
“Mum said, ‘It’s only the first month, don’t worry,’” Salas recalled.
The faith that she put on her mother rang true. Soon enough, she made a lot of friends, mostly with the other international students.
“We spent more time with international people than American people,” said Salas. “It was easier.”
For Salas, this is the first time she has lived away from home by herself. She misses spending time with her family, particularly her sister and three brothers.
“I’m the oldest and always [look after] my brothers and sister and spend time with them,” said Salas. “I always care for them, mostly the youngest two.”
Salas’ desk is filled with pictures of her with friends and family. She even has a picture of her family in her pillowcase. It serves her well when she misses her family the most, just before she goes to sleep. The printed words read, “Danika Te Amamos,” meaning “Danika, we love you.”
Salas was born and raised in a Mennonite community as both of her parents are pastors in a Mennonite church. They are her main source of motivation, not to mention her willingness to learn.
“Here, education is better than Bolivia; I can learn English very well,” said Salas. “I spent more time doing homework because I have to study English, and then do the homework.”
Having lived in a big city, Santa Cruz, Salas learned English from an institution as well as the many American volunteers she met in Bolivia. But still, it’s not easy.
“I learned to listen to English, but to speak it is more difficult,” Salas said.
Through daily phone calls, Salas received more supportive words from her parents, for example: “You will be okay” and “I’m praying for you.”
Salas found that talking to her best friends can be encouraging just as well. Every once in a while, one of her best friends from home would come to her house and called her.
“It was so nice,” said Salas. “We can talk for one to two hours.”