Spot the Difference: Is Kansas so Far From Bolivia?

Can you tell the differences between these pictures? One is from Lawrence, Kansas, where I’m living right now, the other is my hometown, Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia. Can you tell which one is which? Besides some architectural differences (most likely to be noticed only by experts) and some light variances that are only to blame to the camera, those pictures could easily be mistaken for the same city. But what one image cannot tell, a thousand words (or maybe less) will.

There are a few details in the picture that can help to tell them apart.

If you look carefully, there is a blue sign on a light post in the picture of the left. For those who are not familiar with it, The University of Kansas colors are “crimson and blue,” and that is a KU sign. It shows how important the university is for Lawrence, which is a college town that centers on its students and gives them all the facilities they need. For example, there is light car traffic and drivers respect the pedestrians, something you don’t often witness in Santa Cruz.

In fact, that’s another detail someone may have caught – anyone who lives or has ever lived in the U.S knows there is something funny in the bus at the bottom right corner the right picture. The public transportation is a big difference between these two cities. Santa Cruz (like most of Bolivia) has really old buses and chaotic traffic. Lawrence has plenty of well-shaped buses, which are the main means of transportation for students.

But besides those differences there are some others that cannot be caught in images. Like the weather for example. Coming from a warm and steady climate to Kansas, a land of total weather extremes, made it difficult for me to adapt. Santa Cruz is considered a hot city for my country, but summers never get over 92 degrees F, and even when the humidity is really high it never feels really hot. When I first got to Lawrence (around August 6 or 7) temperatures were over 100 degrees F for at least 3 days, and it stayed like that for a long time. It just recently started to get cool. But that is no good news for me. As I said before, Santa Cruz is a warm city – winters usually don’t get colder than 60 degrees F – and some of my friends already warned me about Kansas’ frosty winters, with temperatures that range around 20 to 50 degrees F.

And there are even deeper differences, like the food. Since I got here I’ve realized how much I miss rice and simple boiled potatoes with my food, and how easy is to get steak back home. Here you have so many different types of snacks I never ever even dreamed about, but dinner flavor just doesn’t always cut it for me. I guess that’s only a matter of opinion though.

And I haven’t even talked about the culture differences. Coming from a Latin American country I knew that I was going to feel a lack of warmness from Americans from the beginning, and it happened. As well as they fulfilled my expectations of being more respectful, formal and even have more manners. But I was surprised to see that, even when it seems its harder for them to show their feelings, when I got to know people better I found out that native Kansans (and even non-native, like my Texan roommate) can be as open-hearted and sympathetic as back home. That was a nice thing to learn my first couple of weeks.

I guess there are just so many differences you can tell from two pictures, but there is infinitely more to discover when you live in a country that is not yours. However, that is not a bad thing … or a good thing either. It is just the way things are, and in my opinion, good things can come out of that. The best way to open your mind to new experiences and ideas is by accepting the differences and learning from them. And that is a part of the college experience as important as classes are.