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This program studies cultural identity and the concept of community well-being in Bolivia. On this program, you will inquire into the social and psychological impact of globalization on Bolivian communities in Andean and Amazonian regions, asking why some communities seem to be depressed, downtrodden, and at risk, while others find resilience and reaffirmation in their families, social networks, creative outlets, traditions, and other resources.
The SIT Bolivia program offers a wide range of experiences in different communities and the opportunity to interact with families, community leaders, diverse experts, and organizations as you explore community well-being in Bolivia.
The program is based in Cochabamba, located in the heart of Bolivia, nestled within a valley surrounded by the Andes mountain range. It is strongly influenced by indigenous Quechua culture and is often referred to as the "city of eternal spring" due to its pleasant temperate climate. The city is home to the largest outdoor market in Latin America, and, although its metropolitan population has reached one million, it is difficult to walk through the center of town or through one of its many beautiful parks and plazas without bumping into someone you know.
During the first six weeks of the program, you will live with urban host families in Cochabamba. As part of the seminar on community well-being and resilience, you will also have the opportunity to live for three days with an Aymara host family on the shores of Lake Titicaca and for two days with a host family in the rural Bolivian Amazon basin. Homestay locations may occasionally vary.
You will be exposed to a wide range of people and perspectives on this program. You will meet local families in Cochabamba, indigenous community members in the tropical and highland regions, NGO workers and aid experts, spiritual leaders, feminist activists, artists, and others. The program looks at issues from many perspectives to productively complicate your understanding of community well-being and resilience.
Learn how diverse local cultures perceive and live in communities. You will engage with the controversial question about what it means to “help” as an outsider and learn firsthand what is unique and important for community resilience. This aspect of the program helps prepare you for a possible career path in community work.
The final workshop is tailored to linking these experiences in Bolivia with community work in other sites. You will consider a number of questions related to community work, including: How can one best enter into a community and try to be helpful? How might the experience of having examined indigenous and Western concepts related to well-being affect the way you take on future work with families, community organizations, and others?
Build your Spanish skills for use onsite and in the future, or add Quechua to your language learning. In addition to small-group language courses, almost all program components are conducted in Spanish. Students who place out of our advanced level course may choose to take advanced literature or Quechua courses instead.
The program travels to communities in the Andean Altiplano and the Amazonian lowlands. Learn more under Educational Excursions.
All students produce a final Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP offers you the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of your choice within the program’s broad concerns. The ISP can be conducted in Cochabamba or other sites in Bolivia, as approved by the academic director. You may choose to produce an extended research paper or employ a nontraditional format such as documentary film, dance, theater, photography, or bilingual children's book as part of your Independent Study Project.
Sample topic areas for the ISP include:
Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.
Students on the Bolivia program take two thematic seminars, a language course, and a methods seminar. They then engage in a full Independent Study Project as the final course of the program.
Links to syllabi below are from current and forthcoming courses offered on this program. Because courses develop and change over time to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, actual course content will vary from term to term.
The syllabi can be useful for students, faculty, and study abroad offices in assessing credit transfer. Read more about credit transfer.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.
You will spend extensive time outside Cochabamba, including traveling to the tropical lowlands, the Andean Altiplano, and El Alto, the largest indigenous city in Latin America. Excursions provide you with the opportunity to study the complexity and variety of experiences as you explore the program’s core concerns. By interacting with communities employing a range of strategies and responses to crisis and by examining how larger crises play out distinctly in different local sites, you will engage in a highly nuanced analysis of the program’s themes.
This excursion gives you the opportunity to interact with a tremendous breadth of local community members as you consider the program’s core questions. In El Alto, the largest indigenous city in Latin America, you will engage in an intense and multifaceted set of exchanges with a wide range of local people and initiatives, including students, street children, feminists, World Bank officials, and NGO workers.
You will interact with Bolivian students at the Aymara UPEA, an urban indigenous university created out of street protests in response to direct demand from indigenous communities. You will have the opportunity to engage in conversations with members of Teatro Trono and to visit this fascinating project, which introduces street children to the performing arts. You will visit the Comunidad Mujeres Creando Comunidad, a feminist initiative with deep community roots and commitments. These experiences are then placed into dialogue with a lecture at the World Bank for a different perspective on how communities achieve well-being and what strategies should be engaged to do so. You will then move on to participate in a three-day homestay with Aymara host families on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
What does it mean to grow up in a mining community? Bolivia’s economic well-being and economic distress are intimately tied to the boom and bust cycles of mining that have shaped its development since the colonial period. The excursion to the silver-mining town of Potosí, one of the highest cities in the world, brings these great contrasts to the forefront and illuminates the complexities of mining’s legacies and current realities in Bolivia for today’s communities.
Miners have one of the unhealthiest and most dangerous jobs in the world, with a short life expectancy, which affects both community and family life. Mining is also one of the most environmentally damaging activities, which also affects the community in other ways. This visit provides a sobering look at how a national extractivist mentality impacts communities as well as some more hopeful insight into responses of communities as they attempt to regain their health and well-being.
During this four-day excursion, you will visit and interact with community members at a mining cooperative, in a mining family’s home, and at an educational center for children of miners dedicated to identifying alternative work paths beyond mining for local youth. You will consider both community organization in general and education specifically as an essential resource for well-being, examining this within what you observe about the historical construction of dis-ease in the mining context.
You will then travel to the city of Sucre, home to the oldest university in Latin America, where the elite families of Potosí mine owners lived in the colonial period. During your time in Sucre, you will visit the Museo de Arte Indígena (ASUR), an indigenous textile museum and foundation, which works to empower rural communities and decrease rural-urban migration by recovering the textile techniques and designs of the region's ancestors. You will also experience a vibrant dinner performance and interchange with members of the award-winning Masis, an organization dedicated to educating marginalized children through the teaching of traditional musical forms. As you consider another example of a culturally based strategy for well-being, you will examine how the tranquil Sucre became a site of disturbance and racism several years ago when the new constitution was drafted in this city.
While most foreigners associate Bolivia with its Andean landscape and heritages, two-thirds of the nation is tropical, and the majority of Bolivia’s 36 ethnic groups are located in this region. The ecology and cultures here are dramatically different from what you experience in Cochabamba and the highland area. On this weeklong excursion, the program will explore some of the similarities between indigenous cosmovisión and emerging academic and activist concepts such as ecopsychology. You will question why people engage in environmentally destructive behavior, which certainly impedes well-being, questioning governmental resource extraction practices and the effects of deforestation on communities. You will also seek to understand the issues tropical communities face as they decide whether to cease the cultivation of traditional crops and sell their land to the wealthy elite and transnational corporations looking to export genetically modified monocrops such as soy beans to feed cattle in Brazil and Argentina. You will also consider one of the most controversial current issues in Bolivia, the decision to build a transnational highway through a national park and indigenous territory, jeopardizing one of the most biodiverse regions on the planet in the name of development.
In the spring semester, you have the opportunity to travel to Oruro, the folkloric capital of Bolivia, to experience its world-famous carnival, declared by the United Nations as a Cultural Patrimony of Humanity. This spectacular parade of incredible costumes and magnificent music from hundreds of Bolivian communities provides you with an opportunity to consider how cultural heritage and creative life provide much needed sources of joy. As you examine this, you will also ask how public performances of cultural identity serve both those involved and the state. Do they find here an argument for creative outlet and the reinforcement of a sense of self amidst globalization? Or does carnival, as many have suggested in diverse sites around the world, provide a raucous outlet for frustrations that might otherwise emerge in political action or violence? Or both? You will discuss these interpretations as you participate in the celebrations and study the diverse richness of Bolivian music, dance, and culture.
Heidi Baer-Postigo received her MS in counseling from the University of Oregon in 1995 and her BA in psychology from Occidental College in 1991. Her previous experience in Bolivia includes working for several NGOs in La Paz, as a school counselor for S.O.S. Children's Villages, and as a volunteer for the Center for Development and Promotion of Self-Help (CEDEFOA). Ms. Baer-Postigo's interviews with Aymara women participants of the Centro Femenino Machaq Q'hantati were published in Women: Stories of an Experience (1993) by Silvia Salinas Mulder. In addition, Ms. Baer-Postigo's overseas experience includes living for four years in Germany and eight months in Mexico. From 1995 to 1998, Ms. Baer-Postigo worked at the University of Oregon as an international student advisor and as an overseas study program coordinator. In Oregon she also worked as a counselor at Lane Community College, where she founded and coordinated a Latino outreach project for English as a Second Language students. In 2008 she created Kids’ Books Bolivia, a reciprocity project that contributes to the production of affordable bilingual books written by SIT Bolivia students. This book collection celebrates Bolivian reality and serves to raise international awareness about Bolivia's diverse cultures and pressing social issues. Ms. Baer-Postigo has been an academic director for SIT in Bolivia since spring 1999.
Patricia Parra has worked as program assistant for the SIT Study Abroad program in Cochabamba since 1996. She studied sociology at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon and has been trained in project evaluation, union organizing, and NGO fundraising. She has over 30 years of experience working for international organizations in Bolivia, including 15 years with the Canadian NGO CUSO, where she worked as assistant program analyst and as the coordinator of a youth leadership project. During this time she was invited to China and Canada to give presentations about alternative economies and also started the first international union for local employees. As project coordinator and analyst for CUSO, she also worked with regional development projects, directly supporting grassroots social organizations.
Chichi Palomino serves as language coordinator for the SIT Study Abroad program in Cochabamba and has been a language instructor for the program since 1994. She has over 35 years of teaching experience and has been invited to the US and Switzerland on various occasions to teach Spanish as a second language.
Martha Coca has been an SIT Spanish language instructor since 1991. She holds master’s degrees from both Bolivia and France. She has been a professor at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon since 1987, where she also served as director of the Department of Languages and Linguistics and dean of the faculty of Humanities and Educational Sciences. She was the rector of the Universidad Privada Abierta Latinoamericana from 2004 to 2005.
Mercedes Pérez has been a language instructor for the SIT Study Abroad program in Cochabamba since 2000. She studied anthropology at the Universidad Católica de Cochabamba and has over 30 years of experience teaching Spanish and English as a second language. She is also an artist and musician, and sang for many years in a rock band.
Pochi Salinas has served as homestay coordinator since 2005. She studied agricultural sciences at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon and education at the National Institute of Alternative Education “Pacifico Feletti.” She has worked for nine years at an educational foundation called the “Cigarra” outside of Cochabamba, which has a center for creativity and expression, a program for pedagogical assistance, and workshops on topics such as ecological agriculture, conflict resolution, women in local development, climate change and justice, and more.
Alejandra Aguilar has served as homestay coordinator since 2006. She holds a BS in social communication and has worked on numerous television, film, and publishing projects in Bolivia and Chile. She sings in a Bolivian choral group and has been in involved in numerous musical and cultural activities.
Calixto Quispe is an Aymara yatiri (natural healer and spiritual leader) as well as a deacon in the Catholic Church, the only Bolivian to hold both of these titles. He is the president of the Ecumenical Commission of Inter-religious Dialogue and dedicates much of his time working to build respect and understanding between different religious groups in Bolivia. He has co-authored four books from the collection Indigenous Spirituality, published by Editorial Verbo Divino.
Ismael Saavedra's experience and knowledge of Bolivia, his native country, was formed through his careers as, first, an Air Force pilot, then, a student of law and a law professor, and eventually through his film career. He received an undergraduate degree in law at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés, La Paz, in 1977 and a JD in law in 1980. He is currently a PhD candidate in security, defense, and development. After leaving Bolivia in 1980, he dedicated himself to his work in ethnographic and documentary film production. Among his many film credits are Panama Deception (Academy Award winner, 1992), Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Academy Award nominee, 1984), Chuquiago (a classic Bolivian ethnographic film, 1976), and Landscapes of Memory (prizes at the Sundance and Berlin film festivals, 1997). More recently, he produced a trilogy of documentaries about Bolivia´s process of change, focusing on identity and memory. In Mr. Saavedra's own words, he has always seen his work in film as an effort to educate the world about the problems of his own country, of Latin America, and of the world. Mr. Saavedra was also an academic director for SIT in Bolivia from 1999 to 2013.
Kathryn Ledebur studied Andean history at FLACSO in Quito, Ecuador. She has collaborated with a series of human rights and drug policy organizations in the United States and Latin America. Since 1997, she has worked at the Andean Information Network (AIN), an organization dedicated to investigation, analysis, education, and dialogue on the impacts of US-funded counterdrug policy in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and has been AIN’s director since 1999. She is the author of numerous articles as well as the chapter on Bolivia in the book Drugs and Democracy in Latin America (2003).
Activist Felix Muruchi studied law at the Public University of El Alto. He was born near one of Bolivia's major tin mining centers in 1946, began work in the mines as a teenager, and rose to become a union leader. He was imprisoned and twice forced into exile before returning to Bolivia in 1985, where he continues to be an activist as well as a social science researcher. He is the co-author of two books: Pochos Rojos and an autobiography of his life. He is currently leading a research team on the topic of indigenous community justice systems in Bolivia.
Rafael Puente is one of the most prominent figures in Bolivia’s intellectual, educational, and political arenas. He was selected by President Evo Morales to serve as interim governor of Cochabamba in 2008 and as vice minister of the government in 2006. From 1989 to 1992, he was a national congressman for the department of Cochabamba. He has over 40 years of experience as an educator in both formal and informal settings. He has served as professor, advisor, and evaluator for many prestigious institutions and organizations in Bolivia and abroad. He has written several books and has led many research projects, including founding and directing CIPCA, one of Bolivia’s most prominent centers for the research and promotion of campesinos in Santa Cruz. He is an active and passionate promoter of popular rural education and is currently responsible for the MAS government’s “Mobile School” for the political formation of social organizations.
Activist and former shoe factory worker Oscar Olivera was one of the main protagonists in Cochabamba’s Water War of 2000. This battle was one of Latin America’s first and most important victories against corporate globalization, during which the protests of ordinary Bolivian citizens pressured the Bolivian government to cancel Cochabamba’s water privatization contract with the Bechtel Corporation. Oscar Olivera has been executive secretary of the Cochabamba Federation of Factory Workers since 2000 and is the spokesperson for the Coordinating Committee for the Defense of Water and Life. He was awarded the Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Award in 2000 and the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2001. He is the author of the book Cochabamba!: Water Rebellion in Bolivia.
Julieta Paredes is one of Bolivia’s most well-known Aymara feminists and lesbian activists. She is a founding member of Comunidad Mujeres Creando and Asamblea Feminista. She is a poet and the author of the following books: Hilando fino: Desde el feminismo comunitario (2008), Grafiteadas (1999), Con un montón de palabras (2000), and Porque la memoría no es puro cuento (2001).
Roberto Sahonero is the founder (1969) and director of Los Masis, an award-winning Bolivian folklore music group, and of Centro Cultural Los Masis, an educational organization in Sucre centered on the premise of educating marginalized children through teaching traditional musical forms. Los Masis was named by the National Bicentennial Committee as cultural ambassador to Europe, where they performed in countries such as Germany, Austria, France, and Switzerland. The group regularly tours throughout Bolivia, Europe, and the United States.
Walter Sanchez holds a doctorate in archaeology from the University of Uppsala, Sweden; a master’s degree in development from the Universidad Mayor de San Simon (UMSS) in Cochabamba; and postgraduate degrees in geographic information systems, administration and evaluation of social projects, and Bolivian Andean ethnic studies. He is a professor and researcher at UMSS and the Archaeology Museum of the Institute of Anthropological Studies in Cochabamba. In 2009 he won a national award for an essay he wrote about culture. He is one of Bolivia’s most prominent ethno-musicologists, has conducted many research studies, and has published numerous articles in the field of ethno-musicology.
Jim Shultz is the founder and executive director of The Democracy Center, based in Bolivia and San Francisco. A graduate of UC Berkeley and Harvard University, Jim is the author of three books, including the award-winning The Democracy Owners' Manual (Rutgers University Press, 2002) and Dignity and Defiance – Stories from Bolivia's Challenge to Globalization (UC Press 2009). He is also the author of a variety of major reports on global public policy issues and his articles on globalization have appeared in newspapers and magazines across the US, Canada, and Europe. His reporting on the Bolivian Water Revolt was named the top story of 2000 by Project Censored. As a globally recognized expert in citizen advocacy, Jim has led advocacy training programs for thousands of activists across the US, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. He has also worked on staff for the California State Legislature, as an advocate with Common Cause and Consumers Union, and has taught public policy at San Francisco State University. Jim has lived with his wife and children in Cochabamba, Bolivia, since 1998, where he also served for many years as president of an 80-child orphanage.
Gaby Vallejo is one of Bolivia’s most renowned authors and the recipient of numerous national and international awards. She is the author of four novels, a book of short stories, seven essays, and 12 children’s books. Her novel Hijo de Opa, set at the time of the 1952 Bolivian Revolution, was made into a well-known movie, Los Hermanos Cartagena. Ms. Vallejo has been a professor of literature and language for over 18 years at the Universidad Mayor de San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and also teaches at the Catholic University of Cochabamba. She is the founder of Th’uruchapitas, Bolivia’s first children’s library. She has represented Bolivia at numerous international conferences, served as president of the Bolivian National Union of Poets and Writers, and been the president of Bolivia’s branch of the World Association of Writers.
Alejandra is a sociologist with two master’s degrees, two postgraduate degrees, and a PhD in sustainable human development (Universidad Bolivariana de Santiago de Chile, 2012). She is the head of the Development Studies Center for Higher Education at the University of San Simon in Cochabamba, Bolivia, and teaches at both the undergraduate and graduate level at three universities in Bolivia. Her areas of academic interest/research include human development, interculturality, cultural policy, and citizenship. She has authored numerous books, book chapters, and journal articles in Bolivia and internationally. Her most recently co-authored book is titled Brave Women: Women’s Citizenship and Sustainable Quality of Life in Cochabamba (2012). She has served as an Independent Study Project (ISP) advisor and co-instructor of SIT Bolivia’s Research Methods and Ethics course and is a member of the program’s ISP Local Ethics Review Board.
Olivia Román is a sociologist with an MA in Latin American studies and cultural policy from the Universidad Andina Simón Bolívar in Ecuador. She has taught both undergraduate and graduate students and served as an advisor for research and development projects. Her area of expertise is qualitative methodologies for research and the development of social projects in the area of gender and multiculturalism. Olivia has presented her research on political participation and migration at a number of international university conferences (in Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, and Canada). She has coordinated development projects for indigenous women in several rural areas of Bolivia. She has ample experience in strategic planning, curriculum development, and strengthening civil society. Olivia has also taken on a number of roles for the SIT Bolivia program, including Independent Study Project (ISP) advisor, co-instructor of SIT Bolivia’s Research Methods and Ethics course, and member of the program’s ISP Local Ethics Review Board.
Andrés has a PhD in ecology with a specialization in tropical forests from the University of Venice, Italy, as well as a postgraduate degree and master’s degrees from universities in Central America and Bolivia. He has lived in Bolivia since 1988, working with academic and research institutions on topics including the environment, sustainable natural resource management, and the valorization of knowledge of indigenous groups in the Amazon and the Chaco. Previously, he held the position of coordinator of the Center for Environmental Studies in San Rafael de Amboró, in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and has been in charge of many projects initiated by international organizations in numerous Latin American countries. Andrés has also published many works and collaborated on numerous research projects in Bolivia. He is currently the international technical assistant for a European Union program supporting the national conservation policy in the protected areas of Bolivia. He has collaborated with SIT Bolivia since 1996, as Independent Study Project advisor, lecturer, and coordinator of educational excursions in the Amazon.
William Powers has worked for two decades in development aid and conservation in Latin America, Africa, and North America. From 2002 to 2004, he managed the community components of a project in the Bolivian Amazon that won a 2003 prize for environmental innovation from Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. His essays and commentaries on global issues have appeared in the New York Times and the International Herald Tribune and on National Public Radio’s Fresh Air. Powers has worked at the World Bank and holds international relations degrees from Brown and Georgetown. A third-generation New Yorker, Powers has also spent two decades exploring the American culture of speed and its alternatives in some fifty countries around the world. He has covered the subject in his four books and written about it in The Washington Post and The Atlantic. Powers is a senior fellow at the World Policy Institute and an adjunct faculty member at New York University.
During your time in Bolivia, you will have the opportunity to live with three different homestay families. Homestays form a cornerstone of SIT’s experiential learning model by offering you the unique opportunity to take knowledge from lectures and readings to the dinner table, as you engage your families in discussions about the topics you are studying. Living with a family also gives you an authentic and more intimate place in which to practice and refine your Spanish language skills.
Given the programmatic interest in the relationship between families and well-being, the homestay element provides particular insight here by offering you a place, however temporary, in these support systems. Furthermore, by living with three distinct families, you will productively complicate your emerging understandings about family and community well-being in three different sites, comparing urban to rural and Andean to Amazonian, allowing you to form a more elaborate understanding of each. Homestay locations typically include the following:
The first homestay allows you to live with a family in Cochabamba for six weeks, either in an urban or suburban neighborhood. While homestay families are mostly middle class, they are very diverse in terms of occupation, family size, region of origin in Bolivia, and location in the city. As a larger group, the families provide students with a more complex set of life experiences within the same city and general class definition.
You will take part in a second homestay for three days in a rural farming area. The homestay takes place with Aymara families on the shores of Lake Titicaca. During the rural stay, you will share your host family's daily activities. If they are planting or harvesting, you will partner with your hosts to lend a hand. If there are sheep to tend, you will typically help with that as well. You will also share in a community meal called an apthapi and join in ayni, collective community work. Furthering your understanding of pluralism and continuing in your consideration of the role of spirituality and resilience, you will have the opportunity to engage with a unique Aymara shaman who is also a Catholic priest and who is building (with participating SIT students) an interfaith center on the edge of the village.
You will also participate in a two-day rural homestay with an indigenous group in the Bolivian Amazon. You will have the opportunity to share in daily village life, which might include activities such as farming, weaving, playing with children, or helping to cook meals. While the exact experience of this homestay will vary, as an example, past students have stayed in a Chiquitana community outside of Concepción originally founded by ex-slaves and have interacted with the last woman in Bolivia to speak one of the native languages of the area.
Other accommodations during the program include hostels, private homes, or small hotels.
A diversity of students representing different colleges, universities, and majors study abroad on this program. Many of them have gone on to do amazing things that connect back to their experience abroad with SIT. Learn what some of them are now doing.
Program Arrival Date: Aug 23, 2016
Program Departure Date: Dec 5, 2016
The dates listed above are subject to change. Please note that travel to and from the program site may span a period of more than one day.
Student applications to this program will be reviewed on a rolling basis between the opening date and the deadline.
Application Deadline: May 15, 2016
SIT Pell Grant Match Award. SIT Study Abroad provides matching grants to all students receiving Federal Pell Grant funding; this award can be applied to any SIT semester program. View all SIT Study Abroad scholarships.
The tuition fee covers the following program components:
The room and board fee covers the following program components:
International Airfare to Program Launch Site
International airline pricing can vary greatly due to the volatility of airline industry pricing, flight availability, and specific flexibility/restrictions on the type of ticket purchased. Students may choose to take advantage of frequent flyer or other airline awards available to them, which could significantly lower their travel costs.
Visa Expenses: $ 400
Books & Supplies: $ 130
International Phone: Each student must have a phone in each country. Cost varies according to personal preferences, phone plans, data plans, etc.
Personal expenses during the program vary based on individual spending habits and budgets. While all meals and accommodations are covered in the room and board fee, incidentals and personal transportation costs differ depending on the non-program-related interests and pursuits of each student. To learn more about personal budgeting, we recommend speaking with alumni who participated in a program in your region. See a full list of our alumni contacts. Please note that free time to pursue non-program-related activities is limited.
Please Note: Fees and additional expenses are based on all known circumstances at the time of calculation. Due to the unique nature of our programs and the economics of host countries, SIT reserves the right to change its fees or additional expenses without notice.