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Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change

Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change

Explore how concepts of community well-being and cultural identity are being creatively redefined in Bolivia, a country with 36 ethnic groups and the first indigenous president in South America.

This program studies cultural identity and the concept of community well-being in Bolivia. Students 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 and traditions, and other resources.

Major topics of study include:

  • Bolivia’s complex history and current realities
  • Systems of knowledge and indigenous cosmovisión 
  • Themes of community well-being (“vivir bien”) and resilience
  • Globalization and Bolivia’s contemporary sociopolitical struggles

The SIT Bolivia program offers students a wide range of experiences in different communities and the opportunity to interact with families, community leaders, diverse experts, and organizations as they explore community well-being in Bolivia.

Exploring Cochabamba

festival dancer in BoliviaThe 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. 

Take part in three homestays.

During the first six weeks of the program, students live with urban host families in Cochabamba. As part of the seminar on community well-being and resilience, students 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.

Engage with academic, professional, and community experts.

Students are exposed to a wide range of people and perspectives. Students 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 students’ understanding of community well-being and resilience.

Develop your ability to work with communities.

Learn how diverse local cultures perceive and live in communities. Students 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 students for possible career paths in community work.

Take part in a final workshop.

The final workshop is tailored to linking these experiences in Bolivia with community work in other sites. Students 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?

Develop your Spanish or Quechua skills.

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 (for an additional cost).

Participate in notable excursions and events.

The group travels to communities in the Andean Altiplano and the Amazonian lowlands.

undergraduate research projectComplete an Independent Study Project (ISP).

All students produce a final Independent Study Project (ISP). The ISP offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their 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. While some students choose to produce an extended research paper, other students choose a nontraditional format, such as documentary, dance, theater, photography, or a bilingual children's book as part of their Independent Study Project.

Sample topic areas for the ISP include:

  • Systems of Andean community justice in rural communities
  • Integrating traditional midwives into rural community hospitals serving indigenous families
  • Using dance to raise awareness of discrimination against Afro-Bolivians
  • Decolonizing education within Bolivia’s rural indigenous universities
  • Psychology of children of Bolivian migrants
  • Women leading the fight against mining contamination in their communities


Three recent semesters of college-level Spanish or equivalent and the ability to follow coursework in Spanish, as assessed by SIT.

Access virtual library guide.

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.

Historical and Contemporary Social Change in Bolivia – syllabus
(LACB 3000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this interdisciplinary seminar, students explore Bolivia’s complex history and current realities in order contextualize the program’s theme of community well-being (or “vivir bien”). Students examine the encounter between indigenous groups and the Spaniards, the psychological impact of conquest/colonization, and the extractivist mentality, as well as histories of resistance and resilience. With the largest indigenous population in Latin America (coming from 36 different ethnic groups) and the first indigenous president in the Americas, Bolivia provides a unique site in which to consider these issues. Students will explore the influence of indigenous cosmovisión and systems of knowledge in the articulations of new visions of social change in Bolivia. As they move through the seminar, students will consider the interplay between multiculturalism and globalization and, in particular, critically examine Western models of “helping” or aid. This course includes lectures from both leading intellectuals and leaders of social movements in Cochabamba, Sucre, and Potosí. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Vivir Bien: Well-Being and Resilience in Andean and Amazonian Communities – syllabus
(LACB 3005 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
While the first seminar outlines a larger context of struggle and grounds students in the social realities of the nation, the second seminar focuses on community well-being and resilience. Students will inquire into how different Bolivian communities are employing a range of resources to find new ways forward in the face of rampant change. In particular, they will explore Western concepts such as resilience, well-being, health, and happiness, in dialogue with the Bolivian concepts of vivir bien and ayni (reciprocity), asking how these different ways of viewing the world affect communities’ encounters with globalization and Bolivia’s contemporary sociopolitical struggles. They will examine how these understandings and interactions play out at both the community and the family levels. Students will ask: How does migration affect families, and how do they cope? How are childhood and adolescence changing in an increasingly globalized context? What is happening to gender roles? How do reaffirmations of cultural tradition, spirituality of different origins, healing, new ways of looking at education, harmony with Pachamama (mother earth), and the arts all provide potential routes to resilience? Do NGOs and government agencies play a positive or negative role in improving community lives and striving for sumak kawsay (living well)? Through the seminar lectures, experiential activities and direct engagement with a range of local community members in Andean and Amazonian communities, students will begin to construct their own understandings of the complex psychology and socio-politics of community well-being in Bolivia. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Spanish for the Social Sciences I – syllabus
(SPAN 2500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Spanish for the Social Sciences II – syllabus
(SPAN 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Advanced Literature – syllabus
(GSI 4000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Specialized Language Study – syllabus
(GSI 4500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Quechua I – syllabus
(QUEC 1000 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
Based on in-country evaluation, including oral proficiency testing, students are placed in intensive intermediate or advanced Spanish classes, with further language practice in homestays, lectures, and field visits. Emphasis is on speaking, reading, and writing skills through classroom and field instruction. In lieu of the Spanish courses, and for an additional fee, students already fluent in Spanish may choose either to study Quechua or to participate in either one of the Guided Self-Instruction courses. Students who choose the Guided Self-Instruction: Advanced Literature course will meet weekly with a prominent Bolivian author to discuss selected works. Students who choose the Guided Self-Instruction: Specialized Language Study will have the opportunity to combine intensive language study with field research or fieldwork with a local organization. Quechua language instruction will be taught either by a private Quechua language teacher or by an instructor at the Instituto IICA.

Research Methods and Ethics – syllabus
(ANTH 3500 / 3 credits / 45 class hours)
In this research methods course designed to prepare students for the Independent Study Project, students learn how to organize and conduct a research project. Through lectures, readings, and field activities, students study and practice a range of methods. They examine the ethical issues surrounding field research and are guided through the World Learning/SIT Human Subjects Review process, which forms a core component of the course. By the end of the course students will have chosen a research topic, selected appropriate methods and written a solid proposal for an Independent Study Project related to the program’s themes. All coursework is conducted in Spanish.

Independent Study Project – syllabus
(ISPR 3000 / 4 credits / 120 class hours)
Conducted at any approved and appropriate location in Bolivia, the Independent Study Project offers students the opportunity to conduct field research on a topic of their choice within the program’s thematic parameters. The project integrates learning from the various components of the program and culminates in a final presentation and formal research paper. Students are also welcome to do creative projects along with the research paper with approval from the director. Sample topic areas: the use of graffiti in Andean urban feminist communities in La Paz; systems of Andean community justice in rural communities; integrating traditional midwives into rural community hospitals serving indigenous families; using equine therapy in programs for marginalized youth; decolonizing education within Bolivia’s rural indigenous universities; using dance to raise awareness of discrimination against Afro-Bolivians; community organizing in women’s domestic workers unions; harvesting the Brazil nut as a community response to deforestation in the Amazon; community responses to intimate partner violence in Cochabamba; psychology of children of Bolivian migrants; examining identities of youth migrants through art and theater; and women leading the fight against mining contamination in their communities.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects / undergraduate research.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.

Students 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 students with the opportunity to study the complexity and variety of experiences as they 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, students engage in a highly nuanced analysis of the program’s themes.

La Paz, Altiplano, and Lake Titicaca

Village stay coordinatorThis excursion affords students the opportunity to interact with a tremendous breadth of local community members as they consider the program’s core questions. In El Alto, the largest indigenous city in Latin America, students 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.

SIT students 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. They 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. For several days, students will live in community with 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. Students then move on to participate in a five-day homestay with Aymara host families on the shores of Lake Titicaca.

Potosí and Sucre

mines in SucreWhat 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 community responses as they attempt to regain their health and well-being.

During this four-day excursion, students 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. Students consider both community organization in general and education specifically as an essential resource for well-being, examining this within what they observe about the historical construction of dis-ease in the mining context.

Students 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 their time in Sucre, students 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. Students 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 students consider another example of a culturally based strategy for well-being, they will ask how the tranquil Sucre became a site of disturbance and racism several years ago when the new constitution was drafted in this city.

The Tropical Lowlands

Amboro national ParkWhile 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 ecological and cultural differences are dramatically different from what students 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. Students 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. They 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. Students 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.

Carnival in Oruro (spring semester only)  

Students in the spring semester 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 students with an opportunity to consider how cultural heritage and creative life provide much needed sources of joy. As students examine this, they 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? Students will discuss these interpretations as they participate in the celebrations and study the diverse richness of Bolivian music, dance, and culture.

Heidi Baer-Postigo, Academic Director

Heidi Baer-PostigoHeidi 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, Heidi 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.

View Heidi Baer-Postigo's full CV.

Patricia Parra, Program Assistant

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. 

Gladys Arandia de Palomino, Language Coordinator / Spanish Instructor

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, Spanish Language Instructor

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, Language Instructor

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, Homestay Coordinator

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, Homestay Coordinator

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 Huanca, Village Stay Coordinator

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.

Faculty and lecturers typically include:

Ismael Saavedra, JD, Documentary Film Coordinator

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.

Leonardo de la Torre, Sociologist

Leonardo de la Torre Ávila has degrees in sociology and social communication sciences and currently works as a university lecturer. He has been awarded the National and Latin American Social Communication Research Prizes, the National Journalism Prize for Human Development (United Nations Development Programme, National Association of Journalists), and the Second Prize for Journalism Specialized in Banking. He has published two books on Bolivian migration and several research papers discussing Bolivian migration dynamics and their relationship with development. He has presented papers in academic seminars and conferences in Tuxtla Gutiérrez; Bogotá; Washington, DC; and several cities in Bolivia. For three years he directed the newspaper Mal Bicho and collaborated with national newspapers and a short story anthology. He recently worked with Sergio Estrada and Donald Ranvaud (executive producer of the feature films City of God, Central Station, and The Constant Gardener, among others) to produce a documentary film that tells the story of the transnational families of Cochabamba’s Valle Alto and reveals their perseverance in pursuing their dreams of happiness by working in other countries without forgetting their homeland.

Fernando Huanacuni, Protocol Ambassador in the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Fernando Huanacuni was selected by President Evo Morales as the protocol ambassador in the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the position he currently holds.  He is an Aymara lawyer and has been initiated by Aymara elders in Andean cosmovisión as an Aymara spiritual leader. He is the founder of a martial arts school in Bolivia and for several years hosted a national television program on Andean cosmovisión.  

Kathryn Ledebur, The Andean Information Network

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).

Roberto Mamani Mamani, Artist

Roberto Mamani Mamani, of Aymara origin, is one of Bolivia's most highly recognized artists. His beautiful and very colorful works of art are collected and exhibited worldwide. He has won numerous national and international awards, and his paintings are known best for their vibrant colors and the intense emotions they both exude and evoke.

Felix Muruchi, Lecturer and El Alto Excursion Coordinator

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, History Lecturer

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.

Oscar Olivera, Activist and Author

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, Activist and Author

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 finoDesde el feminismo comunitario (2008), Grafiteadas (1999), Con un montón de palabras (2000), and Porque la memoría no es puro cuento (2001).

Julio Postigo, PhD, Educator

Julio Postigo has been an educator in the Bolivian public educational system since 1986 and has taught in both formal and alternative settings at the elementary, high school, university, and graduate school level. He worked for seven years as a professor at a rural teachers’ training college in Cochabamba and has also taught in the US and Mexico. His areas of specialty and research include the philosophical foundations of Bolivia’s educational reform and innovative methodologies for teaching ethics, leadership, and environmental education. He is the author of two books: Curriculum for Elementary Environmental Education and Humanistic Strategies for Teaching Ethics through Leadership, Critical Thinking and Yoga. 

Roberto Sahonero, Director of Los Masis

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 Canedo, PhD

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 Archeology 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, Founder and Director of The Democracy Center

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 Canedo, Author

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 Ramírez Soruco, PhD

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, MA

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 (Mexico, Ecuador, Argentina, 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 Visinoni, PhD, Ecologist

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, Lecturer and Tropical Lowlands Excursion Coordinator

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 their time in Bolivia, students have the opportunity to live with three different homestay families. Intellectually, homestays form a cornerstone of SIT’s experiential learning model by offering students the unique opportunity to take knowledge from lectures and readings to the dinner table, as students engage their families in discussions about the topics they are studying. Living with a family also gives students an authentic and more intimate place in which to practice and refine their Spanish language skills.

homestay family in BoliviaGiven the programmatic interest in the relationship between families and well-being, the homestay element provides particular insight here by offering students a place, however temporary, in these support systems. Furthermore, by living with three distinct families, students will productively complicate their emerging understandings about family and community well-being in three different sites, comparing urban to rural and Andean to Amazonian, allowing them to form a more elaborate understanding of each.

Urban homestay in Cochabamba

The first homestay allows students 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.

Rural homestay with an Ayamara family

rural homestay in BoliviaStudents 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, students share their host family's daily activities. If they are planting or harvesting, the students partner with their hosts to lend a hand. If there are sheep to tend, students typically help as well. Students also share in a community meal called an apthapi and join in ayni, collective community work. Furthering their understandings of pluralism and continuing in their consideration of the role of spirituality and resilience, students 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. 

Amazonian homestay

Students also participate in a two-day rural homestay with an indigenous group in the Bolivian Amazon. They 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.

Program Dates: Fall 2015

Program Start Date:  Aug 25, 2015

Program End Date:    Dec 7, 2015

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:   Jun 1, 2015


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.

Tuition: $15,645

The tuition fee covers the following program components:

  • Cost of all lecturers who provide instruction to students in:
    • Historical foundations
    • Andean and Amazonian culture and cosmovision
    • Development models and practice
  • Research Methods and Ethics course on research methods and Human Subjects Review
  • Intensive language instruction in Spanish
  • All educational excursions to locations such as La Paz, Lake Titicaca, Potosí, and Sucre, including all related travel costs
  • Independent Study Project (including a stipend for accommodation and food) 
  • Health insurance throughout the entire program period

Room & Board:$3,330

The room and board fee covers the following program components:

  • All accommodations during the entire program period.  This includes during orientation, time in the program base (Cochabamba), on all excursions, during the Independent Study Project, and during the final evaluation period.  Accommodation is covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend provided to each student, or through the homestay. 
  • All homestays (6 weeks in Cochabamba, three days with an Aymara host family on the shores of Lake Titicaca, and two days with a host family in the rural Bolivian Amazon)
  • All meals for the entire program period. Meals are covered either by SIT Study Abroad directly or through a stipend, or through the homestay.

Estimated Additional Costs:

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: $360

Immunizations: Varies

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.

Discretionary Expenses

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.


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SIT was founded as the School for International Training and has been known as SIT Study Abroad and SIT Graduate Institute since 2007. SIT is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, Inc. (NEASC) through its Commission on Institutions of Higher Education

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