Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change
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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
This 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
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 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
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 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.
Duration: 15 weeks
Program Base: Cochabamba
Language Study: Quechua, Spanish
Prerequisites: 3 semesters Spanish Read more...
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