Bolivia: Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change

“The guest lecturers and connections that the program has are unmatched. Evo Morales, Bolivia's president, used to lecture regularly for the program. Another really special thing about this program—something I have not heard of with any other study abroad program—is the informal alumni community that exists among SIT Cochabamba graduates.”

-- Kai Neander, George Washington University

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

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Around the world, communities face rising pressures as political struggles mount; globalization brings in a rush of external goods, values, and ideas; migration increases; and economic poverty and social inequities worsen. While these problems have elicited specific attention and response at myriad levels, the overall question of the psychological well-being of communities often gets overlooked in the rush for practical solutions.

In Bolivia, however, this more emotional or affective side of the effects of globalization and poverty have been addressed in government rhetoric. Since 2009, the plurinational State of Bolivia has included the concept of sumak kawsay/vivir bien (well-being/living well) in the country’s constitution. In Quechua, sumak kawsay refers to the harmonious and respectful relationship between communities and nature. Along with groups in other Andean countries, Bolivian communities and organizations at different levels have lobbied for the traditional indigenous values of dignity and care for the earth, the protection of cultural diversity, and in many cases a non-Western approach to the future. 

On this program, students will immerse themselves in the concept of community well-being. They will inquire into the social and psychological impact of globalization on Bolivian communities in both the 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. They will also question how experiences of childhood, adolescence, and marriage are changing, and how these shifts transform community life.

The program will take students into different communities in the Andes and the Amazon, into middle-class and economically impoverished areas. For students interested in examining the effects of crisis and the strategies people find to maintain a sense of well-being, this program will provide an in-depth look at the case of Bolivia that will serve them in future community work, psychological or social work, or any social and policy-oriented career designed to effect positive change at myriad levels.    

Students explore these themes through coursework, engagement with local community members and organizations, site visits and excursions, and independent research. The program includes two thematic seminars, intensive language study in the form of Spanish or Quechua, a Research Methods and Ethics course, and a four-week Independent Study Project. The Historical and Contemporary Social Change in Bolivia seminar permits students to explore the sociopolitical context of change and globalization in Bolivia, focusing on social struggles and the psychological impacts of conquest/colonization and extractivism. The second seminar, entitled Vivir Bien: Well-Being and Resilience in Andean and Amazonian Communities, invites students to engage the notion of well-being from Western and indigenous perspectives, taking students into a deep exploration of this theme in a wide range of communities. Learn more about the program’s coursework.

As part of the final Independent Study Project, interested students can engage in creative and nontraditional research projects in support of local Bolivian communities and social change. Participating in a bilingual children's book project or completing a documentary video have been popular choices of students on this program in the past. Students are also welcome to utilize other nontraditional research project formats such as art, literature, music, dance, theater, radio, video, weaving, or photography.

Browse this program's Independent Study Projects/Undergraduate Research

Laura Sprinkle "I plan to pursue a degree in international development and continue to promote human rights through education."

Laura always knew she wanted to be a part of a social change movement and after her semester with SIT that path became clearer. As part of her Independent Study Project, Laura wrote and illustrated a bilingual children’s book for academic director Heidi Baer-Postigo’s book project entitled Kids’ Books Bolivia, which contributes to the production of affordable books celebrating Bolivian reality and serving to raise international awareness about Bolivia's rich cultures and pressing social issues. By doing so, Laura became part of a broader movement begun by SIT students and staff in Bolivia to improve child literacy and cultural awareness in local communities. Laura returned to Bolivia on an Alice Rowan Swanson Fellowship, awarded by World Learning, to develop after-school literacy and storytelling programs.

Costs Dates

Credits: 16

Duration: 15 weeks

Program Base: Cochabamba

Language Study: Quechua,  Spanish

Prerequisites: 3 semesters Spanish

View Student Evaluations for this program:

About the Evaluations (PDF)

Fall 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Spring 2013 Evaluations (PDF)
Fall 2012 Evaluations (PDF)

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