Transformative, perspective-shifting Past Review

By (Middlebury College) - abroad from 08/26/2014 to 12/09/2015 with

SIT Study Abroad: Bolivia - Multiculturalism, Globalization, and Social Change

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
Lots of friends, a new perspective on American influence abroad, a deep interest in the War on Drugs and its affects abroad, appreciation for Andean culture and concepts, and a deep understanding of the current Bolivian government and its policies.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 6 months+

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

Overall, SIT Bolivia is extremely well organized and well connected while still providing students with the freedom to explore on their own.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Heidi, the program director, and Paty, the program administrator, are both amazing. They are there to help you with everything. Heidi met with students one-on-one to talk about anything from culture shock to independent study projects. Paty would visit students in the hospital or take them to the doctor (which, mind you, is not necessarily her job, it's out of love), get coffee with students, and let them hang out with her in her office. They, and the former director, are very well connected in Cochabamba and the country, so the guest speakers for classes and contacts that students could take advantage of for independent research were amazing.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

Living is with host families around Cochabamba. The housing staff will move a student if there are any problems with the family, or even if the student just doesn't feel like they "click." I had a great experience with my host family.

* Food:

Most meals are provided by host families, so it varies.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I loved living with a host family. Also, classes with SIT teach students about Bolivia in a way that you could never learn from a book or just from being a tourist there. We had leaders of pretty important social movements, NGO workers, artists, anthropologists and even government officials speak with us, and they were all accessible to students after their lecture. The guest lectures, site visits, excursions and independent study projects aren't just travel; they're pretty crazy opportunities to learn about social change, political policy, and the new constitution in ways you just couldn't alone. Downside: because of the flexible nature of the program, it is only American students. I found it really hard to make Bolivian friends my own age.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

Hospital and clinic healthcare in Cochabamba are pretty advanced, but the system isn't going to be the same as in the US. Students on my program who got sick were frustrated by doctors' lack of transparency (i.e. one student was in the hospital for a week and the nurses kept refusing to tell her exactly what they were doing or what was wrong.) Stomach bugs are a given, but if you have a very weak stomach or chronic digestive issue, then you can expect to have diarrhea the whole time. That being said, if you generally don't have digestive issues, then you'll probably be fine besides the occasional diarrhea. During independent study, if students choose to go to rural areas, healthcare will not be as accessible or as reliable. You need vaccines in order to apply for the student visa, including Yellow Fever and Typhoid. You also need an HIV test (not sure why, but the government requires it.)

* Safety:

Cochabamba is extremely safe, as were most places I traveled. Mostly have to watch out for petty crime. People will say all sorts of things about watching your pockets, only taking radio taxis, how people will try to scam you on the streets, etc (guidebooks say all that too. Obviously you have to be smart, but I lived in the city center and once I got used to being there, felt pretty comfortable walking around at night or would listen to music while I ran or when I walked to class.. My only incident was almost getting robbed in the really crowded marketplace but that's because I was being stupid and had a big purse on in this tiny crowded place and had pulled my camera out. Generally safe, just have to be smart.

If you could do it all over again would you choose the same program? Yes


* Money: How easily were you able to live on a student's budget?

(1 = not very easy/$200+ on food & personal expenses/week, 2.5 = $100/week, 5 = very easily/minimal cost)

Transportation in Bolivia is very cheap. A bus ride is less than 50 cents. A taxi at night across town will cost maximum $2-3. All meals are provided through the host family. If you're spending money, it's on extra snacks, ice cream, coffee, or drinks & taxis over the weekend. Only extra cost in the house is that students should pay their host families for laundry.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? $20-$30
Do you have any general money-saving tips for future study abroad participants? One main issue: if you want to go somewhere other than Cochabamba for your independent project, the project stipend is not enough to cover that transportation (and a plane ride may be the most feasible option given the limited time you have, so it can cost $50-$100). Take that into consideration when budgeting. Take public transportation rather than taxis as often as you can, think about what souvenirs you want before you go crazy buying them, and avoid clubs with cover charges (although there aren't many.) Keep an eye on your budget if you're planning to travel afterwards, but generally, it's pretty easy to avoid spending a lot of money in Bolivia.


* Did your program have a foreign language component? Yes
How much did the program encourage you to use the language?

0 = No encouragement, 5 = frequent encouragement to use the language

Almost all of our classes were conducted in Spanish. However, since it is a group of American students, people get lazy and speak a lot of English. Living with host families gives you practice, though.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Fluent
How would you rate your language skills at the end of the program? Fluent
What was the highest level language course you had completed prior to departure? upper-300-level courses at Middlebury
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+
Do you have any tips/advice on the best ways to practice the language for future study abroad participants? Talk to your host family, join activity groups in Cochabamba, practice with anyone and everyone. Make friends with Paty, who works for the program.

Other Program Information

* Where did you live?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you live with?

Select all that apply

  • Host Family
* Who did you take classes with?

Select all that apply

  • Americans
About how many local friends did you make that you will likely keep in touch with?

A Look Back

* What did you like most about the program?
  • Field visits/ guest lectures
  • Class discussions
  • Ismael's documentary film workshops
* What could be improved?
  • opportunities to meet Bolivian students
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? Don't get caught up in people's perspectives of safety in the country. People in both the US and Bolivia will tell you how "unsafe" places are, how sick the food will make you, or what precautions to take. Take it in, but with a grain of salt. Don't let that scare you and limit you from doing cool things and getting to know the city/country.

Reasons For Studying Abroad

To help future students find programs attended by like-minded individuals, please choose the profile that most closely represents you.
The Avid Adventurer
The wardrobe you packed was better suited for a semester of camping than club hopping. Outdoorsy, you might forgo a crazy night out for an early all-day adventure. You'd rather take in the rich culture of an old town than the metropolis of a modern city, but for you getting off the grid is ideal.

Individual Course Reviews

Course Name/Rating:

Social Change

Course Department: SIT Bolivia
Instructor: Heidi Baer-Postigo/ guest lecturers
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: This course looked at how colonialism and then neocolonialism and neoliberal economics has left Bolivia behind as a country and marginalized many Bolivian people as a society for centuries, then how social movements have combatted those global pressures (i.e. Cochabamba water wars in 2000 and the gas wars in 2003 that led to the current government.) Most of the classes for the course aren't taught by Heidi, the program director. They're all guest lectures by Bolivian historians, nonprofit workers, groups, etc or site visits. Very inspiring course. Coursework is mostly readings. Students are responsible for leading one discussion, then turning in one paper at the end. Creativity is encouraged. i.e. Students who choose to pursue documentary filmmaking may make short films instead of an essay.
Credit Transfer Issues:
Course Name/Rating:

Vivir Bien

Course Department: SIT Bolivia
Instructor: Heidi Baer Postigo/ guest lecturers
Instruction Language: Spanish
Comments: The second seminar was Vivir Bien. This class is basically an anthropology course looking at the ideas of "vivir bien" or "living well." This concept takes root in Andean and Amazonian cosmovision, and has now been adopted into the new Bolivian constitution. In this course, we examined how the current government is both successfully and unsuccessfully trying to incorporate that into law (concerning the environment, human rights, indigenous rights), and how people are looking to reclaim those ideas for themselves. Again, coursework was mostly reading with two student-led discussions and one essay.
Credit Transfer Issues: