AMAZING abroad experience January 20, 2020

By (Williams College) - abroad from 08/27/2019 to 12/09/2019 with

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

What did you gain/learn from your experience abroad? Was it worthwhile?
My semester with SIT Bolivia opened up the world before my eyes. It has changed the course of my life and quadrupled the possibilities I can imagine for myself.

Personal Information

How much international exposure did you have prior to this program? 1 month - 6 months

Review Your Program

* Overall educational experience

Academic rigor, intensity, resources, etc.

I chose SIT and I chose Bolivia because I was looking for a challenging and meaningful semester, not necessarily academic just for the point of being so but rather deeply intentional, thoughtful, and dedicated to the big questions of inequality and histories of oppression in our world. I found what I was looking for and more with this program. I never felt over-worked or stressed out; almost all class readings were optional, but we all wanted to do them anyway because they were so engaging and well-curated. We were given free time to complete assignments and generally I had time to learn in all the ways of being abroad that go beyond the academic--spending time with my host family talking about politics, joining an ultimate frisbee team and meeting people my age, practicing Spanish every second of every day. At the same time, though, the program did feel rigorous and challenging and constantly pushed me to grow and rethink my understanding of the world. Lectures were rich, our academic director is an incredibly thoughtful teacher, and more than anything I really felt like everyone (in a small group of 16!) wanted to be there. The three academic excursions that we took were an absolute highlight for me; I'm not sure how to transition back into classroom academics after such a great time with experiential learning.

* Host Country Program Administration

On-site administration of your program

Heidi, the academic director of SIT Bolivia, is amazing. She is a great teacher and has spent decades thinking about the complex questions of colonization, development, indigenous politics, etc which we explore in this program. Everyone on the program staff that works with her is also wonderful! Paty, who coordinates everything behind the scenes, is super kind and a powerhouse.

* Housing:

How satisfied were you with your living arrangements?

I feel so lucky to have lived with my homestay family in Cochabamba. It was definitely hard at times, especially in the beginning, but I know that it enriched my experience 1000 times over. I got SO much better at Spanish, to the point that I feel I could effectively do research or do work with Spanish speakers, and I learned way more about Bolivian politics and history from talking to them than I could have in our class lectures. I especially loved cooking lunch with my host mom every day and having tea and bread with them at night.

* Food:

We were very well-taken-care-of by our host parents and also provided with good food on all our excursions. Lots of potatoes! Overall a good opportunity to immerse in a totally new food culture. As far as I know, all the vegetarians and vegans on our program were accommodated everywhere we went.

* Social & Cultural Integration:

How integrated did you feel with the local culture?

I think there are always trade-offs with choosing an abroad program, one of them being the decision between a program like SIT or direct-enrollment in a university, and before going abroad with SIT I was worried about feeling less integrated because I wasn't living with/in classes with young Bolivians. It is true that I didn't know as many Bolivian students as I might have had I enrolled at the UMSS, but I think my relationship with my host family was a huge counterbalance to that. I felt very socially and culturally integrated into their home and very much as though I were living an independent life with a Bolivian family, separate from the 15 other American students in my program. Our host siblings took us out at night, took us to parades and flea markets, encouraged us to join local sports teams and helped us to integrate in those ways. My parents took me to the supermarket and the outdoor fruit stalls, took me with them to vote, took me to a concert in our neighborhood.

* Health Care:

How well were health issues addressed during the program?

I did not have any negative healthcare experiences, although some friends did struggle with ongoing digestive problems and various illnesses. The main thing in Bolivia is that US students cannot handle the tap water there; our gut bacteria are not properly adjusted. I did have to get the Yellow Fever, TDAP, and Typhoid vaccines.

* Safety:

I felt overall very safe in Cochabamba.

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

I wouldn't want to change a single thing! This was an intensely meaningful experience.


* 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)

Almost all necessities were provided for in Cochabamba, such as food and housing. We did have to pay our own transport costs, with a ride on the bus costing about 25 cents. I ended up spending my own money at cafés, for snacks, and to buy presents for my family. On excursions, SIT would pay travel costs and would give us a stipend for meals etc, which came out of a $400 upfront cost when we arrived in Cochabamba.

Not including program expenses, about how much money did you spend on food and other expenses each week? approx. $20


* 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

We lived with host families and all our classes were conducted in Spanish.

How would you rate your language skills at the beginning of the program? Advanced
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? College-level Spanish literature course
How many hours per day did you use the language? 10+

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?
  • My host family
  • Excursions and experiential learning
  • Academic thematic study
* What could be improved?
  • Spanish-speaking between American students
* What do you know now that you wish you knew before going on this program? To really dive in and not be afraid! I spent a few weeks with my host family hesitating, wondering, worrying about what they thought of me and it was so much more fun when I trusted their love and jumped in, tried to make jokes in Spanish, to participate in political conversations, to cook and sing with them.

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 Academic or Linguist
You went abroad with specific academic goals in mind; the program credentials and rigor of your coursework abroad were very important to you. You had a great time abroad, but never lost sight of your studies and (if applicable) were diligent with your foreign language study. Good for you!