Carnegie Mellon University


Mikaela Wolf-Sorokin, DC`18

Study Abroad

Cochabamba, Bolivia - Spring 2016


Global Studies and Hispanic Studies


Class of 2018

Mikaela Wolf-Sorokin, a Global Studies and Hispanic Studies student, studied abroad in Cochabamba, Bolivia, during the spring of her sophomore year. She participated in SIT Bolivia: Globalization, Multiculturalism, and Indigenous Identity.

Study Abroad Perspective

My first few days in Cochabamba, Bolivia were such a whirlwind, which pretty much describes the rest of my time here. The city is full of bustling markets, beautiful and impactful street art, friendly local people, amazing food, and surrounded by mountains. I chose to come here because I wanted to improve my Spanish, learn about indigenous culture, and live in a country that does not maintain strong relations with the United States. However, I have gained so much more from my time here.

My study abroad program runs on a cycle of having two weeks of class and then a week long excursion to experience firsthand what we learned about. Our classes themselves are fascinating. Our program brings in different lecturers: politicians, professors, and leaders of various social organizations, to teach us about the history of Bolivia and various social issues. We learned about U.S. foreign drug policy and its impact on local culture in Bolivia, the history of dictatorships here and their lasting effects, the construction of race and identity, the effects of climate change on indigenous communities, and the current period of change under President Evo Morales. Our host families help us contextualize all of these topics by providing insight and sharing personal experiences. My family has also provided me with the most special home away from home where my Spanish has improved tremendously. I never would have imagined that I would develop such a close relationship with another family besides my own.

On our last excursion we did a three day homestay in a rural community called Tocoli on Lake Titicaca. This was an Ayamara (indigenous group) community of 19 families. I lived with two parents, both of whom could speak little Spanish. I tagged along as we herded sheep, farmed potatoes, and untangled fishing nets. One morning, I was helping my dad feed the cows, when we came across his fishing boat that was docked on the beach. While I was unable to comment about how excited I was to see the boat, he could tell from my facial expression. He motioned towards it and then pointed towards the water. I climbed in and he pushed the boat back into the water and then jumped on board. He rowed us out further away from the beach until we were surrounded by open blue water and Tocoli was just a spec in the distance. Then, I motioned towards the paddles and we traded spots so that I could row. Our ability to communicate and share such an amazing experience without the use of language was extremely powerful. The kindness and openness that my family in Tocoli demonstrated represents the general feeling of welcoming and generosity that I have received in Bolivia. The people and my time here have taught me the value of community, how much we have to gain by stepping out of our comfort zone, the importance of keeping an open mind and always being willing to change your perspective. I truly feel like I have developed a home away from home here in Bolivia and cannot imagine having spent this semester any other way.