Bolivia is home to a unique variety of climates and landscapes: the majestic Andean peaks covered in snow, cold plateaus dotted with beautiful lakes and vast salt marshes, picturesque and fertile valleys bordered by mountains, arid plains and immense Amazonian jungles crossed by navigable rivers. But the beauty and diversity of Bolivia are not limited to this: the legacy of ancient and glorious populations, the many centuries-old cultures still find expression in languages, colors, dances and music.
The landing phase in La Paz certainly lasts less than usual: the city center of the administrative capital (the constitutional one is Sucre) rises in fact at 3,600 meters above sea level. Before meeting the host families, AFS students take part in a brief orientation meeting in La Paz, where Bolivian volunteers provide the first useful information on their experience and on the culture of the country. Most students then reach their host communities by plane or bus. AFS Bolivia plans two more orientation meetings during the year: one mid-stay for a moment of discussion on the experience in progress, and one immediately before the restart, to give students the opportunity to reflect on the lived and healthy experience travel companions.
To help students learn the language quickly, AFS Bolivia offers an online Spanish course.
Despite the thousands of kilometers that separate Bolivia from Italy, the school systems of the two countries apparently are not so different. The big differences lie in the calendar, which varies according to the region: generally the school year starts in the first week of February and ends in mid-November, with a fifteen-day break between June and July for the winter holidays. The school week almost always ends on Friday (in few cases we go to school on Saturday). The summer months of December and January coincide with the school holidays.
AFS students can be placed in both private and public schools, where the bell rings at 8:00 to communicate the start of lessons and at 13:00 to send students home for lunch. Most schools have some compulsory disciplines such as math, physics, natural sciences, literature, art, religion, computer science, chemistry, social studies, philosophy, languages and physical education. To change the classroom are the teachers, who expect to have a formal relationship and respect with their students, who remain in the classroom and share lessons with the same classmates throughout the year.
Some schools do not close at 13:00: in the afternoon they can offer extracurricular activities such as the choir, the band, music and dance courses, sports, in particular soccer and volleyball. Among the activities outside the lessons, optional end-of-year trips to other cities in or outside Bolivia are often offered, lasting from one to three weeks (the cost of this activity is borne by the student). Even in the Bolivian colegios the school uniform has a special importance for each member of the institute. Its cost, to be paid by the AFS student, is about 60 US dollars.
FAMILY AND FREE TIME
The cultural variety that distinguishes the many Bolivian communities makes it impossible to accurately describe the families of Bolivia and their habits. A big difference in lifestyles is represented by communities that live in big cities like La Paz compared to small towns in the Andes or less densely populated areas. Some elements common to almost all Bolivians exist and are the warmth, openness of people and the value of the family. Most of the Bolivian families are Catholic, go to church regularly and remain united for a long time. Grandparents, uncles and cousins share the house and contribute together to the most important family decisions. Parents are reference figures for their children, who respect the rules and limits imposed on them. The importance of the family is manifested above all in the sharing of meals, which are opportunities for discussion and comparison on the day spent. Young people participate as protagonists in family activities, especially on weekends. On the other hand, when students go out with friends, they usually go to parties, disco, cinema or play sports (football, basketball and volleyball).
Whatever a person is doing in Bolivia, it is essential to always keep in mind the “magic words” of communication: never forget to say goodbye with “¡Hola!” And ask “¿Cómo estas?”. Never play savings with “gracias” which are never enough, and “por favor”.
Surely you will never hear a Bolivian complaining about latecomers: here the clock is not a concern, punctuality and efficiency always take second place compared to peace and a relaxed atmosphere!
Meat is a basic dish in Bolivian cuisine and this makes it difficult, but not impossible, to find families willing to host vegetarians.
It is very difficult to find a family willing to host smoking students.
The majority of the population is Catholic (95%), with a Protestant / Evangelical and animist minority. Freedom of worship is protected by the Bolivian Constitution.
Given the morphology of the territory and the large latitudinal space occupied, Bolivia has one of the greatest climatic differences on Earth. In the Andean plateau, rainfall does not exceed 500 mm per year in the humid belt of the northern sector and the average annual temperature is below 10 ° C. The southern sector is drier and tending towards desert formation. The tropical lands of the Bolivian east have two main climates: in the north the climate is Amazonian, with a short dry season and temperatures varying between 22 and 26 ° C on average, in the south there is a milder and drier climate.
Bolivia has four official languages: Spanish, spoken by 61% of the population, Quechua (21.2%), Aymara and Guarani. Other languages spoken include Italian, Portuguese, English.