After graduating college, my goal was to take some time off to travel, to go do something fun and adventurous and hopefully learn a language. I looked at volunteer programs all over the internet and Sustainable Bolivia just sort of jumped out at me. The biggest draws for me were that it was fairly inexpensive, and the positions that were offered were actually valuable to my career path, as opposed to just teaching English or something.
I had planned on staying in Bolivia for 3-6 months, but had such an incredible time I ended up staying almost a full year. Sustainable Bolivia not only delivered on all the expectations I had, I can honestly say my trip to Bolivia was one of the best decisions and most amazing experiences of my life. I’ll start with the actual volunteering. I am a biochemist, and ended up spending my time in a lab at a health clinic in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Cochabamba. The staff at the clinic were extremely welcoming from the beginning, and over time I was able to learn techniques and develop a meaningful presence in the lab. Aside from just developing skills, I was able to check out different areas of the clinic and even go on some door-to-door rounds in the neighborhood and really see what life was like in those areas. I also picked up a second volunteering position working with a children’s burn unit at the local hospital. That experience was less technical (I mainly just brought out toys and played with the kids) but I have rarely, if ever in my life, had an experience more rewarding.
Also, with Sustainable Bolivia’s mini-grant program, some of the money I paid during my time there was allocated for use in the volunteering programs. It was great for me to be able to decide where the money was going and actually see it put to use. I should say regarding volunteering that I am very glad I entered with some Spanish background because it allowed me to really make the most of my time there. As for life in Bolivia, life in Cochabamba, life with Sustainable Bolivia. Just… wow. It really was an incredible time. The staff members at Sustainable Bolivia are friendly, extremely helpful, and very much there for you if you need them. They are also very knowledgeable about the local lifestyle, and well connected culturally and socially in Cochabamba.
Additionally, I took advantage of the offered Spanish classes for a few months, and my teacher was very patient, kind, and a pleasure to learn from. I stayed in one of the shared volunteer houses, which was wonderful (although I had friends in home stays who thought highly of those as well). Throughout my long time in Bolivia, I saw many volunteers come and go, but every group that came through was filled with fun and interesting people from all around the world, and I still remain in contact with many of them today.
Cochabamba itself a great place to settle for a while. It can be as quiet as you need it to be, but also has a great night life, some nice restaurants, and fairly frequent festivals and cultural events. Also, weekend trips are possible to the jungle, the mountains, La Paz, etc. (I have to put in a plug for Toro Toro national park here. My absolute favorite place. I went 3 times). The Sustainable Bolivia houses are all in a great location for getting around Cochabamba, and cheap taxis, buses, and other transports make the city really open to you.