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Photo by Tom Pablo, South America Semester.


The transition into adulthood comes with a lot more responsibility, obligations and work. It also however brings a lot of freedoms. One of those freedoms is the ownership of your own education. What I mean by that is that possibly for the first time in your life you get to decide what is important to spend your time learning. In most traditional educational settings teachers have set curriculum they need to deliver. These foundational skills of math, science, English, history, etc are crucial to our development as individuals and as a society but the way they are delivered can sometimes build a distrust or dislike for learning.

At the beginning of every course I always ask my students, “So why are you taking this course?” Year after year I hear the same response from many students, “I just needed a break from school.” At first this made me nervous because I thought they wanted to spend their semester with Dragons just relaxing and partying and I was like ummm you know this is an intensely educational program, right? However I quickly realized that these young adults had a deep desire to learn but were just burned out from the traditional educational models they grew up in that favored calculus over learning how to harvest potatoes with your host family. A system that favored studying history through statistics, dates and the names of old dead white men over experiencing history, colonialism, imperialism first hand by living in a place like Bolivia.

The independent study project (ISP) encourages us to reconnect with our own personal educational process. The access to formal and informal schooling is one of the greatest privileges we have. A huge percentage of people in the world don’t have the means or opportunity to finish high school, let alone attend university. We need to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity we’ve been given but also still look at it from a critical eye.

So what exactly is an ISP? An independent study project is an academic theme or tangible skill that each student decides they personally want to study over the semester. Students can overlap and have similar themes if they share the same passions but even within those same passions each student will be having their own unique experience. Students are responsible for doing independent research about their topics and taking advantage of connecting with the extended Dragons community here in Bolivia and Peru. We have an amazing community of educators, activists and artists that are excited to share their knowledge with our students.

The role of Ana, Doug and myself in this process is to be a bridge between students and our local community of educators; to be mentors throughout this learning experience; to be translators when needed.

During this last week here in Tiquipaya/Cochabamba our students have had a couple opportunities to dive into their ISPs. Here, in their own words, are some brief descriptions of what they’ve been doing.

Bow: My ISP is traditional Bolivian cooking. Every time I visit my mentor Doña Fanny I learn a new dish. So far I have learned how to make Sillpancho & empanadas.

Jack: I am studying Bolivian dance for my ISP. In my first couple of classes my mentor taught the basics of a variety of different dances before deciding to focus on Cueca. Calvin and I are going to perform for the group at the end of our next Tiquipaya homestay.

Reilly: Charango. I learned 3 different songs and how to play along with other people & instruments. Charango is a 5 double string guitar similar to a ukelele.

Tom: Original ISP was politics but wasn’t able to meet with my mentor. So I studied herbs with Harrison. Learned about the natural healing methods of the Kullawath discipline.

Olivia: For my ISP project, I am working with a local artist in Cochabamba to make art out of trash and recycled materials. So far, we have made paper using recycled newspaper, flowers, and water and also collaged on old CDs using recycled magazines.

Mollie- For my ISP, I am learning about gender relations and the history/current state of women’s role in Bolivia. I, along with Bri, Amy and Lucy, we meet with our ISP mentor, Eliana, who has taught us specifically about the epidemic of violence against women in Bolivia and how the criminal justice system has responded, or not.

Briana- Women’s studies in Bolivia
I’ve learned that women in Bolivia have been fighting for more than just their rights since the colonizers; They have been in a constant fight for life itself.

Lucy: For my ISP I learned about domestic violence, femicide and the Bolivian justice system. It has been really interesting to learn about the tension between the current move towards a more inclusive government and then the ingrained machismo within Bolivian society and the more discreet yet still widely felt violence against women.

Calvin- Dance: learned basic steps and how to dance to various styles of music. Began learning to do salsa

Harrison: I learned about traditional medicine and it was lit yo. There was so much to learn and so little time. I also learned how to make empanadas from a super nice lady named Doña Fanny. The food was so dank.

Hank: My ISP is on the evolution of Bolivian documentary film making. I’ve been looking at Bolivian documentaries from the silent era onward.

Amy- gender studies: Domestic violence is almost equivalently an issue in the U.S. as South America, yet it’s so much less known and combated in the U.S. Bolivian women are hella strong.