Issue - March 2010

March 2010


In this edition, Timothy Hillgarth writes about his interview with the soccer player William Ramallo and his club "Pelota de trapo"; Henrik Beckmann reflects his experiences teaching English at Universidad Mayor de San Simon; Moreover Lena Midrez gives an insight into Cochabamba's new second hand store "Kuriosa" and ultimately Walter Sanchez describes how the Cuellar Lagoon became Stadium Felix Capriles. read more...

March 2010

San Simon Summer School

Imagine winter is approaching and you face three months ahead without any obligation. How would you choose to fill your time? Henrik Beckmann, a German marketing student at Frankfurt University, travelled to Cochabamba to teach English at Universidad Mayor de San Simón during Bolivian summer holidays.

Henrik Beckmann
Projects Abroad
Frankfurt - Germany

"Buen dia. Donde puedo encontrar el aula para las clases de ingles y a que hora comenzamos?"

"If you are here for the English class this is the right room" I said, finding the right answer by chance, "Hi, my name is Henrik. I am the English teacher but I am sorry, I don't speak Spanish at all" and I wasn't just saying this to prevent my students from speaking Spanish during classes. Indeed, having only had a few days to learn Spanish, "buen dia" was the only phrase I could grasp as my student spoke in an incomprehensible manner.

            Universidad Mayor de San Simon

Founded in 1832, San Simón became a state university in Cochabamba and gained autonomy from the government in the 1980s. Around 60000 students pursue their education here and more than 80 different courses at Bachelor level are on offer with an additional 30 at postgraduate level. Due to it’s influential fraternities it is considered to be one of the best universities in Bolivia.

Let's go back in time a few weeks. I am still in Germany, still pale and fairly worn out due to the recent organisation of a marketing convention at my university. Tomorrow I am flying to South America. I haven’t had time to read my Bolivia handbook, nor have I been able to acquire any Spanish yet. I don't see this is a problem since I will certainly find some time on the plane or during my one-week stay over new year in Sao Paulo prior to my arrival in Cochabamba.

Teaching English in Bolivia… A window of three months had opened up for me before resuming my university course. At first an internship in Asia seemed appealing; another thought in the back of my mind was Africa, volunteering there has always been on my agenda. But this was not to be so. Bolivia jumped out at me given that South America is the only continent I haven’t been to yet. Furthermore, Cochabamba, which is located in the heart of South America, offered the great opportunity to teach university students of my own age which I assumed would facilitate an insight into Bolivian daily life.

I was to be proven right.

"We are starting in 5 minutes". Although my main occupation over the past few days had been to get rid of typhoid, salmonella, amoebas, parasites and all the other kinds of little animals and bacteria that I accidentally picked up in Sao Paulo, I felt well prepared for my first class. The initial days turned out to be the most strenuous ones which I believe the primary cause of which to be the varying number of students. Despite the fact that more than 40 enthusiasts enrolled in my class, it was surprising to see that not more than half of them showed up on any given day. On Mondays the attendance occasionally even reached a low point of 10. This didn’t in any way stop us from making the most of the time we had at our disposal. More to the point the students were attending my classes voluntarily during their summer holidays, demonstrating an exceptionally high level of motivation; thus I considered their lack of punctuality to be a Latin American custom.

During my time I decided to concentrate on the topic "arts and entertainment". We interpreted paintings by Picasso, Dali and Van Gogh, listened to and talked about songs by Michael Jackson and John Lennon and we watched the movie “American Beauty” which we eventually analysed, too. In addition, I included grammar tasks, vocabulary games and crossword puzzles depending on the class’ competence in view of the fact that the students allocated themselves to the levels beginner, intermediate and advanced.

However, coming to Bolivia was not just about the teaching. I was also very keen to immerse myself in local culture.

If I wasn’t exploring the rest of Bolivia during the weekends with my friends, other volunteers who either worked in an orphanage or a hospital, I would be at my friend’s house in the mountains, sunbathing on the terrace with reggaton and salsa in my ears, marvelling over Pique Macho and sipping Singani. I always invited my students to our house parties on Saturday nights. Some of them dropped in for a couple of hours, joined our Cacho dice games and taught me how to dance meringue. Spending time with them outside of the classroom helped me quickly improve my Spanish.

Now I am not a teacher any more. As I write, the whole country is celebrating Carnival, so I am taking a short break to discover some of Bolivia’s beauties. Oruro, Salar de Uyuni and Lago Titikaka are just some of the gems on my list. It will be hard to leave my students as I have grown close to some of them during the last few weeks and happened to date the most beautiful girl in Cochabamba. Fortunately there is still a month left until I go back to Germany which leaves a good deal of time for future encounters.

Choosing Bolivia was the correct decision. I have widened my horizons, supported the University and I have got to the point where I can make vague sense of the taxi driver’s inquiries.

"Soy profesor de ingles en la Universidad de San Simón."


Quiet and cozy, the Kuriosa is full of all kinds of objects. From a simple cup of tea to antique furniture, you could probably find anything you need in this atypical Ali Baba’s cave. More than a simple shop, Kuriosa offers you a warm welcome, somewhere you can rest on comfortable sofas and read free reviews, a family space, piano lessons, and an art gallery of local artists. Because of its perpetual change of interior design, the store itself could be defined as a living work of art.

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