May Term spotlight: Bolivia


Simpson students will have the opportunity to take the 2024 May Term abroad and journey to Bolivia for a writing course centered around exploring food but will be given an experience that goes beyond the aesthetic of the plate. 

“Food is a window into culture; the way that someone eats is going to be representative of what they value, how they live, and is an opportunity to bring people together.” Mark Pleiss, Director of the Teaching and Learning Center, said. 

Pleiss and Colin Payton, Director of the Writing Center, have mapped out a trip that focuses on studying cultural, political, and historical contexts through exploring food to learn how to write about a place meaningfully. 

The trip is planned for April 28 through May 14 and works with the Amizade travel company. The company formats the trip itinerary on an app that students can download. It details time spent working to improve an impoverished school and visiting a school with intellectual disabilities. 

Students will stay with local families or at a Catholic mission that will cook authentic courses before serving that day. 

“It makes you understand why that food exists and why you might not find it if you were to start a Bolivian restaurant here,” Payton said. “It’s almost like reverse engineering: the history and culture and background just by sitting down for a meal.”

The course outlines visiting a bird reserve to give birds impaired from being trafficked from the Amazon to Brazil a place to live after being apprehended. Other destinations include visiting tourist locations such as Cristo de la Concordia, visiting an Inca site and enjoying street food.

“One thing we want students to do is to go into the open air markets, choose at least one thing that they don’t know what the heck it is, take a picture, eat it and then write about it,” Pleiss said. 

The trip’s focus was inspired by the late Anthony Bourdain, a chef, traveler and writer. He organized his travel around eating local food and talked about the country’s social, political and socioeconomic situations. 

“With food, people are more open. They are more relaxed.” Pleiss said. “Trying to think about food in this way, with our opportunities to sit together with people from that country, we are going to have a richer kind of contact with the culture.” 

The course is designed for all students to learn a writing skill set comfortably, no matter their Spanish-speaking ability. 

“The way that we’ve structured this trip, if students want more freedom to explore, there are many opportunities for them to have a little bit more leniency on how they experience Bolivia,” Payton said. “Then, for the students who want the trip to be really structured, there is an element of that as well.”

Students have the opportunity to engage on a first time food focused May Term. 

“I’ve been wanting to take Simpson students to a place like this on a trip like this for a very long time,” Pleiss said. “I do not think they’ll be disappointed if they are willing to come.” 

Source: The Simpsonian