Life in Cochabamba

What is the weather like in Cochabamba?
December to March is summer (rainy season): Temperatures are variable and sometime range between 46º – 77º F (8º C – 25º C). March to June is autumn: Mornings and evenings can be chilly. Most days are pleasant and warm ranging from 60º F (16º C) in March and 42º F (6º C) in June. June to September is winter: Mornings and evenings are cold. The sun warms up the day with temperatures varying from 35º F (2º C) in the mornings and evenings to 82º F (28º C) during the day. September to December is spring: Most days and evenings are pleasant with temperatures between 68º F (20º C) and 86º F (30º C).
What should I bring?
Clothing that can be layored along with a warm sweater or jacket. Comfortable shoes for walking around the city, hiking and climbing the mountains. A bilingual dictionary Protection from the sun: hat, sun screen A laptop (optional): The Mission Center is equipped with WiFi and has one computer for students’ use. Prescription medications Photos of your family, friends and house to share them with your host family and in the class. Most of what you need is available in Cochabamba.
Are there ATM machines in Cochabamba?
Yes, they are all around the city. They accept all the main credit cards.
Is there Internet access?
Yes, in Cochabamba there are numerous places where you can access Internet. CMMAL also offers Wireless service to the students.
Do I need a electrical adapter?
Bolivia uses 220 v. electrical current. Adapters can be purchased in Cochabamba at a reasonable price. Many laptops and electrical devises from the US are equipped with built-in stableizers.
Do I need medicine for altitude?
Some people suffer altitude sickness when arriving in La Paz (9800 to 13100 feet above sea level) and Cochabamba (8200 feet above sea level). Medicines for altitude sickness (called sorojchi) are available locally. Keep yourself hydrated while travelling. Candy and sugar also help.
Which are the symptoms of altitude sickness?
They differ depending on the person. One can experience headache, dizziness, discomfort or shortness of breath. Some have bouts of nausea and/or vomitting. Some people don’t have any symptoms.
Do I need vaccinations? Which ones?
We suggest that you visit your doctor 4 – 6 weeks before your trip and receive the following vaccinations: Typhoid Fever, Yellow Fever, Hepatitis A and B, and Tetanus. For more information, you can contact us at:
Do I need vaccinations against Malaria?
No, it is not necessary nor recommended.
Do I need a visa to enter Bolivia?
Regulations vary according to the country of origin. We suggest you contact the Bolivian Consulate in your area for updated information. The following website might be of some help:

FAQ Language Program

Do I need a certain level to enter the Language Program?
No, you can enter the Program at whatever language level you are, be it Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Superior.
No, you can enter the Program at whatever language level you are, be it Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced or Superior.
We use the Communicative Approach. This methodology encourages students to communicate in the target language from the very beginning. Language practice is provided through contextualized exercises in the class, and interactions with the local people.
Which languages are taught in the Language Program?
Spanish, and two main indigenous languages; Quechua and Aymara
What are the schedules for classes?
The program consists in four daily classes, from 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday thru Friday. Our intensive program gives you the opportunity to learn and to acquire the language by using it four hours a day in class and the rest of the day with your host family.
What type of didactic materials is available?
Our library offers a variety of books in Spanish, English, Quechua and Aymara, and other materials to support the learning process: the daily newspaper, CDs with Latin American and classical music, movies in DVD format, table games like checkers, scrabble, and more.
What type of learning atmosphere does the Maryknoll Mission Center provide?
For the use of the students, we have a library/cultural center, Internet service, a student’s room, video rooms, sporting areas, chapel, beautiful gardens, and more.
What housing accommodations do you recommend?
The Maryknoll Language Program offers you the opportunity to live with Bolivian families who have experience hosting our students. This presents an excellent opportunity for immersion both in the language and in the culture 24/7.
What makes the Language Program different in comparison with other programs?
  • The Program offers classes with an ideal teacher/student ratio: one on two or one on three. This provides an excellent opportunity for the teacher to address the individual needs of each student continuously.
  • All of the teachers are highly qualified and motivated. They are all Bolivians with extensive expertise and great creativity.
  • We teach Spanish, Quechua or Aymara to persons with any proficiency level, from Beginners to Superiors.
  • We have two textbooks written by our own teachers for the specific use of our students, A VIVIR EL ESPAÑOL… DESDE BOLIVIA for Beginner levels in Spanish; and A VIVIR EL ESPAÑOL DESDE AMERICA LATINA for Intermediate levels in Spanish. Likewise, for Beginner and Intermediate levels in Quechua, we have two textbooks written by our teachers, RUNA SIMINCHIK, book 1 and book 2, respectively.
  • Students have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language and culture of Bolivia, with their host families, and with all aspects of the fascinating city of Cochabamba.
  • The Maryknoll Mission Center is a place where many cultures and nationalities come together. The direct contact with people from all over the globe (Unites States, Korea, Japan, Australia, Ireland, England, Poland, Indonesia, Philippines and many others) makes the Program a truly unique place for learning.
  • The Program also offers a series of conferences in Spanish, which address topics of social, political, cultural and mission interest.
  • There are innumerable opportunities for cultural immersion, such as walks around the city and its surroundings, trips to different places of interest around the country, volunteer service in orphanages, in a hospital, etc., living with a Bolivian family and more.

FAQ Volunteer Program

What type of work is available?
We will place volunteers in ministries that reflect Maryknoll’s values, favoring partnership over paternalism, empowerment over dependency, and reflecting gospel values. Examples include work with schoolchildren, orphans, elderly, special education and HIV/AIDS, community gardens, prisons, parish groups, women’s advocacy, etc. Placements will be determined according to availability of mission sites and talents and interests of volunteers as determined in application and interview process. Check out some of our placement partners here.
Will housing be provided?
Housing will be provided. Many volunteers will live together in Maryknoll’s Volunteer House in Cochabamba, close to several Maryknoll missioners. Others may live with Maryknoll missioners, or, depending on their ministry placement, there may be housing available at the work site.
What immunizations are required?
Proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine used to be required for a visa, but no longer is. You do not need malaria medicine for Cochabamba. Typhoid and hepatitis vaccines are important. It is strongly suggested that the volunteer contact his/ her physician and/or a travel doctor for additional recommended immunizations.
What is my financial obligation?
The volunteer is responsible for airfare to and from Bolivia, buying health insurance to cover him/her throughout time in Bolivia and paying out-of-pocket healthcare costs, and a $450/month ($675 for six weeks) program fee. The fee may be paid by the volunteer or fundraised in the form of tax-deductable donations to Maryknoll. The program will cover basic living expenses (lodging, food, transportation around town, local phone calls), but cannot pay for personal items (clothes, gifts, vacation travel, entertainment, etc.).
Is there an orientation program?
Basic orientation to daily life in Cochabamba and to ministry sites is provided prior to beginning work. Since the emphasis is on immersion, the entire volunteer experience is, in many ways, «orientation.» But Maryknoll will explain the program requirements, the volunteer’s ministry placement and housing situation, and give an orientation to the area, local Maryknoll facilities, etc. Volunteers will also participate in ongoing cultural orientation, weekly reflections with other volunteers, and meet weekly with a Maryknoll mission mentor.
Is there a reentry program upon returning to the USA?
We will help to prepare the volunteer for re-integration as the volunteer term draws to an end. Maryknoll does not have a reentry program in the U.S. at this time. However, information and suggestions for programs will be provided to the candidate upon return to the United States.
Are there other volunteers at the sites?
There may be other volunteers at the site. In some instances, other organizations may have volunteers in the same area. Other times, a single volunteer works at a site, alongside Bolivians.
Is Spanish a requirement?
Six-month to one-year volunteers need a demonstrated proficiency in Spanish. Six-week volunteers need at least the equivalent level of one year of university Spanish study in the U.S. Volunteers will often be in situations in which there are no other foreigners present, and very few Bolivians speak English. Volunteers need to be able to understand what is happening around them, and express themselves to the people with whom they are working – often in environments with noise, multiple conversations happening at once, etc. The heart of the immersion experience is developing relationships with Bolivians. We’ve been told multiple times by our volunteers to please emphasize how important language skills are for making the most of one’s time in Bolivia.
Is this program related to the Maryknoll Language Institute?
The Volunteer Program is a full-time volunteer program. Volunteers must speak Spanish before beginning their volunteer work. Many volunteers choose to study with our Language Program as well – a world-renowned program previously known as the Maryknoll Language Institute. Please note that the Volunteer Program and Language Program are different. If you choose to study here, you would begin volunteering after completing your Spanish studies. Please keep this in mind when calculating how long you would plan to be in Bolivia. Also, note that the Language Program and the Volunteer Program have completely separate application processes.
How is this different from the ¨Maryknoll Lay Missioners¨?
This program is different from the Maryknoll Lay Missioners (MKLM). We are sponsored by the Lay Missioners in Bolivia, in collaboration with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers and the Maryknoll Sisters, which are actually 3 distinct organizations, all part of the Maryknoll mission family. But the MKLM program requires an initial commitment of 3 ½ years and places missioners in many countries around the world. Our program is shorter-term (6 weeks to 1 year) and is only in Bolivia.
What is the length of the commitment?
Six weeks to one year. And anything in-between – we’re pretty flexible!
Is there an age limitation?
Two years of college or equivalent experience is required. We generally do not accept applicants over 68 years old.
Do volunteers have to be Catholic?
No, but we do ask that volunteers identify as Christians. Maryknoll is a Catholic mission organization, and volunteers should be comfortable participating in a Catholic-based program. Most volunteers tend to be Catholic, but we’ve also had Lutheran, Mennonite, and non-denominational Christians accepted to the program. Much of the work volunteers do is not overtly religious in nature. But we ask that volunteers be Christian because we understand our work as Mission – as sharing the Good News of the Gospel through our presence and ministry. In our reflections as a Maryknoll community, we consider our work in light of our shared faith, reflecting on questions such as, «Where did I encounter Christ this week?» Maryknoll has a deep respect for all people of good will, regardless of religious background, and we collaborate with non-religious folks in other ways. But, given the objectives and nature of our Volunteer Program, it would not be a good match for non-Christian volunteers.
Is regular prayer and liturgy a part of the program?
We encourage volunteers to maintain an active prayer life. As Maryknoll missioners, one important way we do this is to get involved in the communities in which we work. Other than weekly reflection meetings with the other Maryknoll volunteers, there is no regular, required prayer or liturgical celebration. Volunteers often participate in weekly or daily masses in the communities where they live and work. We also encourage volunteers to integrate their experiences in Bolivia into their own faith journeys, be it by regular personal prayer, journaling, or other means of grounding experiences in an ongoing relationship with God.
How do I apply?
To become a volunteer, see here.To inquire about bringing a group down for an exposure trip, please contact us.
How long is the application process?
Between inquiring about the program, applying, acceptance, background checks and filling out forms, and making travel plans and applying for visas, we recommend people begin the process 6 months before they plan to come to Bolivia. If you’re looking at coming sooner, let us know so we can help determine of there’s still time!
When does the program begin?
We have rolling admissions, so there is no specific deadline or start date for volunteering. Some kinds of placements may be limited between December and February, due to summer vacations in Bolivia, but other great volunteer sites are up and running 365 days a year!
Is there an exposure trip coming up that I can join?
Perhaps, but that would be through a group organizing the trip from the U.S. We do not schedule trips and then wait for individuals to sign up. Rather, groups – parish groups, university groups, activist delegations, etc. – come to us as such, and we work with them to plan and host their mission trip. There are Maryknoll groups in the U.S. who regularly organize trips with us. Contact us to find out if there are any such trips coming up soon.
Do exposure trip groups do volunteer work?
No. Our Bolivian partners tend to agree that having a group of foreign visitors try to «help» for just a week or two tends to serve the volunteer groups’ needs more than those of the organization purportedly being served. It also changes the focus of a trip, so that when participants return home, they tell people about how they helped Bolivians, rather than how they learned from Bolivians. We want exposure trips to focus on learning, and making connections. Groups have opportunities to visit various projects and communities, and there might be a chance to help prepare for a parish gathering, or pitch in at a community garden one morning, etc, as part of a visit. But, for the most part, these mission trips are aimed at introducing North Americans to Bolivians and Bolivian culture and realities. We take seriously Ivan Illich’s words to a group of North Americans going to do service work in Mexico in 1968: «I am here to suggest that you voluntarily renounce exercising the power which being an American gives you. I am here to entreat you to freely, consciously and humbly give up the legal right you have to impose your benevolence on Mexico. I am here to challenge you to recognize your inability, your powerlessness and your incapacity to do the ‘good’ which you intend to do. I am here to entreat you to use your money, your status, your education to travel in Latin America. Come to look, come to climb our mountains, to enjoy our flowers. Come to study. But do not come to help.» We believe that service can function as an opportunity to form relationships in a spirit of solidarity, but that takes time. It works for volunteers who come from 6 weeks up to a year, and for missioners who stay a lifetime. But for visiting groups who are only in Bolivia for a few days or weeks, we prefer to focus on seeing a number of places, meeting plenty of people, and learning as much as possible. And in the end, it is by returning home to share what you’ve learned that you are of most service to the people of Bolivia.
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