The year I spent in Bolivia—the rural area of the Yungas and the city of La Paz—on a Fulbright Student Grant conducting ethnographic fieldwork toward a doctorate in anthropology was the most gratifying experience of my life. I was able to gain a deep holistic understanding of rural life in a place that faces many internal and external pressures. The resilience and vision of the mostly indigenous people who live there changed how I understand the world and made me not just a better scholar but a better human being. I was so inspired that I designed a summer Study Abroad field course to bring US college students to the same area so that they might also be transformed. My Bolivia Global Seminar also allows me to maintain many of the relationships that I cultivated during my dissertation research, and to practice the central cultural value that knits together the Aymara communities there: reciprocity. For such an opportunity I will forever be grateful to the Fulbright Program.
I love telling people about how I was able to live in such a unique place for a whole year to conduct my ethnographic fieldwork project. Not only did my Fulbright grant allow me to pay for my living and travel expenses—including the daily newspaper from Freddy, provisions from Olivia’s corner store, pizza from Daniel’s restaurant, and haircuts at Irma’s shop—but it enabled me to hire four Bolivian university students as research assistants. We struck a mutually beneficial deal: they would help me with introductions to community and social movement leaders, interview translations from Aymara to Spanish, and interpretations of my data, and in return I would pay them for their time and expenses, let them include their own research questions in our interviews, and help them fulfill their many thesis obligations to ensure their graduation. But most of all I like to tell people—especially my students in the U.S.—about the value and joy of participant observation with local people, whether harvesting fat juicy mandarin oranges or coffee cherries, walking along a winding road soaking up the view, attending all day workshops in the civic center, or celebrating someone’s wedding or birthday or life… all while listening to stories about how things used to be, and how things change.
Caroline S. Conzelman – Fulbright to Bolivia 2004