Virginia Military Institute goes to Bolivia testimonial by Ellen Burchen

If you’re looking for a friendly, economical place to study Spanish, you’ll want to consider the Latin American Academy of Spanish (Latino Schools) in Sucre, Bolivia’s capital city. Sucre is located in the Andes Mountains at an elevation of 9,151 ft. (2790m) and the climate is wonderful. June of 2001 was dry and nearly cloudless. I wore a jacket and sometimes gloves in the morning, but a T-shirt by afternoon.It’s a medium-sized city, but feels much smaller. I was able to walk almost everywhere, and as a woman, did not fear walking alone at night. My students were able to walk to class every day and they spent many evenings talking and meeting new people in the Plaza 25 de Mayo, Sucre’s social hub.

Flexibility is one of the academy’s major assets. They can handle university groups, as well as travelers who walk in unannounced. We found an interesting mix of European and US students in the cafe each day. Most students live with local families because there’s no better way to experience the culture first-hand. Small classes allow plenty of time for conversation, but culture and formal grammar are equally emphasized, You’ll be firmly encouraged to progress and discouraged from speaking anything but Spanish. In addition to formal study, professors arrange daily after-class activities tailored to the interests of the students. We went hiking, played soccer, listened to traditional Andean music, visited museums and dinosaur tracks.

As well as managing the academy, coordinating activities for volunteers, and searching out interesting cultural events, Sandra and Leo Maldonado (the founders) go out of their way to help plan excursions and solve travel problems. Sixteen of us did a well-coordinated trip to the mines of Potosi and the spectacular salt flats of Uyuni over a long weekend.

With a group this large and not a second to waste it’s important to have everything planned in advance. Not only did we have an explicit itinerary, but the Maldonados called at each of our destinations to make sure we had arrived safely. Even those most inclined to complain felt this was an excellent excursion. Travel and airline agents in Sucre were also extremely helpful.

From experience with language schools in other parts of Bolivia and South America, I can say that this was the best. The program was more rigorous and well-rounded. Our host families, and people in general were friendly and willing to do almost anything to help make the experience a positive and productive one. Whether you have a week or a month, Sucre’s a great place to learn Spanish.

Ms. Ellen Burche