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WVU in the Andes

Dr. Michele Stephens supports students in Bolvia and Peru

This year Dr. Michele Stephens had the opportunity to travel with students in the Andes region for two study abroad experiences. As a faculty sponsor for study abroad trips in Bolvia and Peru, she visited both countries to support the students and see their experiences for herself. 

For one of these trips, she visited WVU students studying in Bolivia and learned about this Spanish study which she had not visited before. Dr. Stephens went as a faculty sponsor for the Amizade service learning study abroad trip to Bolivia this past spring, which included five undergraduate students and one graduate student. In her other student-oriented trip of 2017, Dr. Stephens led a two-week study abroad program in Peru.

The Amizade took Spanish classes, a history class online with Dr. Stephens, and also served in special programs for disadvantaged Bolivians. Three students were working with Osare, an organization that takes children out of prisons. In Bolivia, kids go to prison if there is no one else to take care of them and by caring for these children outside of prison; Osare is able to break the crime cycle. Two students worked with Ceoli, an organization that works with teenagers with special needs.

Dr. Stephens was able to visit Bolivia and experience a taste of what the students were experiencing. She took the students on excursions in order to give them a break. As a Mexico historian Dr. Stephens has visited Spanish-speaking countries before, but she had never been to Bolivia.

“It exceeded my expectations and I know I will be back,” she said.

In Bolivia, she found a social dichotomy. There was the ultra rich thriving right alongside “crushing” poverty. “This is the worst poverty you could ever imagine…Getting out in the countryside and seeing poverty was life-altering,” she said.

The students’ experience was coordinated through Amizade, a study abroad program that focuses on service learning. Dr. Stephens and Dr. James Siekmier  have worked with Amizade for a few years.

“This is a very different study abroad program because you live with families in a city…in a country where English is not regularly spoken,” Dr. Stephens said.

Students in this program complete public projects and engage with social media in order to raise awareness. The experience allows students to make a difference by serving others which for many students also significantly affects their own life perspectives.  

In fact, one of the WVU students who went this year plans to move back. “That’s how much of an impact it had,” Dr. Stephens said.

Later in the spring semester, Dr. Stephens went to Peru to present her research at the annual Latin American Studies Association meeting, held in Lima this year. After the conference ended, she led twelve students on a study abroad trip through Peru, in conjunction with GreenTrek, a tour company based in Ecuador. She and the students spent two weeks in May exploring Lima, Cuzco, the Sacred Valley, and Puno.

“I had always wanted to go to Machu Picchu and it did not disappoint. The site is simply stunning, built into the sides of mountains with towering peaks. I was so glad to be able to share my love of indigenous archaeology with WVU’s students,” Dr. Stephens said. “I loved hiking down from the site back to the town of Aguas Calientes. But my favorite part of the trip was probably the time we spent in Lima.”

Lima is a vibrant city of around 11 million people, hugging the Pacific Ocean. It has a very mild climate and a centuries-old history. “Lima is often ignored for the highlights in the Andes, but it is a city that is definitely worth a visit. The food culture, archaeology, and various neighborhoods make Lima an exciting place.”

The students on the Peru trip were excited about everything they saw and experienced. From learning to make ceviche in a restaurant on the beach to staying with indigenous families on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca, everyone embraced the excitement and challenges of spending two weeks in a foreign country.

Dr. Stephens plans to bring students to Peru in May 2018. For information about the study abroad program to Peru or the Amizade Bolivia semester program , email her at