NCV Team Information Package
Travel and Safety Tips
As your hosts, we want to help create an experience that is fun, challenging, educational – and safe. Whether you have traveled a lot, or very little, it is important to take the time to get to know the cultures and norms of where you are headed.
Cochabamba has a lot of similarities to other cities you may have visited. At the same time, there are differences that are important to take into account in order to respect the culture, avoid awkward situations, and ensure your physical health and safety.
Please read through these recommendations in detail, and if you have any doubts, or have any questions regarding travel that are not clarified below, send us a note using the form at the bottom of the page.
Culture and Customs
Here are a few hints about culture and customs that you may notice while in Bolivia:
- Families are very close-knit. Extended families almost always live together, particularly in rural areas. Grandparents, parents, children, and often many aunts and uncles or multiple families will share a home.
- When working in our children’s homes, you’ll notice that the children will greet their caretakers and you as well with the term “Tia” or “Tio”. This means “aunt” or “uncle”, but is also used as a term for a person who is close to the family or for an alternative caregiver within a family, much like you might have called your parents’ best friends Aunt/Uncle when you were younger.
- Bolivian greetings: Women usually greet with a single air kiss on the right cheek (really their cheek pressed against yours accompanied with a kissing sound) when greeting both men or women, some will grasp your hand in a double handshake and then kiss both cheeks. Men greet women with an air kiss on the cheek as well. Men greet other men with a handshake, often embracing the right arm above the elbow with their left hand as they shake with their right.
- Bolivians are typically inquisitive. They will often ask how much someone gets paid or how much an item cost. This is not considered to be rude in their culture, however it’s usually advisable not to share that information with them.
- Bolivians are also very friendly and talkative. They enjoy having a conversation with people from another culture. They will usually ask many questions. If you have a question or need help, they’re usually willing to offer a hand.
- Please note that because they want to be helpful, if they don’t know the answer to something (like directions), they will often tell you something that is not correct rather than appearing unhelpful. This is not considered being dishonest or lying.
- When beckoning a person to come to you do not use the index finger pointed upward with a beckoning motion. This is a vulgar gesture. Rather, make the beckoning motions with all of your fingers pointed toward the ground.
- Do not slam taxi or other car doors. This is considered very rude.
- Conversations may take place at a much closer physical distance than that to which Westerners are accustomed. Stepping back from your counterpart may be regarded as unfriendly.
Please Keep in Mind…
- When you go to another culture, you are the “strange” one. So, while you may be experiencing life around you in a very different manner, you have entered into someone else’s daily life. Be thoughtful what you’re taking in and be slow to form fixed opinions based on one experience.
- Avoid making quick or negative judgments – rather open your mind and heart to learn from the difference perspectives you will observe.
- Watch your facial expressions and your body language – when there exists a language gap, often these forms of communication are observed even more.
- Many Bolivians speak and/or understand English even if they never let on that they do, so be very mindful what you’re saying (and really you should be mindful of your attitude regardless of whether they can understand you or not).
- Avoid making references to military/political/religious issues that could lead to debate. It is natural to be curious about how Bolivians perceive these aspects of life – however, there is a long history here of outside meddling and in general, when it comes to these topics it is a good rule to listen and avoid being the foreigner “that has all the answers”.
- Remember that North Americans often are more extroverted than those in your host culture, which may make Bolivians feel uncomfortable at times. Please keep your voices down when in public, especially when speaking English, and be aware of body language and personal space.
- Any time you are in a situation that takes you out of your comfort zone, think of the people whom you are serving. Personal anxiety is often reduced by shifting our thoughts from ourselves to those around us.
- Time schedules are often much slower paced in other parts of the world so please be patient and flexible. Expect that there will be lulls in your projects, and see these times as opportunities to get to know your fellow team mates and the local staff better.
- Avoid flirting or spending large amounts of time alone with a member of the opposite sex, including our teens. If you feel uncomfortable with any of the relationships you are forming, please inform an NCV staff immediately.
Coming from North America, you likely have different experiences and different perspectives than many of the people living in Bolivia. Some of the ways things are done elsewhere may seem better than how things are done here or vice versa; however, we should always avoid ethnocentrism, recognizing that something different does not necessarily mean it is better or worse. A good way to look at what you are about to experience culturally, is that the relationship is horizontal, not vertical. You are not coming to Bolivia to help from above, those who are below. Rather, you are coming to engage on an equal level, to learn and share, support and be supported.
It is essential that you take care of yourself while serving overseas! You may think because you’ll only be here for a short time that you can push yourself 110% all the time and do and see and serve as much as possible will minimal rest. Giving it all you’ve got is a great attitude to have, but don’t let it be the cause of your downfall. Here’s a few tips to help ensure a fun, heathly time in Bolivia.
- Lack of sleep can make you sick, cranky, or unable to serve to the best of your ability. If that’s the case, you will be disappointed that you weren’t able to give more or do more or be able to enjoy your experiences to the fullest. Take advantage of the downtimes in your schedule to rest up.
- Be careful not to let stress have a negative impact on your experience. You cannot allow every inconvenience that you encounter to hinder you in accomplishing what you came here to do. Be willing to be flexible and overcome the difficulties that are inevitable in a developing country.
- Drink lots of water. At a higher altitude your body needs more water than usual. Dehydration is the #1 problem experienced by team members, and has led some to require a trip to the hospital in order to receive fluids via IV. Keep an eye on your fellow teammates as well, making sure everyone is keeping hydrated. A good idea is to aim to drink 4 liters a day.
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after petting animals and riding in taxis or buses.
- Avoid any insects you may see. Most are harmless, but it is better to avoid anything that could dampen your experience.
- Be honest about how you’re feeling. It may be embarrassing, but you could be putting yourself through much unneeded pain or discomfort by not sharing with your trip leaders or NCV staff how you are doing. Diarrhea and other “intestinal discomforts” are common here, especially for visitors, and the situations can usually be quickly remedied if the proper measures are taken.
- Go easy on the meds. Please do not be so quick to take anti-diarrheal medications and antibiotics! Although it is unpleasant, this could actually do more harm than good if what you have is parasites or a bacterial infection. There are quick effective medications for these; however, if you take antidiarrheal meds, you will actually be keeping these harmful entities inside of you instead of expelling them. Gross, but true.
- Take time to reflect. Be sure to spend daily time in personal and group reflection. Being emotionally rested and energized will help you get through each day even when you’re not feeling 100%.
- If you have serious allergies, please bring a sufficient number of epipens, and be sure to instruct people on your team how to use it if an emergency should arise. Peanuts are added to many dishes you may not suspect, and nuts and other foods may not be listed as an ingredient on a menu. Only drink water from unopened bottles of purified water.
- Eat well. This is not the time to diet!!! You will work off more food than you think since we’re at such a high elevation.
- Watch what you eat. Try to stay away from foods not approved by your hosts, such as food from street vendors. While there are many parasites that you can pick up through food in Cochabamba, if you follow our instructions you should be able to avoid them.
- Avoid eating uncooked vegetables such as salads.be the
If you follow these simple suggestions, you can prevent potential problems and have a positive, enjoyable
encounter with the people and culture!
- Do not go out by yourself, especially at night. Always travel with someone and let people know where you’re going at all times.
- Pedestrians do not have the right of way and you should be mindful of crossing streets. Look both ways, even on one-way streets, as driving in Cochabamba is exciting to say the least 🙂 If you are in a large group please pay attention to your in-country volunteer staff and follow their instructions.
- Be careful of pickpockets and purse-snatchers. Remember, just like in any big city, you must be aware of your belongings at all times. Be thoughtful about the purses and/or backpacks you are carrying, and try to bring items that are sturdy and hard to snatch/cut.
- Fanny packs are not recommended out in public – they’re too easy to grab! Any bag you carry on the streets should be one you can hang on to, pressed against you in front. It should have a secured, zippered closure that cannot be easily reached into. We recommend that when you are out in the city that you carry your money in a front pocket that is tight, with your shirt or jacket overlapping it or use a sturdy purse that can be worn across your body.
- Do not carry anything on your back or in your back pockets. Never display your money on the street to count it. Always put money away before exiting onto the street. Realize that if you’re in the market, and you pull out a large wad of money, you could have it taken easily out of your hand, and it’s also going to be tough to get a good price for your merchandise.
- When paying for something in the market or on the street, hand your money to the vendor palm down directly into their hand. People have had money stolen right from their hand when just handing over their money.
- “Norteamericanos” are often taken for very rich, and are prime targets!
- The people in Bolivia are very friendly and helpful. As in any large metropolitan area, just make it a habit to always be aware of those in close proximity to you. Always travel with two or more people. Don’t let down your guard, especially on the buses and out on the streets in crowded areas.
Just as important as your physical health, you need to function in a healthy way as a team. Some suggestions
for previous groups are:
- Evening check-ins by team leaders
- Daily reflection time
- Leaders should regularly communicate schedule changes to entire group
Meals and Snacks
The places we have scheduled for you to eat lunches and dinners at are based on previous team experiences, and sometimes we add new restaurants that we feel could be good options for larger groups.
- There have been times that meals have taken longer than expected, which requires an adjustment in the schedule that follows the meal.
- Snacks will vary during your time with us. When you are with the children in the homes, you will eat the same snack that they do. Generally, this is fruit. When you are working on a project, we will bring different snacks that are typical to Cochabamba.
- If you are someone who is not adventurous when it comes to food, please consider bringing snack bars, or other similar, easy to pack snacks. We only ask that you not bring these to the children’s homes, as they will want to try them, and will so many kids it is unlikely you will have enough to share with everyone.
The accomodations that we offer team leaders are what we consider to be the best options available for groups in Cochabamba. That said, here are a couple things to keep in mind:
- Cochabamba is constantly struggling with drought, so water pressure is often limited. We also ask you to consider limiting your shower times to help us with our water shortage.
- Your hosts will do their best to make sure you always have water available to refill your bottles, and that anything else you need you receive in a timely manner. However, unlike hotel service in other countries, things tend to take more time to get done, so please be patient.
- When you use the bathroom, please make sure you throw the toilet paper in the trashcan and not in the toilet. This is true starting in the airport!
- Please be sure to ask permission before taking any pictures of locals.
- If someone asks you to pay them for their photo, do not take their picture but move on.
- If you ask someone to take your photo, keep in mind that there is potential that they could steal your camera.
- You may take photos of the children in our homes, but may not share them in any public forum (Facebook, blogs, etc.) without written approval from NCV administration. If you do receive such approval, children’s faces may not be identifiable, and you may NEVER post a child’s real name.
- Taking photos on the reality tour is strictly prohibited.
- Try to get action shots rather than posed photos.
- Have friends take photos of you participating in activities as well.
- Try to take photos that will help you tell the story of your service trip.
- When exchanging money in Bolivia, always request small bills. It helps when you negotiate prices.
- Always remember that vendors have a bottom line price and they cannot afford to go lower no matter how much you argue with them. They do need to make a profit.
- The first price an item is offered at is almost always higher than what it is worth. However, here in Cochabamba, the initial price is not that much higher than the actual price, so there is not as much room for bargaining as you may be accustomed to in other parts of the world.
- If you are uncertain whether you are paying too much, ask one of the NCV staff.
- Some may be uncomfortable with bargaining, but it is important to do so, if only to avoid sending the message that it is okay to take advantage of foreigners.
- Buying in quantity gives you the edge on bargaining, so if there is something that many people on the team want, it is better to buy it as a group.
- Walking away may increase your bargaining power.
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