The orientation, I thought, went very well. (Students, your feedback here?) We touched on a variety of themes, apart from the practical details of what they can expect from the program, and how they can stay safe and healthy in Cochabamba. We spent a good amount of time focusing on what their goals are for the program. I asked them first to define their goals (in writing), and then to list some measures or indicators that might help them to realize whether or not they are in fact achieving their goals. It is fine to state your goals, but without concrete (qualitative or quantitative) measures to assess your progress, it is hard to know if you are actually achieving them or not. The students did very well with this, and though some expressed a sense of being overwhelmed by the possibilities, opportunities, and challenges, I think (I hope) that the exercise might add some clarity to an otherwise vague process.
We also devoted some time to the topic of Respect, which I consider to be a key theme to the entire program. Together we defined four groups or areas in which we need to show respect in the course of the program: respect for ourselves, respect for our host families, respect for the culture and the people, and respect for the program. Then I asked them to list ways in which expressions of respect would be visible in each of these four areas. Students did an excellent job of coming up with these expressions, which we listed on paper and which I will compile into a kind of contract or (less formally) a reminder of this very important issue.
The orientation went on for four hours, which surprised me, after which we had lunch and then went in to look around the Plaza Principal of Santa Cruz. Upon disembarking from the small flotilla of taxis that carried us into the center of town, we were descended upon by a group of eager money changers, including one enormously fat man with a gushing enthusiasm for Santa Cruz. ("Bolivia begins over there," he said, gesturing to the far distance, "this is Santa Cruz. Autonomía, si!") They were actually offering a very good rate compared to what you can get in Cochabamba, so a number of us changed money, before going off to tour the Cathedral. The students then broke into small groups to explore the streets and shops around the plaza, while G. and I returned to the hotel to write blogs and rest up, as old men are wont to do. Tomorrow we head for Cochabamba.