Political turmoil forces Webb to move trip from Peru to Bolivia


Narineh Madikians

Webb students embarking on the Spring Break trip to Bolivia pose in front of Fawcett Library. From left to right are Michael Szanyi, Humanities Department faculty, Jamie Zeng (‘23), Wendy Chang (‘23), Marina Saeger (‘23), Jackie Shugert (‘24), Wura Ogunnaike (‘23), Ken Lin (24), and Stephen Hebert, Humanities Department faculty. This photo captures most, but not the entire travel group, all excited for the trip.

On December 7th, the Peruvian government almost collapsed in the span of a single day, prompting dangerous protests and conflict that has only escalated since December. In the morning, Peru’s former President Pedro Castillo attempted to stage a coup and dissolve congress. By the end of the day, he was impeached, arrested, and replaced by Dina Boluarte, his Vice President.  

This incident was the catalyst for protests across Peru, particularly among rural populations, which make up a large portion of Castillo’s base. Protesters are calling for early elections, Castillo’s removal, the dissolution of Congress, and a new constitution. Protests have become increasingly violent, and clashes with police and the military have resulted in the deaths of at least 55 people.  

In addition to civilian casualties, the protests have caused damage to roads, railways, and airports. In December, the Peruvian government had to airlift hundreds of people out of Machu Picchu, a historical site set high in the Andes mountains.    

As the domestic Peruvian conflicts escalated, Webb’s original spring break trip led by Dr. Linsley and Stephen Hebert, Humanities Department faculty, needed to pivot.  

“We will change our destination to Bolivia, an incredible place to visit in its own right,” said Dr. Linsley in an email informing the travelers about the change in plans. “In Bolivia we’d still be able to pursue our original lens of inquiry, exploring Andean religion, art, and culture during Semana Santa [Saint Week].”  

The other leading teacher Mr. Hebert further explained the reasoning.  

“As we looked at our desire to go to a predominantly Roman Catholic place and thought about Holy week in the South American catholic context, and as we thought about indigenous cultures and the interplay between colonial forces and indigenous forces.” Mr. Hebert said. “All the stuff we were looking at in Peru –– most of it was also in Bolivia.”  

While Peru’s political tensions may appear surprising to many, they have been steadily intensifying for a long time.  

“Peru has a long history of struggle with the Shining Path [Communist Party of Peru], and like lots of Latin American countries, with authoritarian leaders and CIA intervention,” said Dr. Susanna Linsley, Director of Experiential Learning. “The path to stable government, in Latin America since colonialism, has been fraught. In governments where popular voices aren’t heard through safe and regular elections and legislation, popular protest is an amazingly effective form of political action.” 

Then it was down to logistics. How can Webb students still embark on a fun, educational trip that provides a similar experience to the original plan without elevating the costs or adjusting the dates? The smooth pivot was a result of the two Latin American countries’ similar religious makeup as well as the travel partner’s existing programs. 

“When Peru was off the table, Bolivia, a high (altitude) Indian country with Quechua speaking indigenous people and strong Catholic roots, seemed like the perfect replacement to meet our program goals,” Dr. Linsley said. “Our travel partner, Envoys, already had a program to Bolivia, so it was an easy pivot for us, while still truly keeping with our original goal of the program.” 

With the details settled, Webb students share their own goals for the trip.  

“I wanted to explore the [Andean] culture and have a fun Webb-sponsored event that allowed me to spend a break with my friends that were also going,” Marina Saeger (‘23) said.  

“I’m very thankful for Webb’s opportunity to travel outside the county or just travel in general because I wouldn’t have had the opportunity without it,” Valeria Gonzalez (‘23) said.  

“When I heard that they were bringing back the Spring Break travel program, I was really excited because I would finally be able to do something I had been looking forward to for so long,” Jackie Shugert (‘24) said.  

However, students expressed conflicting sentiments regarding the switch. 

“At first I was kind of bummed out because I was excited to go to Peru,” Valeria said. “But I’m still happy that the whole trip didn’t get cancelled and were still able to go to Bolivia regardless.” 

“Honestly, I know that a lot of people don’t agree with me but there is a part of me – I know there is political turmoil in Peru but that in itself would be interesting to experience,” Aiperi Bush (‘24) said. 

“I think it’s a pretty rational decision to change travel locations especially because travelers have recently been stranded at Machu Pichu,” Dayun Suh (‘24) said.  

“As soon as we heard about the political coup, we knew we weren’t going to go,” Marina said. “Tension would not be resolved in time, it was an expected change, and I was happy when Webb came up with safe solution so quickly. It was smart on their part; they were prepared with a backup trip.”  

Despite differing opinions, the excitement levels building up to the trip remain high.  

“What’s great about the itinerary that we’re working with right now is that the skeleton of the Bolivian itinerary was developed by people in Bolivia, and it meets 90% of the goals that we had for the Peru trip,” Mr. Hebert said. 

“I hope that there will be opportunities to speak with the local people,” Jackie said. “It’s always interesting for me to hear different dialects of Spanish.” 

“They’re celebrating Easter holidays, and I thought it would be a great chance to learn more about the culture too,” Aiperi said.  

To students, the journey to Bolivia is more than just a simple travel abroad opportunity, but a chance for Webb students to explore various cultures outside of their comfort zone.  

“The purpose of our travel program isn’t to take kids on trips,” Dr. Linsley said. “This is an extension of our mission for unbounded thinking and experiential learning. So rather than thinking about our travel programs as trips to a destination we think of them as courses.” 

Ultimately, the quest for unbounded thinking and experiential learning continues regardless in Peru or in Bolivia. So long as Webb students immerse themselves in the Andean culture, religious traditions, and beautiful natural scenery, they are bound to have a blast!