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Interdisciplinary Studies Centre

Latin American studies

Latin American market stall

Study abroad

Study abroad photos

Latin American desert

See photos taken by our students during their time spent studying in Latin America on our Latin American studies Facebook page.

All of our undergraduate courses in Latin American studies include a year of study abroad, which is available at universities across Latin America. After study abroad, you will be able to present future employers with evidence of a capacity for inter-cultural understanding, self-reliance and independence. Your year abroad will also significantly improve your Spanish and/or Portuguese.

Planning your study abroad

You will be helped and supported throughout your first and second years when you will plan your study abroad.

  • Essex Abroad hold information sessions for first-year students during the autumn term and ongoing drop-in sessions for advice on the suitability of individual universities.
  • Our Latin American studies course director can offer advice on your choice of modules.
  • Final-year students who have just returned provide first-hand accounts of the ups and downs of their experiences.
  • We offer various scholarships and funding opportunities to help you with the costs of studying abroad.

Volunteering abroad

Even if you decide not to do an internship, there are plenty of opportunities to do voluntary work during your year abroad. Doing voluntary work can be very rewarding – it’s a chance to make a contribution to local projects, meet people from a wide range of backgrounds, develop skills and have some fun. It’s also the sort of experience that employers look for. Our students have participated in all sorts of projects during their time in Latin America. They have worked in children’s homes and with young offenders in La Paz, Bolivia, as well as with street children in Bahia, Brazil. They have also taught after-school English classes and helped develop teaching resources in Cuba.

Study abroad student profiles

  • Jessica Dennehy, did voluntary work in Bolivia

    “The first time I walked into the children’s home in La Paz, Bolivia, the children all ran at me, grabbing my hand, climbing all over me and wanting to know my name, each one wanting my attention. I volunteered there three days a week during my time in Bolivia. The home was in pretty surroundings and split into separate, coloured houses. In the lilac house where I helped out, the children were always pleased to see me—especially if they thought I might have something for them to play with! Twelve children aged from two to ten lived in the house with two ladies taking it in turns to work 24 hour shifts. These women did not have time to play with the children as they spent all day washing and cleaning. The older children went to school during the day, but it was left to me to entertain the younger ones. They did not have many resources in the home, so each time I went there I tried to think of things they would enjoy doing. The thing that surprised me the most was their reaction to bubbles; I had never seen them smile so much! We spent half the day outside blowing bubbles and even then they wanted to carry on. Sometimes the children were hard work. Trying to stop them jumping out of windows, drawing all over the walls, or running away when I took them outside to play used up a lot of energy, but this was soon forgotten when they laughed at the story I was reading them, or needed my help to tie their shoes. As well as playing with the children I also did other things such as taking them to the doctors when they were ill and I attended the communal baptism of seventy of the children—an unforgettable experience!

    “As well as volunteering in the children’s home, I also helped out in a centre for young offenders. I felt quite nervous my first day there; the twenty or so boys were aged eleven to seventeen and were in the centre for offences ranging from theft to murder. They were not allowed to leave the centre and were watched by guards 24 hours a day. However, as soon as I started talking to them, I realised they were just like other young boys and enjoyed playing football and avoiding doing their homework. Every morning they had lessons and in the afternoons, unless I or another volunteer came in, they played football and did their homework. I went to the centre two days a week and I taught them some English, as well as art and craft activities. Even though these boys had a lot to deal with, they seemed happy most of the time and were enthusiastic to try new things. There were times when I felt I was unable to help, such as when a young boy who had just arrived cried the whole day because he missed his mum and wanted to go home; or when their lawyers told them they would have to stay there longer. But there were other times when they would laugh and joke, and try to teach me to dance to reggaetón music, or make up plays and act them out for each another. Both the young offenders and the children in the home, despite their living conditions, lack of family and personal troubles, had an infectious energy that made each day exciting and unpredictable as it never turned out quite how I had planned it.”

  • Martin Fisman, studied and did an internship in Bolivia

    “My year abroad was spent in Bolivia. Based in La Paz, I studied at the Universidad Mayor San Andrés (UMSA) in the first semester, the only public university in La Paz. As the only foreign student, it enabled me to really soak up the Bolivian experience. The UMSA reflects Bolivia in many ways; it has a history of corruption and instability, which are echoed in the persistent strikes and blockades that occur on university property. It has a very politically active student body, which on several occasions during my semester barricaded themselves inside the administration buildings, in order to make themselves heard. These demonstrations were never violent in any way and always resolved themselves after a few days. I would only recommend the UMSA to the independent, patient and able student, who will undoubtedly have a rewarding experience finding his or her way around UMSA-bureaucracy.

    “My second semester was spent doing an internship with the non-governmental organisation Khana Wayra, a small appropriate technology organisation. It undertakes a wide range of projects aiming to provide the poor rural population of Bolivia with water and energy. These projects took place all over Bolivia and, as a result, I was able to travel quite extensively in the countryside. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a motorbike during my stay, so I got to ride the Altiplano as a part of my internship. These trips could last for days and really let me see parts unavailable to the ordinary tourist. Bolivia provides one of the most beautiful natural settings of Latin America, and also one of the most intriguing political and social scenes, making it a dream for any student of Latin America. During my year abroad, I also spent my holidays well and managed to visit Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, Peru, Uruguay and Paraguay – with a relaxed attitude, a little can get you far in the Americas.”

  • Ruth Kibble, studied in Yucatán, Mexico

    “The first part of my year abroad was spent at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán (UADY) in Merida, Mexico. The city of Merida has almost a million people, and it is bustling and cosmopolitan without being overwhelming. There is always plenty to do, and the food and nightlife are highly recommended. UADY had good facilities and provided a wide variety of classes, and there were also a number of other foreign students studying there so I made friends from all around the world.

    “The Yucatán Peninsula is a part of Mexico that still has thousands of indigenous Mayan people living there, which lends an entirely unique angle to a trip, and of course there are also the classic tourist spots such as Cancún and Playa del Carmen. Yucatán also features various natural points of beauty and interest such as cenotes, natural sinkholes, beautiful beaches, jungle and amazing wildlife. I was glad to have chosen UADY as my year abroad university, as I saw so much of Mexico using Mérida as a hub, and I certainly have plans to return there in the future.”

  • Stefanie Kogler, studied in Colombia

    Stefanie Kogler“The second part of my year abroad was spent in Bogotá, Colombia. I studied at the Universidad de los Andes. Despite its bad press, Colombia is an amazing country, with beautiful landscapes and abundance in exotic fruit, but most of all the people are open, friendly, welcoming and, contrary to what one might think, very relaxed. Bogotá is a busy city in the Andean mountains at about 9,200 feet, so the air is thin but you get used to it quickly.

    “Making friends is easy, especially at university, where student groups organize plenty of good nights out and weekend trips around the whole country. I spent some time travelling to the north via Medellin and I stayed on the Caribbean coast. Anyone who visits Colombia will have to go and see Cartagena. Even though it is quite touristy, it still remains a beautiful colonial city full of history and culture. Further along the coast lies Tairona, a national park of magnificent beauty and almost empty beaches to which no roads lead. The only way to get there is on the back of a mule or by walking for about an hour. Closer to Bogotá is San Gil - for those who want to engage in extreme sports, this is the place to be.

    “These are just some things you can see and do in Colombia. It doesn’t do the country justice by any means. Colombia is not only vast in terms of its size, but also in terms of its varied culture. There is a lot to see and to explore. Having been to Colombia three times in the past five years, I still feel I know very little about a country that is, on the one hand so controversial, yet on the other hand, one of the most intriguing and breathtaking nations in all of Latin America.”

  • Richard McNaugton, studied in Mexico and did an internship in El Salvador

    “I spent my year abroad in two different Latin American countries: Mexico and El Salvador. This gave me the opportunity to see two radically different aspects of life in that continent. In Mexico, I was staying in Merida in the state of Yucatán, studying at the local university. It was a great experience living among the middle and upper class of Mexican society, and living the urban life in Mexico.

    “The second part of my year was completely different and definitely the most rewarding experience in my entire life. I worked with a non-governmental organisation in the countryside of El Salvador, helping farmers learn about sustainable development and farming. The culture shock was immense and everyone can learn a huge amount from this kind of once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. When I left the NGO, the most touching aspect was having my co-workers, all Salvadorian farmers and ex-guerrillas, thank me for the help and getting my hands dirty. It was amazing to feel that I belonged there after just five months working there. I would advise people to do this course as it provides an opportunity to experience things not many degrees can offer.”

  • Erica Santillo, studied in Yucatán, Mexico

    “I spent my year abroad in Merida, Mexico, which is the capital of the Yucatán state and has a population of about 735,000. The town centre is relatively small, but the best shops are spread out around the city in large air-conditioned shopping malls, which were great to go and spend time in as the humidity of the city could sometimes be quite unbearable. In the city centre, there are many things to see and do, such as Merida en Domingo, a street festival which takes place every Sunday in the main square with Jarana dancers (the region’s traditional dance), market stalls and great food. There is an amazing cathedral which is the oldest in the continental Americas and was built on top of a Mayan temple, and many museums and art galleries. There are a few bars and nightclubs in the city centre; however the majority of these are found on a large avenue just a short bus ride from town. I found that most people preferred to arrange house parties, or would rent out an outdoor space which often included a pool and bar area; many of the university parties I attended took place in these rented spaces.

    “From September until Christmas, I studied at the UADY. It is a big university with the faculties spread out around the city. Most of the international students study in the Faculty of Anthropology, which is where I also took my courses. Here you have the chance to take history courses, and Mayan language and poetry. I really enjoyed studying there as it was a really authentic experience and in one of my classes I was the only foreign student so really had the chance to integrate with Mexican students.

    “I made a lot of friends who were exchange students from other parts of Mexico. We would often meet up on weekends and go to the beach, the nearest being Progreso about a half hour bus ride away, or we would visit ruins and go to nightclubs. It was great to meet friends from all over the country and this really improved my Spanish. During Christmas, I stayed with one of these friends in Hidalgo, central Mexico. It was really lovely spending time with her and her family. We also went to visit another friend in Mexico City who we had met in Merida. We spent a few days there and visited many sites. It was an amazing experience as I had always wanted to go to Mexico City and probably wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for meeting my friends in Merida.

    “After Christmas, I started a work internship at a social anthropology research institute. The internship involved finding and summarising articles in both Spanish and English, and was a great opportunity to develop my research and written skills. At the time, my supervisor was researching the topics of women migrants and health, so it was very interesting and I learnt a lot about these themes. It was a very rewarding experience although very different to the first half of the year as many of my friends had left Merida and the workplace had a calm, quiet and relaxed atmosphere.

    “Merida is situated in one of the most beautiful regions of Mexico. It is humid and tropical, and there are many archaeological sites to visit. Travel around Mexico is very cheap, so I had the opportunity to visit many different places. All in all, it was a fantastic experience that has left me with lots of wonderful memories.”

  • Fernando Valentine, studied in Cuba

    “During my year abroad in Latin America, I opted to go to Cuba as I wanted to see first-hand what it was like to live in the country governed by Fidel Castro, who does not need any introduction. I was based in the capital, Havana, from the end of August until mid-January. I went to the University of Havana and studied history and sociology, and it was really good to experience what Cuban education was really like. Cuban music and dancing is simply amazing and something that must be sampled. I re-learnt how to dance Cuban salsa and it helps in breaking down barriers with Cubans if you take an interest in what they take for granted in their everyday lives. My host family gave me a real breakdown of what Cuban society is like, and it helps to be in a house where people will try and look out for your health and welfare.

    “There is so much to do in Havana that it is hard to have any spare time. There are loads of political rallies in the Plaza de la Revolución (always attended by thousands of people), free concerts, exploring the many historical sites in Havana (such as the forts, the capitolio, Havana Vieja), socialising with fellow students, and joining in the many street fiestas that seem to appear from nowhere (and which range from celebrating religious icons to political events during the revolution). The Malecón is the centre of any student’s life as it is the meeting point for the start of any nightlife excursions and it does not disappoint—people from all walks of life congregate there and are keen to sharing their life stories with you.

    “But Havana is not the only place that is worth visiting in Cuba. There are loads of other cities in the country that, although smaller, are still as beautiful: Camaguay, Santiago de Cuba or Cienfuegos are just some of those worth mentioning. Or, if you fancy a trip into the countryside, Viñales provides the perfect escape from the capital with its waterfalls, horse riding and general chilling out activities. Cuba is certainly a place with much to entertain visitors but its true joys are only revealed to those who are willing to participate and take in Cuban culture.”


students discussing

Frontrunners is our original placement scheme that offers students paid work opportunities on campus. You'll get on-placement training and great experience to add to your CV.

Essex Interns

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Internships are an excellent way to earn money and develop a stand-out CV. Register with us for information on paid internship opportunities with local, national and even international employers.


Bolivian artwork

The Essex Collection of Art from Latin America (ESCALA) is a museum at our University which houses more than 750 pieces of art from 1900 to the present day. It provides a unique resource for our students of Latin American art.

Student Profiles

Student Profiles

Want to know more about Latin American Studies? Our student profiles allow you to hear students and alumni talk about their experiences of our interdisciplinary courses and the world of possibility they open up.