Hartford, Connecticut, March 30, 2016 – Trinity College students Elizabeth Valenzuela ’17 and Alex Perez ’17 are studying in four cities this semester as part of the School for International Training’s International Honors Program (IHP). As participants in a program titled “Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics,” these Trinity juniors are spending their spring semester in New York City; Ahmedabad, India; São Paulo, Brazil; and Cape Town, South Africa. The goal of this IHP program is for students to explore how geography, politics, economics, and culture shape social relations and impact individuals.
Xiangming Chen, dean and director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies (CUGS), which has provided partial support to the two student bloggers, and Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Global Urban Studies and Sociology, said, “It is a great program, which takes students from a U.S. city to three global cities for comparative experiential learning.” The students are blogging about their experiences on CUGS’ Student Research webpage here.
Valenzuela is a New York City native with majors in international studies and political science, as well as an urban studies minor, while Perez is from Chicago and is majoring in urban studies and sociology. They took time during their travels to share some thoughts and observations from their studies thus far:
What are the similarities or patterns that you are noticing between the different cities you are visiting?
Valenzuela: A common theme across communities in New York City, Ahmedabad, and São Paulo has been that exclusion of certain communities by the government. In each city, I have participated in “neighborhood days” – or days of in-depth study of a neighborhood – wherein I have learned about challenges faced by particular communities as a result of government action (or inaction). I was most struck by my visit to Juhapura in Ahmedabad. This predominantly Muslim neighborhood is marginalized by the municipal government, which does not provide its residents with water or sewage drainage. For me, this visit directly connected with my work as a leader of the Charleston House of Interfaith Cooperation at Trinity because it highlighted the necessity of building bridges between communities of different faith backgrounds.
Perez: A similarity I have encountered in both cities is the marginalization of the poor community inside the city. That population is slowly being pushed out of the city and new development is occupying that space where families have been residing. Labeling the development as a beautification for the city covers up the justification for such displacement. The conditions in which these families have to live every day are not being addressed and handled properly, and instead these families are being pushed further away from the city and their voices go unheard.
What is your fondest memory from any of the cities?
Valenzuela: My fondest memory in Ahmedabad was attending an Indian wedding function known as the “music festival” and learning about the arranged marriage process from my host parents.
Perez: In Ahmedabad and in Sao Paulo I have enjoyed the experience of two totally different cultures. The best part of both these cities is the people. They are extremely humble and willing to help out. I got to meet and talk with people from all ends of the city.
What part of this program has been a pleasant surprise to you?
Valenzuela: I have been surprised by the connections I have been able to make with my host families in the short amount of time I have been able to share with them. I quickly became attached to my Indian host family and have had a similar experience with my Brazilian host family. Moreover, I was placed with a host family that only speaks Portuguese, so I have been able to practice the language every day, which has been an exciting component of my learning process.
Perez: Being able to learn about communities in class and then going to see the conditions of how the residents live on a daily basis has been very surprising to me. Every community has its own challenges, but one thing in common is they want more resources and opportunities. They live in unjust conditions, but they work along with their neighbors to make their lives a bit easier.
How does this experience contribute to your college experience?
Valenzuela: Participating in an experiential learning program across three (soon to be four) cities has placed me in contact with human experiences I have read and talked about in and outside of the classroom, but have never witnessed. I feel that I am becoming a more informed global citizen.
Perez: I want to become an urban planner and this experience has been an incredible opportunity. I find this program to be an extension of my college experience. I have been involved with the city of Hartford and working with the issue of transportation infrastructure. During the program I get to focus on my research topic, which is mobility. I am tying what I have learned in my college experience so far and combining that with what I am learning and observing on the field throughout these different cities. Not all cities function the same, so looking into how mobility is similar and different has been very intriguing for me. By the end of the program I want to take my new insight and apply it back to Hartford.
Click here for more information about the School for International Training’s International Honors Program.
For more information about all of the Study Away options at Trinity College, please click here.
Written by Bhumika Choudhary ’18