For Nicola Coakley ’15 (Devon, Pa.) and Kidane Kinney ’15 (Staten Island, N.Y.), their semester abroad did not involve just one country, but four.
“Sao Paulo was a very busy city, which reminded me a lot of New York City,” says Kinney, who is majoring in international affairs. “I loved the food and samba music there. In Cape Town, I loved the physical beauty of the city. You could see the huge mountains wherever you were. In Vietnam, I loved the countless lakes you could see throughout the city.”
The semester abroad was through the International Honors Program’s “21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics.” They spent two weeks in New Orleans, five weeks in Sao Paulo, Brazil, four weeks in Cape Town, South Africa, and five weeks in Hanoi, Vietnam. Coakley and Kinney were among a group of 32 students and three professors.
“I was really attracted to the comparative approach of the program and was hoping to get as many perspectives as possible out of my study abroad experience,” says Coakley, an economics major and field hockey player. “The cities chosen for this semester offered rich histories combined with contemporary development and change.”
Coakley and Kinney took classes with an urban studies theme that covered different perspectives: Politics and Development, Urban Planning and Sustainable Environments, Culture and Society, and Contemporary Urban Issues. For each class, they had lectures, visited local organizations, and completed group projects, including a “neighborhood day” where the students observed different areas throughout each city. Each student worked on an individual research project throughout the trip—comparing their topic across the three cities and presenting what they found.
The students lived with host families in each city.
“The homestay aspect of the program offered a very interesting perspective, which added to our understanding of each city and its people. It allowed us to compare what we heard at home with what we were learning in the classroom,” says Coakley. “In Cape Town, for example, we spent half of our time with a Cape Malay Muslim family classified as ‘colored’ under apartheid. The other half of our time we spent with a Xhosa family in a township outside of the city classified as ‘Black African’ under apartheid. Our families had lived through apartheid and were by far our best source of understanding the realities of what happened in South Africa.”
After she graduates, Coakley hopes to pursue a focus on social entrepreneurship or promoting innovative solutions for cities.
“This trip allowed me to see the realities of economic/governmental policies on the ground and how often misguided they can be,” she says. “Cities are seen as growth machines, in economic terms, but this growth creates inequality and much of our experience was learning from those left behind by development. We learned the importance of bottom-up planning and citizen participation in the planning process, which was something I’d never really been exposed to.”