It’s been almost two weeks here in Argentina, and so much has happened that New York feels like ages ago. Don’t worry, the two weeks were very memorable, and we are excited to share our experiences – the icebreakers (the ice is basically broken now), the site visits, the guest lectures, and our group experience of bonding and forming our learning community. New York City provided a great place for the group to become comfortable with the new learning and social environment in the relatively familiar setting of a U.S. city.
To begin the journey, we all gathered at the Q4 hostel and embarked together to New York Designs – one of our two classroom spaces in NYC – where we began the orientation process and getting to know our learning cohort. Orientation covered various topics such as IHP’s learning principles, general expectations, discussion of creating a learning community, and potential apprehensions about the four month journey. Other than learning about IHP, we also started learning about each other and why we all chose IHP. We found a large variety of majors and interests, ranging from economics to international studies to urban studies. Several students mentioned their particular interest in IHP’s comparative approach to learning, which we are already experiencing now with life in Buenos Aires! We also started working on our research projects, which needed a foundation of ethics and responsibility before we hit the ground running while abroad.
One of IHP’s learning principles, “the city is the classroom,” quickly became evident. On the first Monday, we began taking field notes while observing different areas of the city. The group’s different backgrounds and perspectives became evident as we all noticed different things in our areas of observation. This exercise encouraged our group to begin thinking critically about our positionality, or how our background and experiences shape our view of the world. We now speak of positionality quite often, and one of our first Contemporary Urban Issues courses focused on our positionality and research ethics – two crucial pieces of understanding as we began thinking of our semester long comparative analysis project.
Later in the week, we deepened our understanding of our positionality in terms of privilege and identity during our anti-oppression workshop. The workshop was thought-provoking and ignited many conversations, including how members of our group felt like aspects of our identity could be explained in a more personal and multi-dimensional context. Our desire to learn more about each other felt like a good sign of trust building in the group, and we have since dedicated group time and individual conversations to unpacking aspects of identity. Fortunately, our fellow facilitated – and continues to facilitate – community building time for the group to establish group norms, talk about frustrations, and feel more connected as a community. Due to many of our different identities – be it sexuality, gender, race, or social class – each of us have encountered the city in different ways. This enriches the classroom experience and provides a more nuanced take on many issues which may at first seem black and white. While this inherently suggests a level of discomfort, it’s a discomfort that we sit in and solidifies the integrity of our group. On one of our last days, we spent the morning at a nearby waterfront park, enjoying the sun, learning about one another, and competing in some pretty logic-driven games.
Onto site visits! Our group was able to receive a holistic sense of New York City’s neighborhoods with the aptly named “Neighborhood Days.” We split into five different groups, each taking on a community that was experiencing gentrification or inequality in some form. Some of us felt quite shocked at the proximity of these neighborhoods, and after meeting with different community or business development organizations, were able to better grasp the timeline and affections of these communities. This framework was set up by lectures in our urban planning and politics classes, in which we learned about the development history of New York City, as well as the complications that arise in the greatness of a financial hub. These neighborhood days will continue taking place in each of the countries we visit, and as each group presents and shares its findings, helps inform our time in each city.
Many of our conversations were guided by various guest speakers – we had historians, economists, urban planners, and social activists inform us about their research and work in this problematic city. The class engaged in the lectures through extensive questions, bringing our often conflicting perspectives from our individual countries and universities. Much of this rhetoric helped our group define terms such as “culture,” “housing,” and “labor.” This was then enforced through site visits to housing organizations and labor organizations, again splitting the class into more intimate groups. Many of us enjoyed the interaction with non-profits, but also were able to see gaps in which infrastructure or government fell short. We were surprised to see the modest work enabling real change in the communities, as well as how different forms of outreach and media could affect different populations in New York City. While some of us came into the program already familiar with a social justice-based lens, all of us learned new ways to connect with those around us through these site visits.
Outside of class, many of us delved into the arts scene in New York City, from the museums and galleries to the classic tourist hotspots of Times Square (now all of us have visited it at least once… or too many times, maybe.) We also ate a lot of great food, from legendary milkshakes to cookie shots. The sharing of food has been a great source of bonding for the group, which we’re sure you’re bound to hear more about in our next letter. For the foodies in the group, NYC is a mecca. We were able to experience micro-ethnic enclaves and confront our own backgrounds through the experiential learning of consumption. Many of us also enjoyed the beautiful weather in New York City, from outdoor movie viewings to farmers’ markets and sitting in Central or Prospect Park. The multiple boroughs of NYC all provided such polar experiences for all of us!
To add a future-oriented perspective, all of us were able to meet past-IHPers and discuss their amazing careers trajectories post-study abroad, stemming inspiration and offering insight on how this trip will change us.
Many of us, after enjoying the independence of our college careers and summer internships, struggled with the lack of independence due to the structure of the group. We also felt, as a group, that our days were not quite what we envisioned in the big city. We were able to collectively share these thoughts with faculty and our fellow – that the program was hectic, overwhelming, and much too often, indoors. Many of us were also surprised at the content of the classes and introduced to new material in these classes. These challenges, while present, didn’t hinder a great time. At the end of our time in New York, we drew a large mind map of what we’d learned in New York, ranging from our personal and social experiences to our classroom experiences (in IHP, they seem closely linked!) Seeing the board become colorful and chaotic through collaboration from all of us of the lessons we’d learned in New York felt incredible. We followed up this wonderful reflection with an introduction to Buenos Aires, which is where we are currently! We felt a healthy mix of apprehension and excitement, but also confidence with the knowledge and love we carry from back home and our time in New York. As we’re bolstered with this foundation, we’re sure to bring these experiences and dialogue to BA. Till then!