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Sociology program localizes concept of study abroad


In addition to other explorations of Houston, students in the program visit local farming collective Plant It Forward. | Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When thinking of study abroad, images of foreign coasts and bustling metropolis’ are often pictured.

A new study “abroad” program in the sociology department at UH, however, is quite different. Instead of traveling to a different country, students venture out of the classroom and into the amalgamation of cultures that is the city of Houston.

Jessica Brown, an assistant professor of sociology, said that she and her colleague, Stella Grigorian, started the program because they “felt that the city itself was an educational resource (they) should be tapping.”

The professors especially had in mind non-traditional students for whom actually studying abroad might not be a feasible option.

Xavia Karner, chair of the sociology department, said that she was so supportive of the program because she completed college as a single parent of two children and wasn’t able to study abroad as a result.

The course itself was an intensive combination of two courses: a sociology of food course and a sociology of immigration in Houston.

While students spent their mornings in the classroom, the afternoons were much more creative.

“For lunch, we met at a local restaurant that specializes in whatever ethnicity we were studying that day. Afterward, we visited an ethnic store or market,” said Amado Yznaga, who’s earning a master’s degree in military history. Yznaga was able to finish his sociology minor requirements early thanks to the program.

In addition to these daily adventures, students also visited a local urban farming cooperative called Plant It Forward, which “helps refugees start urban farms and sell their produce locally,” Brown said.

This experience allowed students to interact with refugees who could share their encounters with immigration. The course was also significant in the amount of teacher-student interaction.

“We got to explore the city as a group and we really got the opportunity to get to know each other,” Brown said. “That’s something that’s often missing in a traditional college class, the opportunity for students to get to know their professors and us to know them.”

Students even visited her home and cooked together for the final project.

Through this wide range of topics and ideas covered, the professors hoped that students would be able to connect to their community in a way they haven’t before and gain “the ability to apply the concepts, ideas and histories (they) covered in the classroom to the wider social world outside of it.” Brown said. “I think we did that.”

As for whether this exciting new course will also be available next summer, Brown is hopeful.

“Who wouldn’t enjoy a class where you learn, laugh and eat?” Yznaga said.

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