Study abroad opens a door to the wider world — but it can also give you a clearer view of your own backyard.
Such was the experience of Amanda Lineberry, ’14, an American studies and political science double major, who spent this past fall in four cities — New Orleans, São Paulo, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; and Hanoi, Vietnam — through a SIT study abroad program structured around the theme “Cities in the 21st Century: People, Planning, and Politics.”
It was the perfect theme for Lineberry, who first became interested in urban planning and urban studies after attending a brown bag lunch. Jason Sawyer, a community organizer involved with the Greater Fulton’s Future initiative under the umbrella of the Fulton Neighborhood Resource Center, spoke. “He kept using the word ‘community,’ and I was really attracted to that,” says Lineberry. She started to do some research, and that lunchtime experience ultimately led to a 12-week internship with Greater Fulton’s Future funded by a Burhans Civic Fellowship.
“That fellowship changed my life,” says Lineberry. “I realized that what made this neighborhood different was that it was in a city where resources are really contested. ... Because of [that], there’s more of an idea that you need to lean on your neighbor a little more.”
It was with those experiences in mind that Lineberry, who grew up in the Richmond area and came to the University as both a Boatwright Scholar and an Oliver Hill scholar, began to look at study abroad programs.
“I wanted to find solutions to Richmond’s problems that weren’t in Richmond,” she says.
With that attitude, she joined 31 other students from American universities in the SIT program. Guided by a philosophy of experiential learning, the study abroad curriculum included not only four classes, but site visits, guest lectures, homestays, and, in Brazil, volunteer opportunities.
It was the site visits that particularly impacted Lineberry, especially one in which students traveled to a favela in São Paulo.
“So many more questions come up when you’re seeing [these things] instead of just reading about them,” says Lineberry. “You see the level of poverty sometimes in pictures or on the news, but it’s different when you actually see it.”
Or hear about it. After observing the informal community and the makeshift ways in which residents connected to basic resources such as electricity and sewage, the students gathered to listen to a talk by a community worker from the organization Vila Nova Esperança. There was no door on the building, no electricity, and the woman shared tales of the violence she had faced over her years of trying to help favela residents. But despite how little may have been at hand, “they gave us cake,” says Lineberry. “They gave us cake. I just wanted to cry the whole time. I just felt so blessed to even be in that woman’s presence. And I want to be that hospitable to everyone I work with in the future.”
Lineberry hopes that future includes another visit to Cape Town, a city she fell in love with and one that poses particular problems for urban planners.
“There’s this beautiful city with this tragic history. It’s one of the most unequal cities in the world,” she says. “Urban planning was a huge tool of apartheid, so it will take really good urban planning to fix the spatial problems of apartheid, and that really interests me.”
But in looking at these problems — many of which she describes as “mind-boggling” — Lineberry continues to draw on her experiences in Fulton and at the University to inform her approach to understanding, and hopefully one day helping solve, the issues that plague city populations.
“It’s about respecting the intuitive, creative ways that marginalized individuals meet their own needs,” she says. “[My study abroad] reaffirmed the feeling that I got from working in the Greater Fulton area, that even in a city, change needs to come from the bottom up.”