Street-Level Politics

“I honestly think that in our four-month observation and analysis of Zaragoza and its people, I know Zaragoza on a deeper level than I know my home city, Seattle.”

This is just one of the takeaways that high school junior Josie B. ES’19 of Lakeside High School mentions when describing her sociology course at SYA Spain. And she didn’t gain this knowledge of her host city by studying a textbook — she earned it through her work interviewing locals and gathering data while exploring the diverse neighborhoods of Zaragoza.

“I was initially intrigued by this course because I am fascinated by human interaction, social hierarchy and the ways in which we communicate,” Josie explained. “When I heard that this class was not just a sociology course but also an applied sociology course, I was hooked.”

A new offering designed and taught by Antonio López Piña, Applied Sociology: Spain and Street-Level Politics puts students at the center of their learning through experiential, place-based education.

In the first portion of the class, students study data and statistics on Zaragoza’s various neighborhoods, observing differences in areas such as education, immigration, religion, or housing cost. Next, students investigate a single issue in depth — but instead of using statistics as the primary data source, students are asked to go directly to the residents of Zaragoza.

“It is extremely difficult to walk up to a stranger and ask them to answer your questions; as if that’s not enough, it is so much worse to get someone’s attention and then confuse them with slow, barely perceptible Spanish,” Josie describes. “With that said, I have developed an incredible confidence and assertiveness. It’s all in the details, and it really is scientific. We go through trial and error, see what works, go back to the drawing board and then try again.”

Beyond learning and applying fundamental sociology concepts, López Piña’s course gives students the opportunity to have authentic interactions with locals, pushing their linguistic skills and providing invaluable opportunities to learn more about the people and culture of their newly adopted city.

“The idea is to have the students become experts in the neighborhoods of Zaragoza,” explains López Piña. “Not only should they be able to locate the various neighborhoods and be able to describe differences in what resources are available in each, but they should also be able to describe how residents set expectations, express frustration or adapt in response to the resources and possibilities available to them.”

López Piña's class is just one way that SYA is working to connect students in an even deeper and more meaningful way to each of our host cities and countries. Through classes that intentionally reach beyond the walls of our campuses, students are finding themselves more immersed and connected to the local culture, language and people, and more challenged as they step outside of what is comfortable and embrace the opportunities made possible by an immersive study abroad experience. 


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