Detroit and the International Honors Program: Weaving Cultural Borders

Pitera, Allegra

In August 2009 the International Honors Program (website: began their "Cities in the 21st Century" semester abroad in Detroit, MI. The objective of the Study Abroad experience for the IHP students is to observe how and why cities are developed, and for the students to gain a "better understanding of the interconnected social, physical, economic, environmental and political systems that affect urban environments." For the fall, 2009, in addition to its only location visit in the United States: Detroit, MI, the IHP students also traveled to: Delhi, India; Cape Town, South Africa; and La Plata + Buenos Aires, Argentina. While the students were in Detroit videotaped select students and faculty for their initial impressions and expectations of both Detroit as well as their impending 'Cities' tour. In addition, I documented a variety of their experiences including informative workshops by Grace Boggs as well as tours of Detroit neighborhoods such as Southwest Detroit and visits to local non-profit organizations such as the Warren Conner Development Coalition that are focused on improving Detroit's urban and social condition.


In December 2009 I received a UDMPU grant to provide funding for travel to Argentina to rejoin the IHP group at the end of their journey, to continue the making the video "Detroit and the International Honors Program: Weaving Cultural Borders".  The intention is to document the IHP students' final impressions of their visit to Detroit as well as the cities they visited - particularly to focus on their actual impressions in comparison to their initial expectations.



At the end of their semester abroad, the IHP students overall had tremendous fondness for their visit to Detroit. Many students really LOVED Detroit & plan on returning upon graduation, buying a house and participating in Detroit’s renaissance.  In the eyes of the students, Detroit, its residents and businesses conveyed hope, passion, and strife for social justice.

The students were awed by the scale of Detroit and by the impact of disinvestment, by the tumultuous history but also future potential and energy in such a great city. 

All of which rang a harmonic chord of motivation and activism in many of the IHP students. Hearing their new found passion for our city truly imbedded in my heart the power of hands-on experience in transforming perception.