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Leaving a Bright Spot: Practicing Therapeutic Arts with Underserved International Populations

Interns making art with children in Ghana

Interns lead a painting session in Ghana.

Stemming from her own experiences delivering art therapy workshops around the world, Ikuko Acosta, director of NYU Steinhardt’s Graduate Art Therapy program, and clinical associate professor, wanted to offer her students the invaluable experience of practicing art therapy internationally.

More than a decade ago, Acosta established a global internship program at Steinhardt to provide “the opportunity for students to develop racial and cultural self-awareness, work with diverse communities, hone critical thinking skills, and explore the role of art therapy in another culture.” Says alumna Krystal Atwood of her decision to enroll in the internship in Buenos Aires, “I wanted to learn everything I could to provide the most nuanced and culturally fluent art therapy services possible to a range of client populations.”

Coordinated in collaboration with several of NYU’s global sites, Acosta’s interns have practiced therapeutic arts in a wide array of foreign settings, including Florence, which welcomes its third cohort in July 2019. Some of this year’s group will serve a geriatric population that has worked with two different intern cohorts. Acosta recalled that this population was especially receptive to engagement in creative activities, noting “their facial expressions became cheerful, moods were boosted, and their social interactions improved.” In Accra, Ghana, students have worked at a rehabilitation center for young men with mental, cognitive and physical disabilities. A grouping, Acosta said, that contrasts with “facilities in the US where patients are usually separated based on the nature of their disabilities.” The men are also provided with “job training and various types of skills to survive in society” explained Acosta. During the three weeks that the men worked with interns, she emphasized that “they are not treated in a clinical sense, yet a very positive change can be seen in their self-esteem due to their increased ability to express themselves freely without being judged. Their general attitudes became more positive.”

Returning to NYU’s global sites offers faculty the opportunity to observe the long-term impacts of programs. In Ghana, when the van entered the driveway to the rehabilitation center one year later, Acosta and her students were greeted by shouts of “art therapy!” “And,” she added, “the young men went right back into making art as if they had done so yesterday.” When returning to the geriatric facility in Florence two years later, the demeanor of the residents immediately became “uplifted,” and they “even remembered the names of some interns from prior years,” providing “evidence,” that the “experiences were etched in their memories.” Acosta says that “while what we do may be little, at a basic human level, the experience leaves a bright and memorable spot in their minds.”

“There is an amazing resilience that each location reveals. The internship leads to a questioning of one’s values in a way that can’t be gained inside a classroom.”

Professor Ikuko Acosta

Indeed, Acosta notes that “the program is not geared toward addressing mental illness directly” and that “it would be unrealistic to treat a patient in three weeks.” Furthermore, she explained that “applying a western concept of art therapy to non-western societies can create tension with local attitudes around mental illness. And therapeutic techniques that are not adapted to the culture situate the therapist as a colonialist.” But while mental illness is viewed in various ways around the world, she emphasized that “the symptoms and behavioral manifestations of mental and psychological disturbances are very similar.  What differs are cultural attitudes and treatment.” Yet she has observed that art therapy brings together commonalities in international settings. “Art is universal and so too is human suffering.”

Regardless of location, Acosta says, art therapy students work to build a “human connection.” In every country in which the course has been held, Acosta has seen “students establish relationships despite not speaking the local language. They learn to become highly receptive and attuned to the subtleties of body language and other non-verbal cues.” She added that her students “thoroughly enjoy getting to know each client’s personality beyond his/her disability through creative communication.” Inevitably, explained Acosta, “basic human bonds are formed during experiences that are not bound by a singular form of expression. Connecting in this way is a universal phenomenon.”

Other skills that students quickly acquire, said Acosta, are “flexibility and adaptability, because their clinical training does not translate directly in foreign locations.” She went on to say that “outside of the US, concepts of boundaries between patient and client are much different, particularly those that are physical – it is common and natural for patients to openly and physically express affection to their therapists in many cultural contexts. Another example is corporal punishment, which seems to be an acceptable form of discipline in some countries.” Therapists in the US, Acosta explained, are trained to report signs of “abuse,” so it can be “difficult to set aside feelings of confusion about roles and responsibilities during the internship.”

Reflecting on her experiences in Buenos Aires, Atwood explained that she “felt humbled by the grace and dignity with which Dr. Acosta acknowledged our interpersonal struggles while maintaining hope for all of the involved parties and, ultimately, guiding the student interns toward providing life-changing art therapy services to the clients.” The level of care delivered by the interns is possible, says Acosta, because they “very quickly, learn to take a humanistic perspective and adapt to local mores.” “Interns observe, learn, and respect the host country and are not there to negate or impose their cultural norms,” she explained, and added that “after we leave, they resume their own lives, yet are instilled with memories of the brief but undeniable human connections that we all shared.”

A boy paints a cardboard puppet in Florence.

Creating stick puppets in Florence.

“Students also learn to adapt their planning process for clinical sessions,” said Acosta, as “they develop activities appropriate to the population […] and seek out locally available art materials.” During an early iteration of the program in India, coordinated by Cross-Cultural Solutions, a New York-based non-profit that provides volunteer service to communities around the world, Acosta said her students “found beautiful textiles with which they made dolls with women at a shelter for victims of domestic violence. They also collected many found objects from the streets, which they incorporated into a piece of artwork.” In Florence, a capital of the art world, “students find low cost materials at art stores and unusual items from junk shops.” Acosta elaborated that “these experiences too contribute to students’ creative growth and help them to become more flexible and less confined in their practice of art therapy.”

“Through exposure to how others survive amidst adversity,” Acosta noted, “with very limited resources and significant hardship, students gain a sense of humbleness.” For Atwood, her work with refugees and asylum seekers in Buenos Aires provided a glimpse into individuals’ experiences – many had fled war and violence, and struggled to live with uncertainty in the confines of refugee centers. During the internship, explained Krystal, she saw increases in “self-efficacy and a reduction of isolation as they connected with other refugees and asylum seekers in art therapy groups.”

“There is an amazing resilience that each location reveals,” said Acosta. “The internship leads to a questioning of one’s values in a way that can’t be gained inside a classroom. And that is essential as a therapist because personal value systems can’t be brought into clinical sessions.”

Studying Great World Texts with High School Students in Buenos Aires

Today we are in conversation with Jazmin Jinnah, who shares her experiences with Gallatin’s Great World Texts course in Buenos Aires. For six years, NYU Buenos Aires has been sending NYU students to local high schools via
Great World Texts, which focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the literary canon. The NYU students serve as tutors in the Argentine classrooms and each work closely with a group of students to creatively engage with texts from multicultural authors. The local high schools have found have inspiring NYU student mentors to be a meaningful experience for young Argentines.
1. What year, school, and major are you? What inspired you to study in Buenos Aires and when did you go?
I’m an Education Studies major in Steinhardt graduating in May. I wanted to go to BA in the fall because I took a class the previous semester on Human Rights and Eduction in Argentina under professor Carol Anne Spreen and Anna Hillary. I had the opportunity to go to BA for the class during Spring Break. I was inspired to come back after talking to the students at Leguitas and EN10. I had so much left to learn about student agency. 
2. When did you first hear about Gallatin’s Great World Texts course and what drew you to it?
I heard about Great World Texts my freshman year from the New York Campus. As an education major, I’m naturally drawn to being in the classroom, so I was very excited that they offered the course spring semester in BA. It’s one of the major reasons I decided to go to BA. This way I would still be critically analyzing education. 
3. I understand that the course focuses on diversity, equity, and inclusion in the literary canon and involves working with local high schools. NYU students serve as tutors in the Argentine classrooms and each work closely with a group of students to creatively engage with texts from multicultural authors. How was this experience? What was most surprising? Rewarding?
It of course was an eye opening experience. What really surprised me was the differences in the class from the NY campus. The NYU students in NY are placed in schools that are almost all POC, have higher pregnancy rates, speak multiple languages, and are economically disadvantaged. The schools in BA that we were placed in are elite, but still came with its own challenges. Grappling with the differences is very interesting. Even though I was in an elite school (Lenguitas), there were of course barriers to language and there was no technology. For the first time, I had to teach without using a computer or powerpoint. It forced me to be more innovative with my teaching. 
The most rewarding aspect was getting to know my students. They were fierce and passionate about human rights and their rights for education. 
4. Can you give me an example of one of the texts you worked with? What was it like to work with the students? Did engaging with them change your own perspectives on the texts?
We worked with waiting for Godot. They hated the text, but loved engaging the various activities I planned for them. They thought it was very abstract, and did not see the purpose. Engaging with them made me reflect on what I valued as a teenager. My students are so creative and they taught me how to make the text less abstract and more concrete. For example, one of the final projects used a blog to highlight mental health issues (which was present in Waiting for Godot). 
5. How do you think this course contributed to your experience studying abroad overall?
This course was a main reason I wanted to study in Argentina. I learned so much about the power students have and continuously try to bring that into my teaching practice in NY. 
6. Would you recommend this course to other Buenos Aires students or those thinking of studying in Buenos Aires? If so, why?
ABSOLUTELY take Great World Texts! You get to actually interact with local Argentines. They are so loving and are incredibly curious. You won’t regret it. You learn along side of them. They taught me more than I taught them. 
7. Is there anything else you’d like to share about your time in Buenos Aires or experience with the Great World Texts course?
Being part of this course is a fabulous experience, and one that has informed my teaching practice in NY. Anna and Betina are so supportive with the experience and are truly passionate about NYU students learning. 

NYU Buenos Aires Students Discuss Visionary Art Exhibition

In this video clip, three NYU Buenos Aires students speak about the recently opened art exhibition in Buenos Aires called La Forma de la Boca [Read My Lips is the English title]. The exhibition is about how the marginalized, immigration-informed La Boca neighborhood is seen or re-envisioned by five artists and one writer.

The curator is NYU Buenos Aires lecturer Florencia Malbran, an art historian and independent curator. She has chosen to fold in some narrative writing in her shows lately.

In the video you see three NYU Buenos Aires students speak about the show. This is a video produced by the Arts Department at the City of Buenos Aires, and it was fortunate that NYU students were selected as featured speakers. Two in Spanish and one explaining the show in English.

NYU Buenos Aires Director Anna Kazumi Stahl is the writer included in this show. Her work is based in fragments as a mode of telling unheard/invisible stories.

The visual artists include well-known figures like Pablo Siquier, Alejandra Seeber, and Gian Paolo Minelli as well as up-and-coming young artists Tomas Maglione and Irina Kirchuk.

NYU Buenos Aires Students on Allyship and Trans Activist Alba Rueda

Ally Week is important across the NYU community. Here, three students from NYU Buenos Aires, Matthew Gibson, Ellen Heaghney, and Maritza Rico, share how they observed this tradition. Matthew is a junior in Gallatin studying Globalization who chose to study at NYU Buenos Aires to improve his Spanish skills and take advantage of the internship program. Ellen is a junior in Global Liberal Studies with a focus in Politics, Rights and Development and a double major in Spanish. She chose to come to Buenos Aires for the full academic year to improve her Spanish and also because after taking a course on International Human Rights she became very interested in the political history of Argentina. Martiza is a junior majoring in Latin American Studies who came to NYU Buenos Aires to learn more about the history and literature of Argentina in preparation for writing her senior thesis.

Ally Week in Buenos Aires – Conversation with Alba Rueda

Ally Week in Buenos Aires, an annual tradition across New York University’s global network, culminated last week after three days of discussion of culturally specific approaches to allyship in Argentina. On April 11th, NYU Buenos Aires welcomed Argentine professor and Trans activist, Alba Rueda, to have a conversation with students about the history of Trans movements in the country and her current work on the issue. Rueda currently serves as the president of Trans Women Argentina in addition to her work with the National Institute against Discrimination, Xenophobia and Racism.

Rueda set the stage for her discussion by explaining that although Argentina became the first Latin American country to legalize marriage equality, there still remains plenty of work in the fight for equality, for example the recognition of transgender identities in schools. She also illustrated a timeline of the relationship, fraught with tension, between the police and Argentine society, and in particular the LGBTQ community. She explained the persecution that arose during the last military dictatorship in the 70s and 80s and the ways in which traces of this discrimination are still very much present today. Rueda brought with her the personal testimony of a friend, who explained her struggle as a Trans individual in Argentine society. This individual was so often targeted by the police that she grew accustomed to being arrested, and even remembers being arrested three times in a single day. Her life was so often disrupted that she lost her job, and she always left the house with a change of clothes, just in case.

Beginning in the 1980’s, social organizations emerged to tackle the issue of persecution of queer communities like what this woman faced. Over time these organizations gained influence and won important victories, but they faced obstacles as well. Argentina as a nation is heavily influenced by its Catholic history–not to mention that the current pope is from Buenos Aires. Catholic organizations were large opponents in the fight for equality and recognition, and Rueda still remembers the moment Pope Francis proclaimed that God was against them.

Nonetheless, organizations like Rueda’s persevered, and with time were key players in important social change. In 2010, marriage equality was legalized, and in the following years rights for the queer community, especially Trans people, were increasingly protected. Soon, Argentine’s of any age were granted the right to change their name and gender officially on documents without any justification other than their own word. And throughout it all, those same organizations that fought for equality, were turned to in order to develop the content of new legislation. Today, Rueda emphasizes the importance for the Trans community of having role models–trans men and women who are respected and accepted in Argentine society.

Of course, there are still many challenges and more progress to be made. But we are at a point that Rueda never thought she would see in her entire life. From her point of view, more people than ever before are comfortable going out into the streets and living their lives. Thanks to the hard work of community leaders like Rueda, positive change was achieved in Argentina. A particularly impactful part of the talk with Rueda was the important reminder that LGBTQ communities are specific to local cultural nuances. She reminded us that each community, although in theory universal, still holds specific spaces that need to be understood and studied with local lenses and historical contexts in mind.   Today, they continue their work, part of which includes education and awareness, such as speaking to students like those of us at NYU Buenos Aires – teaching us all how to understand and contextualize Trans movements around the world, and be better allies moving forward.

NYU Buenos Aires to Host Nobel Laureate J. M. Coetzee

On Monday, May 8, NYU Buenos Aires will host the Nobel Prize winning novelist J. M. Coetzee. He will read from his new novel, The Schooldays of Jesus, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. The Schooldays of Jesus is Coetzee´s sequel to The Childhood of Jesus, that situates refugees in an imagined landscape where Spanish is spoken. Mr. Coetzee will also join students and community members for a reception and be available to sign copies of his books.

NYU Abu Dhabi Alum Speaks to NYU Buenos Aires Class on Security Analysis

Invited by NYU Buenos Aires professor Nicolas Comini, former NYU Abu Dhabi student Nicole Lopez del Carril participated in a class at NYU Buenos Aires entitled “Inter-American Relations: Latin America & the US.”

Nicole, who is Argentine- American, studied Social Research and Public Policy in NYU Abu Dhabi and currently works at Novetta Solutions, a security analysis company, as a Strategic Media Analyst. Since the class was discussing topics related to her professional experience, she agreed to join them. The session explored the different processes of regionalization and internationalization in Latin America. Further, because one of the main dimensions of these processes revolves around the security variables in the region’s link with the United States, her experience in security analysis contributed greatly to the students’ understanding of this complex subject.

Nicole shared her perspectives on the topic, and explained how her work analyzing news of conflict issues and reporting the information to different clients influences decision-making both in the private sector and in government. After listening to Nicole, students shared their thoughts on the matter, asked questions, and participated in a lively discussion.

NYU Buenos Aires Professor Mariano Lopez Seoane Discusses Teaching a Networked Course on Queer Cultures and More

Photo by Sebastian Freire

Today we are in conversation with NYU Alum and NYU Buenos Aires Professor Mariano Lopez Seoane, who has been teaching at Buenos Aires since the site was established in 2008 and who helped pioneer NYU’s first networked course, taught in both New York and Buenos Aires.

How did you come to teach at NYU Buenos Aires? I understand you pursued graduate studies and earned your PhD at NYU. Did your connection to the university influence your interest in teaching at NYU Buenos Aires?

Yes, totally. I got PhD at NYU in the Spanish and Portuguese Department. I had moved back to Buenos Aires for a while just to do research for my dissertation and while I was there doing research, a professor of mine from NYU contacted me and told me that NYU was opening a Study Abroad Center in Buenos Aires. He asked whether I had an interest in teaching. I had had such a wonderful experience at NYU that I was immediately intrigued. At that time, I was actually deciding between going back to the United States or staying in Argentina. Teaching at NYU Buenos Aires seemed to me the perfect opportunity: a combination of both things – staying in my home country but working in a foreign environment. So it was an excellent opportunity for me.

I had to go back to New York to defend my dissertation, but then I returned to Buenos Aires for good and immediately started working at NYU Buenos Aires. That first year, I was asked by a former professor to develop a course that would highlight some interesting aspects of the culture of Buenos Aires, which I did. It was a very successful course, popular among students. A year later, another NYU professor contacted me from the Spanish Department. She noted that the initial course was successful and asked me to develop another course. This course was to focus not only on Buenos Aires, but on Latin America in general. So I designed another course that was an introduction to Latin American culture. I have been teaching at NYU Buenos Aires continuously since 2008 when I developed the first course.

This spring will be your third time teaching the first NYU networked course, “Queer Cultures & Democracy” which started in the spring of 2015 and involves students in New York and Buenos Aires. Can you describe how this course came to be offered and how it is structured across the two locations?

Over the years, I developed connections with colleagues in New York. In particular, I was in contact with Gabriel Giorgi, a NYU professor and friend who is also interested in queer cultures. We started to do a series of small conferences, first in Buenos Aires, focusing on queer issues in Latin America, and then one in New York, focusing on what was going on there. Many students participated and so we thought, “Why not do a course?” We created this course together focusing on queer culture and queer theory, trying to compare and contrast what happens in New York and Buenos Aires. We have been teaching the course for the past two years.

The course, “Queer Cultures & Democracy”, highlights the important role of different queer cultures in strengthening our democracies. It provides a sense of the differences between North America and Latin America. However, we specifically focus on New York and Buenos Aires, not the US and Argentina. We really take advantage of our locations and ground the coursework in our cities. There is a strong research component to the course, so students need to go visit and look into archives, visit significant sites, conduct interviews. Students are required to draw from experiences in the field in each city.

We really try to make the most of being in two locations. We meet at the same time even with different time zones. The class is arranged so that the first part of the class is more like a lecture. We grapple with difficult concepts in gender theory and queer theory, and that portion of the class we do separately. Then there is a moment in which we want to discuss something with the entire class. This takes place during the second part of the class. For example, if some students are sharing the results of the research they have done – let’s say going and speaking to queer activists and connecting those conversations to theory – then we use technology to discuss that together. We have screens in both classrooms so we can participate in one conversation. So students in Buenos Aires can report on what they experienced and share their ideas with their classmates in both Buenos Aires and New York.

We also come together in other ways. For instance, if we watch a film and want to do a discussion, we connect and have a collective conversation. We also encourage students to write their final papers as a collaboration between sites. We try to facilitate this where possible. If we know of one student from New York interested in transgender rights, for instance, we try to find someone in Buenos Aires interested in the same topic and we encourage them to write together.

This kind of networked course is difficult to organize, but it is worth the effort. The students like it. It works in many ways. Sometimes students in New York have no interest in Latin America and then after the course, they want to come. Sometimes students in Buenos Aires discover things about the city in which they live, New York, that they didn’t know. We once swapped – Gabriel came to Buenos Aires for a month and I was in New York for a month – which was interesting and useful for the students and for the course. We both had a better understanding of the issues in the other city, and actually got to experience certain things – going to the archives, for example – firsthand.



What have been the greatest learning experiences of this course, both for you and for the students? How does the networked approach influence the course? How does teaching literally across cultures and countries in a course about cultures and democracy enrich the classroom conversations?

What has been most interesting for students, and what both we and the students have learned in the course is that we get a sense of how queer cultures and queer activism have been central in deepening and strengthening our democracies. We have more democratic societies because of the existence of these minorities and their struggles – for recognition, for rights – have made our societies and democracies more vibrant and strong. Not all students in the course define themselves as queer, so there are some students who have perhaps never had exposure to these issues. They leave the classroom with a sense of the centrality of queer issues to democracy. The networked nature of the course also encourages all of us – students and professors – to think with more intent on the comparison and contrast between the two sites. We know we are going to have group discussions and it is important that people have something to say. So the comparing and contrasting is developed in conversations. This becomes useful because students understand that it is something they need to think about all the time. This is an aspect of studying abroad in general – through coming to know another culture, you get a better understanding of your own culture – but in this course it is intensified.

From the perspective of someone who studies Latin America, I would add that there is an additional aspect of this course which is interesting. It is very typical that we see our own history or people from abroad see our own history in Latin America as a series of moments when we copied someone else, usually Europe or the United States. We see this in talking about independence, the constitution, and more. This idea of the US and Europe as models for Latin America, which they have been, is very common. But on the specific issue of queer cultures Latin America shows a unique vitality. There has been vibrancy among the activists and artists here such that sometimes things happen here before they do in the US. For example, Argentina had a same sex marriage law in 2010. The US didn’t have that possibility until 2015. This is very interesting because it is a topic in which traditional narratives about how Latin America works are challenged or subverted.

Photo by Sebastian Freire

I understand you have also been involved in launching the first Master’s degree program in Gender and Queer Studies in Argentina. Can you tell us more about that?

Argentina, specifically Buenos Aires, has many institutions with researchers or professors that are interested in these issues or teach these issues, but there was no institutional space where you could study, for example, a masters program on this topic. So if you wanted to do a PhD with a focus on queer studies, you could do it but you had to find the courses and professors yourself. So I worked with some other professors and Daniel Link, a public intellectual, to develop a program. We created a core program in this topic, from an interdisciplinary perspective – topics range from public health and politics to courses that deal with the history of cinema from a queer perspective, the history of the arts from a queer perspective, the history of activism from a queer perspective. We basically gathered all of the people working on gender and sexuality in different institutions and put them in the same place. The Master’s Program is at a national university, UNTREF . The university said we could have thirty students, and we received applications from more than sixty students, indicating that there was clearly a need. Classes are starting in March. The Master’s Program is connected to thinking about new policies on these topics and also connected to activism. We consider it a successful initiative thus far.

In addition to your research and work on LGBTQ issues, I understand you also research literature and are an accomplished translator. Can you share a bit about your work as a translator and about the kinds of literature you are drawn to?

Most of my translations have been on theory. I have translated Fredric Jameson, a cultural critic, and the books of philosopher Susan Buck-Morss. I have also translated the work of Avital Ronell, philosopher and literary critic at NYU.

My Phd was on Latin American literature. I am mostly interested in contemporary Latin American literature dealing with the problems most associated with Latin America – political violence, narco-violence and how it affects our communities, gender and sexuality. I am drawn to works that deal with these topics in an interesting and imaginative way. I am not looking for reports on these topics, but literature that offers something more while dealing with these topics. Works I appreciate may have an interesting use of language or literary images. Literature and the arts have to offer something extra. It cannot only be about the topic, what matters is what they do with it – offering us a different perspective that we haven’t thought about, for example.

What has been most rewarding for you about teaching at NYU Buenos Aires?

It’s a very welcoming and supportive atmosphere for working. As a scholar and professor, you feel welcomed and appreciated. You feel as though you can come up with ideas and projects and that they are welcomed – for example, proposing a new course, or changing a course. NYU Buenos Aires is a space in which you can be creative in your own field. You don’t need to follow what was done in the past or what is being done now. You can think of new possibilities and they are considered and often accepted. This is something I love about NYU. For me it is good to have the connection to NYU, my alma matter, of course, but being part of an international network is amazing. I believe that scholarship and teaching should be international and need to have a cosmopolitan horizon. In order to teach effectively, you need to understand what is happening in other parts of the world and to connect with others in your field. Collaborating with other researchers is already a given at NYU. This greatly enriches you as a scholar and researcher. If you work at a national university, it can be hard to get in touch with and collaborate with people from other places. At NYU it is a given. I am in constant dialogue with people in other places – NY, of course, but also at times Berlin or Madrid.

Do you think that time abroad is valuable for students’ academic and personal development? If so, how do you think that value manifests?

I think it is central. The students tell me all the time that coming to Buenos Aires has changed their lives. They say that time here is key to understanding their own culture in different ways, seeing things about the US and how they can be a part of their community and society that they couldn’t see before. I know this because I have studied abroad myself for five years. It changed my life and perspective completely. This is true whether you are abroad for many years, or for only a semester or a year. You denaturalize your own culture and life, recognize that there are other ways to do things and maybe other cultures have something to teach you.

This is important in many disciplines. It is important for the humanities of course, the humanities being the dialogue between cultures, but it is not only important for the humanities. It is also important in law, economic science, public health, and other fields. Seeing how things work in different contexts is also enriching. I also believe in the idea of experiential learning – here while experiencing a different culture you have classes to reflect what is going on with you in this different culture, and the courses use what is happening to you as a student to assist in your growth.

I also think that for people in the US going to a country in the developing world, here in Latin America or in Africa at our site in Ghana, is especially interesting. While of course you learn a great deal from going to a place in Europe, the contrast when in the developing world is starker for all kinds of reasons. It is a very specific type of difference and students are exposed to situations where not everything is taken for granted, where things are not working as they should be, where the political system is vastly different. In these places, students get a sense of how the world works and understand that the world is not limited to the so-called “North”.

How January Term is Redefining Education

This is a post from NYU Abu Dhabi. Although January Term originated with NYU Abu Dhabi, now other students in NYU’s global network, notably those from NYU Shanghai, have the opportunity to experience a January Term.

Education at NYU Abu Dhabi is not just about learning facts from textbooks and passing multiple choice exams. It’s an immersive experience for NYUAD students, who, each January Term choose hands-on classes in cities from Al Ain to Buenos Aires that challenge their perceptions of the past and enrich their visions of the future.

There are dozens of courses offered in J-Term that get students out of the classroom to learn about the world as it was before, and experience the world as it really is today, like Jazz or the Financial Crisis taught in New York City, Emirati Arabic in Al Ain, Museum History in Berlin, and these seven examples that span the globe. Note: course descriptions have been edited.


Oasis Coast and Mountain

Faculty: Steven C. Caton and Donald M. Scott
Course location: UAE and Oman

A course that challenges students’ perceptions of Arabian landscapes as being mainly desert by showing them three distinct habitat zones: desert oasis, maritime ports, and mountain farms all within 250 kilometers of each other across the UAE and Oman.

Students learn through observational site visits, direct encounters and interactions with local peoples and places through walking tours, interviews, photography and sketching.

Imagining the Renaissance City

Faculty: Jane Tylus
Course location: NYU Florence

Northern and central Italy’s bustling towns inspired many of today’s modern cities and also pioneered recognizably modern artistic, cultural, and engineering practices. Florence was a powerhouse of culture and industry and Siena the ‘Wall Street of Europe’ with the skyline to match.

Students spend three weeks getting to know these towns intimately. Explore downtown Florence, Siena, and the Tuscan countryside. Walk from the town of Fiesole (with its Etruscan ruins and Roman theater), to Monte Ceceri (from whose summit a student of Leonardo da Vinci’s tried to fly; good start, sad ending). Visit seats of government and Renaissance orphanages, climb towers for bird’s-eye views, prowl a crypt recently excavated under Siena’s cathedral, visit churches on hills overlooking Florence and the cells of monks, and walk the trail of the stonecutters to see where Michelangelo found his stone.


Coastal Urbanization

Faculty: John Burt
Course location: Sydney

Over 80 percent of the Australian population lives within 100 kilometers of a coast and virtually all major Australian cities occur on coastlines. As a result, Australia’s coastal environments have been substantially modified to suit human needs.

Using Sydney’s terrestrial, marine, and built environments as a natural laboratory for field research, students collect environmental data throughout the city and use geographic information systems (GIS) to examine the spatial patterns of human impacts to Sydney’s environment and compare their results with patterns observed in other coastal cities.


Faculty: Professor Michael Beckerman
Course location: Prague

Prague should have been destroyed during the Second World War, like other major cities in Europe, but somehow it wasn’t. Its remarkable survival allows us to explore Central European history and culture in the context of a completely preserved inner urban core dating back to the Middle Ages.

Class time includes walking tours around Prague, trips to museums, castles, theaters, classical concerts including Mozart’s Magic Flute and Janacek’s From the House of the Dead, and several excursions outside the city to the Eastern Province of Moravia, birthplace of Mahler and Freud, and to the UNESCO Heritage site of Cesky Krumlov.

Democracy and its Critics

Faculty: Philip Mitsis
Course location: Abu Dhabi / Athens

An examination of one of history’s most radical and influential democracies, ancient Athens.

Students assume historical roles in key decision-making institutions and debate questions about democratic procedures, the extension of voting rights, religion and free speech, foreign policy, etc., often in the very locations where these ancient debates occurred.

The Idea of the Portrait

Faculty: Shamoon Zamir
Course location: London

The course draws upon the rich resources of London’s museums and galleries to examine a wide range of portraits and self-portraits in painting and photography from different periods of history and from different cultures.

Students visit The National Gallery, British Museum, Tate Modern, Tate Britain, the Queen’s Collection, the Courtauld Gallery, the National Portrait Gallery, and the Victoria & Albert Museum, as well as the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

Creative Cities

Faculty: Arlene Davila
Course location: Buenos Aires

Latin America has been undergoing rapid urbanization and is increasingly recognized as a continent made up of “countries of cities,” yet the dominant Latin American image has been on indigenous or traditional communities, which are always imagined as rural and authentic, rather than modern and urbanized.

Buenos Aires provides an urban laboratory to explore culture in urban development, urban tourism, and the marketing and internationalization of tango. Guided tours and guest speakers enrich students’ appreciation of contemporary Buenos Aires.

Original post by Andy Gregory, NYUAD Public Affairs, available here.

A Conversation with NYU Buenos Aires Students Valerio Farris and Marsha Ho about Breathing Room

Spring semester 2016 in Buenos Aires Valerio Farris and Marsha Ho served as facilitators at Breathing Room, a drop-in group made by students for students to have a safe space to talk and share their experiences while studying away. You can read more about the establishment of Breathing Room in an earlier post. They share their experiences in this conversation.

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1. What are your class years, school affiliation, and majors? How long have you studied in Buenos Aires and why did decide to do so?

M: I’m a rising senior with Liberal Studies and my major is Global Liberal Studies. I’ve been in Buenos Aires for 2 semesters and staying the year is actually a feature of my major but I like to think even if it wasn’t, I would’ve stayed by choice.

V: I’m a rising senior studying Media, Culture, and Communication in Steinhardt. I arrived in Argentina in September and spent the whole of my junior year studying at the Buenos Aires campus.

IMG_17832. What are your roles at Breathing Room and how did you come to be involved? Can you describe the aims and achievements of Breathing Room as you have envisioned and experienced them?

M: Valerio and I are basically facilitators of Breathing Room, we get the food ready, start the conversation, try and make everyone feel included and welcome. I became involved last semester when it was first started by the Silver School of Social Work Masters students by simply attending and really enjoying the space they had set up. For me, the main aim of Breathing Room was always to just be a safe space for students, by students where we could just be ourselves, talk about what we needed to talk about and have this place be ours.

V: What Marsha and I do is basically provide the support for Breathing Room to grow. After being approached last semester by two social work students, and Breathing Room’s founders, we were tasked with making sure the program got on its own two feet this semester. But after that, it really took off on its own. The students who come week after week to fill the space with their words and their thoughts are really the reason it has been such a success. We make the flyer and bring the food, but once the room fills with students every week and the conversation picks up that’s when Breathing Room really comes to life.

3. Can you explain how you approached your work with Breathing Room? How did you organize or structure the process in the Breathing Room meetings?

M: It was really organic and surprising to me really! Monika and Nohelia just approached me one day asking if I would be interested in filling their shoes when they left and I was just like, yes of course! When we started facilitating it, Valerio and I would just find some time to talk about what we wanted to bring up in the session but we were also always really open to talking about whatever the group wanted to discuss.

V: I agree with Marsha, organic is a word we really stuck to this semester with our approach to BR. Because neither of us came from a background in social work, nor were we graduate students, we wanted to really make sure everyone felt like they were on the same level. We would enter the room with some semblance of what we wanted to discuss but also made sure to let the conversation flow in whatever direction it needed to. Usually we started with a topic or theme that was relevant to current events or something that was going on around campus and from there conversations would spring forth. We often ended up discussing something completely different that what we originally intended.

4. How many students on average took advantage of the programming to go there?  Was there a core group that came regularly, or were most students one-time visitors? If there was a core group, how many students were involved?

M: On average, there were about 7 each week and there definitely was a core group who came consistently. The core group had about 3 or 4 people that we would always see each week.

5. Was there an external unique event or local or world circumstance that prompted more use of Breathing Room?

M: There were events like the US elections and spring break which were definitely topics we talked about a lot in Breathing Room but none that particularly called for more sessions.

V: Because Marsha and I were second semester students we drew a lot upon things we knew students grappled with upon coming to Argentina. We tried to focus on ways that our personal identities (race, gender, sexual orientation) played out in a new setting. You’re dealing with a whole host of stimuli when coming to a new place to study and we wanted Breathing Room to be a place where you could hash things out that maybe you don’t get the opportunity to in a classroom or in a homestay setting.

6. What theme was most recurring?

M: Hmmm, this is a tough one. I think we did talk about identity quite a few times and how being in a different city causes us to ask questions about ourselves and who we are/who we think we are. We also brought up politics, both US and Argentine, and those conversations were always interesting.

7. I understand that Breathing Room is not a clinical space. Did you ever need to interact with pertinent site staff — Assistant Director of Student Life, the Wellness Counselor, or Site Director in cases where a clinical or administrative response was called for? If such interactions occurred, how did that unfold?

M: No, never.

V: No we didn’t, but we knew from the beginning that if we needed to that was always an option. We got a lot of support form the site’s administration but they also let us take the project in a direction that we saw fit. I think I speak for both of us when I say that the freedom allowed to us from the school was greatly appreciated and very necessary for the growth of something like Breathing Room.

8. What would you do to improve Breathing Room at NYU Buenos Aires?

M: Due to difficult scheduling, Breathing Room was kind of at a weird time this semester and I think it would be nice if NYUBA could set aside a time for it, the same way they do with Tuesday Lectures so that more people can attend if they want to!

9.Do you think you could successfully bring Breathing Room to NYC or your home base? Have you thought about doing so?

M: I definitely think Breathing Room would be really great on the New York campus and I have thought about it but because the audience is also so much bigger and varied, the logistics of making it happen to the same effect and level of intimacy might be difficult. However, it’s not out of the question!

V: I think that Breathing Room would be a great idea anywhere. I think it’s so important, however, to think about BR in the context of study abroad campuses where the resources for students to discuss amongst themselves might not be as varied or abundant as they would be in a place like New York or Shanghai or Abu Dhabi. Studying abroad is such an enriching, but taxing, experience and while each site has its own wellness counselor, I think BR provides something for students that is completely unique. It’s a time for us to melt away the world outside and bounce ideas and opinions off of one another. When you’re living in a new place there’s so much for you to think about, so much to keep track of, but BR really became a place to leave all of that at the door, step inside and take a deep breath.

NYU Buenos Aires gets “Breathing Room”!

Breathing Room: a drop-in group made by students for students to have a safe space to talk and share their experiences while studying away.

In Fall 2015 NYU launched a Master´s level study semester program at the NYU Buenos Aires global site. Two second-year MSW students from this pioneer program of NYU’s Silver School of Social Work, Nohelia Diplan and Monika Estrada Guzman, also set in motion last fall a student-led safe zone called the Breathing Room – an inclusive convocation to all students for “a drop-in group made by students for students to have a safe space to talk and share their experiences” during their study away in Buenos Aires.

From Left: Nohelia Diplan NYU SSW 16’, Site Director Anna Kazumi Stahl, Monika Estrada Guzman NYU SSW 16’

From Left: Nohelia Diplan NYU SSW 16’, Site Director Anna Kazumi Stahl, Monika Estrada Guzman NYU SSW 16’

The idea emerged in April 2015 after both students attended a Safe Zone Training and Break Out Sessions facilitated at NYUBA by Selima Jumarali (Assistant Director of the Center for Multicultural Education and Programs [CMEP]) during her special visit to the NYUBA site. The issue of social identity and diversity, and specifically how to help students manage a new culture’s codes around these concerns, is a something that NYUBA site leadership is continually seeking more resources for, among which the CMEP “Global Diversity Training and Professional Development Grant” was deeply valued and delivered new, positive tools for all, staff and students alike. Afterwards, MSW students Monika and Nohelia chose to use the new acquired experience from Selima’s workshops to step forward themselves and see if students would respond to a student-offered Safe Zone that they believed would be vital to their semester. Their idea met with enthusiastic support from NYUBA Site Director Anna Kazumi Stahl, NYUBA Wellness Counselor Sarah Akhter, NYUBA Asst Dir for Student Life Paula Di Marzo, and SSSW program leader Gisselle Pardo, who all stayed in contact with Monika and Nohelia from their specific roles, as the student group got set into motion.

The vision was to stimulate an encouraging space for students to voice different issues being experienced abroad and to face them through expression amongst peers while abroad. Monika and Nohelia did not intend to create a faux therapy session which they said, “would drive an emotionally and psychologically taxing experience.” Instead, they aspired to create a group sharing experience that was not group psychotherapy but rather an egalitarian space in which to create meaningful conversation. With both the space’s characteristics well-defined and the supportive contact with pertinent site staff, Nohelia and Monika set out to create the Breathing Room.

Immediately, they saw that students had a need to talk and voice their experiences and that the Breathing Room was an impetus to unite students around expressing their needs and struggles while away. After the first session, a “topic box” was created for participants to propose topics and unveil these issues in this safe environment. Topics ranged from culture shock, to diversity, to maintaining a healthy life style while abroad, to staying in contact back home, to race and identity issues and women’s issues in different cultural contexts.

At the very first gathering, a favorable turn-out of students gave NYUBA’s “Breathing Room” space for pairing up and sharing experiences organically and directly between the students. Monika claims that this particularity set the foundation for a democratic characteristic. The immediate connection among the participants set an egalitarian dynamic that flourished throughout the semester developing a structure free of hierarchies. Without infringing on this equal platform, both Nohelia and Monika also mentioned they were able to implement course skills acquired from their Social Work education, especially in the area of empowering and advocating for those without a voice– in this case students.

Nohelia and Monika, acting as facilitators, were pleased with the ownership demonstrated by participating students throughout the course of the semester. This ownership and union amongst the students created the desired safe space for all, it also sufficed as a catalyst for both Nohelia and Monika to begin thinking of the future of the Breathing Room.

From Left: Nohelia Diplan, Marsha Ho GLS 17', Monika Estrada Guzman

From Left: Nohelia Diplan, Marsha Ho GLS 17′, Monika Estrada Guzman

The future of the Breathing Room lays in the hands of the students, of course, and both Nohelia and Monika had this crystal clear from the beginning. Noting strong interest in a few underclassmen, both Nohelia and Monika began developing relationships with two undergraduate students, Marsho Ho and Valerio Farris, who will be on site again this coming fall semester in 2016 to take on the role as facilitators.

Furthermore, both Nohelia and Monica have been dialoguing and working closely with the Wellness Counselor Dr. Sarah Akhter, Student Life Assistant Director Paula Di Marzo, Gisselle Pardo, LCSW, MPH (Leader of the McSilver Institute´s global education programs) and Director Dr. Anna Kazumi Stahl– exchanging their experiences with each as they developed a manual for future students. What´s more, both students hope to have an opportunity to hold a few informative meetings with Students back in New York before their departure, encouraging students to be active by sharing their experience with the Breathing Room this past semester.

NYU Buenos Aires as a community has been enriched immensely by the Breathing Room and look expectantly ahead as the study away programs here at the site will forever hold a new facet due to the intrepid ambition demonstrated in action by Nohelia Diplan and Monika Estrada Guzman.