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Cities in Transition Projects

Cities in Transition courses in China, Nicaragua, Russia and Senegal allow Beloit College students to use their host city as a learning laboratory.  Independent projects focus on a topic of their choice that will push each student to engage with the host environment in innovative and challenging ways.  Examples of these projects are below. 

Chinese Cities in Transition

Lauren Jones'11 - The Song Capital Water Canal in Kaifeng

Kaifeng bridgeThe Song Capital Water System in Kaifeng, China was built to encourage tourism to the city, and was one of the most beautiful parts of the city. The water system was still under construction at the time of my study, and was modeled after architecture from the Song dynasty, a period during which Kaifeng was the capital of China and one of the most powerful cities in the world. Despite its grandeur, the water system represents certain ethical issues in economic development and their implications for the city’s residents. The residents living in the area of construction were given mandates to move, and offered compensation for their houses. While the forced move may have improved the living standards of these residents, several neighborhoods were destroyed.  Banners hung along the course of the canal demonstrated the discontent of the citizens.  During Lauren’s study, she interviewed local residents and observed the site.  This project helped her to understand the city that she was living in, and enhanced her interaction with local people and her study abroad experience on the whole.

Moscow in Transition

Hip Hop Grafitti In MoscowHana Laurencot'12 - Hip Hop Culture in Moscow

Hana is studying the phenomenon of Russian hip hop, born after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and how it is currently being viewed and acted upon in Moscow.  In November of last year Vladimir Putin stood on a stage in front of hundreds of followers of Moscow's underground hip hop scene and praised the lifestyle as a healthy alternative to alcohol and drugs. The broadcast was criticized as a cheap political move, but that doesn't make the message any less true. Teenagers and 20-somethings like Zhenya 'Evil' (Женя Ывол) already know everything Putin had to say: "In my view hip hop is a youth subculture, founded exactly on the creative advance of the individual, and that’s difficult to say about the other subcultures. This is how I got involved in hip hop in the first place, because creative self-development is closer to me than anything."

Moscow Fruit MarketAshley Lanham'12 - Foodways in Moscow

Ashley researched food and food availability in Moscow. Particularly, she looked at markets, vendors, and supermarkets.  Taking into account that both traditional wooden markets and modern supermarkets both sell goods bought from the same distributor, and sold at competitive prices, she wondered how food factored into the life of a Russian. What are the economic and psychological factors behind where Russians decide to obtain their food, if any? Is there a social aspect to food? Does the Soviet era affect, or not, how Russians view their food?  These were the questions that Ashley set out to answer.

Dakar in Transition

Cities Fruit Vendor Dakar CloseLily Rubenstein'11 - Dakar's Informal Economy

Lily spent the semester studying the informal economy in Dakar through looking at fruit and peanut vendors. Lily studied the business plan, clientele, and general history of such a Senegalese staple.  She spent time each week with one fruit vendor and one peanut vendor, observing and interviewing. She also went to the main markets in Dakar where the individual sellers purchased their goods.  She found that the abstract business models she had learned in economics classes did not apply to these sellers. The prices for fruit and peanuts had been unchanged for years, and were considered a norm throughout the city (a handful of peanuts costs 50 francs anywhere). Vendors made a small profit off of their sales, but had no competitive advantage over other vendors in town.  However, the most important thing she noticed was the relationship between the sellers and their customers. The small businesses had been at the same corner for years, and had strong relationships with the surrounding community. Coming to work each day for the vendors seemed to be more about seeing friends and catching up rather than making an outstanding profit.