Learning to Unlearn: Transformative Education in the City


  • Mieka Ritsema
  • Barbara E. Knecht
  • Kenneth E. Kruckemeyer




Cities, Urban centers, International Education, Study abroad


For millennia, cities have been an integral part of human life. Today, with more than half the world’s population living in cities, they are at the core of survival on, and of, this planet. Urban centers are not simply the scenery for study abroad; the International Honors Program (IHP) embraces the consequential role of cities in the world as the thematic heart of our study abroad program, Cities in the 21stCentury. In this article, we discuss the content that is available when the city becomes the classroom. It is through a process of sustained observation, engagement, and critical thinking that students are empowered to question their assumptions, to cross social and physical boundaries, and to understand how cities work in practice. The IHP Cities in the 21stCentury program explores the heart of how cities work, and thus how students in their personal and professional lives can influence the future of cities. The article describes the current form of the program, analyzes the methods that we use, and suggests how the intercultural context and interdisciplinary nature of this experience can be adapted to other models of international education.


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Author Biographies

Mieka Ritsema

Mieka Ritsema (miekar@aya.yale.edu) is an urban anthropologist and faculty member of the International Honors Program (IHP) Cities in the 21st Century program, traveling with students to India, Vietnam, New Zealand, China, South Africa, Brazil, and Argentina. She has taught courses in Urban Politics and Development, Culture and Society of World Cities, and Contemporary Urban Issues. Mieka received her Ph.D. in anthropology from Yale University in 2005. Her research and teaching continue to explore issues and experiences of rapid urban transformation, generational tensions, and place-making practices. 

Barbara E. Knecht

Barbara Knecht is a Co-Director of the IHP Cities in the 21st Century program, having served as faculty. She is an architect and a consultant whose work focuses on improving the social and economic capacity of people and communities. She is also the Director of Design at the Institute for Human-Centered Design, a nonprofit educational organization committed to enhancing human experiences through excellence in design. Barbara holds degrees from the University of California, Berkeley and Colombia University. She has been a contributing writer for magazines (Architecture, Architectural Record, Design Book Review and the Enterprise Quarterly) and books (Design and Feminism). 

Kenneth E. Kruckemeyer

Kenneth Kruckmeyer is a Co-Director and past faculty of the IHP Cities in the 21st Century program. He is an architect with degrees from Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a Loeb Fellow in Advanced Environmental Studies at Harvard University. Prior to joining IHP, he taught and directed student research in Civil Engineering and Urban Planning at MIT. His academic work includes collaboration between MIT, the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a cooperative design studio with students at MIT and Tsinghua University in Beijing. 


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How to Cite

Ritsema, M., Knecht, B. E., & Kruckemeyer, K. E. (2011). Learning to Unlearn: Transformative Education in the City. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 20(1), 87–102. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v20i1.292