When the City is Your Classroom


  • Lisa G. Sapolis
  • Milla C. Riggio
  • Xiangming Chen




Study Abroad, City, Eduction Abroad, Trinidad, China


As one of the few small liberal arts colleges in a city, Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, has developed a simple educational creed: Life and learning are inseparable. The “real world” is not something you brace yourself to enter at the end of your education.  That world is with you -- politically, economically, socially, culturally -- even as you prepare to take the responsibility for running it.

There is much talk about the need to educate students to become citizens of the world.  Capitalizing on our location in a small exemplary multi-ethnic city, Trinity College gives meaning to this clichéd rhetorical notion.  We train our students for a world that is complex, multi-ethnic, globalized, and cross-culturally connected in a way that no previous society could have imagined. Conceptualizing the learning experience in terms of a set of concentric circles, our education begins with the small inner circle of the campus, expands to the broader surround of Hartford, and then building on the local foundation, extends to study abroad with an urban focus.

In this article, two of our study abroad programs exemplify our presumption that the city is your classroom:  the full semester Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning Site and Trinity’s faculty-led summer program “Connections: Boomtowns of the Yangtze River” that links an immersion experience in the city of Hartford with four emerging megacities in China. In distinctive and complementary ways, the Trinidad and China programs illustrate how Trinity College through its urban and global educational mission is broadening and deepening the use of the city (in Hartford and globally) to better prepare our students for our urbanized and globalized world. The Trinidad program, centered on urban culture, is more a study in the city, while the China program, revolving around the triangle of urban history, urban sociology, and environmental science, is more overtly a study of the city.  Both programs link the academic domain with experiential learning. Recognizing that the modern city is “no longer local” (Orum and Chen, p. 55), we believe that urban, global experience is the best way to give students insights into their own home cities, whether these are in the United States or elsewhere. We take them abroad not to give them a romantic student overseas junket, but to teach them about themselves in the context of the world in which they must live, over which they must be trained to take control.


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Author Biographies

Lisa G. Sapolis

Lisa G. Sapolis is Director of International Programs at Trinity College. She has been at Trinity since 2004, first as an Associate Director and beginning in July 2009 as Director. She has presented at several regional and national NAFSA Conferences and has completed The Forum on Education Abroad’s QUIP (Quality Improvement Program) training. She currently serves on the National Advisory Board for Arcadia University’s College of Global Studies. 

Milla C. Riggio

Milla Cozart Riggio, the James J. Goodwin Professor of English, at Trinity College, Hartford, Connecticut, received her Ph.D. from Harvard University. Since 1995, she has focused her research and much of her pedagogy on Trinidad Carnival and culture. She coordinated two world conferences on Carnival and held a cabinet appointed position as an organizer of the World Conference on Carnival III in Port of Spain, 1999. She has served as a consultant for the Trinidad and Tobago National Carnival Commission. The Director of the A.V. Davis Summer Institute of Urban and Global Studies (2007-2008), she currently coordinates the Trinity-in-Trinidad Global Learning Site. 

Xiangming Chen


Xiangmeng Chen is founding Dean and Director of the Center for Urban and Global Studies and Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of Sociology and International Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut, as well as Distinguished Professor in the School of Social Development and Public Policy at Fudan University at Shanghai, China. His articles have appeared in many urban studies journals and over a dozen edited books. He has served on the Council for the Community and Urban Sociology Section of the American Sociological Association and on the Editorial Board of City & Community. He currently serves on the Advisory Board for the Urban Age Project based at the London School of Economics and on the International Advisory Board for Journal of Borderlands Studies


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How to Cite

Sapolis, L. G., Riggio, M. C., & Chen, X. (2011). When the City is Your Classroom. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 20(1), 171–194. https://doi.org/10.36366/frontiers.v20i1.298