Global Pillars Project: Class Review

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Sylvia Waechter
May 23, 2024
Three students walk around a community garden in Berlin

The most unique class I took this semester was called ES/SO360: Designing the Sustainable City. This class was part of the Global Pillars Project at IES Abroad which aims to incorporate the UN’s sustainable development goals into the curriculum while abroad. The Global Pillars class is completely project-based learning. Over the course of the semester, there will be short lectures and field trips that culminate in a final project. This class is also distinctive because it partners with other IES Abroad centers weekly.

Unlike most of my other classes, Designing the Sustainable City met twice a week, including an online session. At the beginning of the week all three locations (Nice, Barcelona, and Berlin) met on Zoom. In this class, we’d usually present our work from the week before, have a short lecture, and usually some work time for an assignment. The weekly assignments generally contributed to the final project that each location created. The other class meeting was either time to work on our project, or take a field trip around the city.

The goal of the final project is to address an urban issue in your city. This can deal with environmental sustainability, or any other problem facing your city. During Spring ‘24, Nice and Barcelona focused on environmental issues with tourism, while Berlin focused on the ongoing housing crisis. Although the project could offer any solution to the selected issue, we all chose to raise awareness. The Nice and Barcelona students both created websites to inform tourists about sustainable efforts in their host cities. In Berlin, we created a map of organizations that are working to fight the ongoing housing crisis. This included housing cooperatives, organizing groups, and resources for those facing homelessness. 

If you’re looking for an opportunity to work in a group setting and explore the city, this is definitely it. You won’t find any test-taking or hours-long lectures in this class, it’s much more focused on group discussions and hands-on research. There’s definitely pros and cons to this type of class.

I loved having dedicated time to get an in-depth look at an urban issue that I was highly interested in. Although some of my classes discussed the housing crisis, they often didn’t offer concrete solutions, so it was nice to be able to research what people have been doing to combat the problem. This class also helped me bond with some of my classmates. Because we were having in-person discussions about urban issues, I was able to connect with them and learn about initiatives in their communities that were related to our topic.

On the other hand, because our instructors acted more in a guiding role, this class felt unstructured. There weren’t a lot of hard-set deadlines for our final project which led to a lot of last-minute work being done. Additionally, because our class was operating from 3 different countries, there was very little communication between locations. Although we heard from the other instructors in the zoom classes, there weren't a lot of interactions between students in different locations.

I also wish I had known more about what this class was about before I took it. I went in expecting a class about environmentalism in Berlin. Although we did discuss this, the field trips in this class focused more on social justice issues in Berlin. This was very cool to learn about, but very different than the official class description.

Overall, I think this class gave me great experiences with research and group work. I’m so proud of our final project and glad that it can be used to share resources from housing organizations across Berlin.

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Sylvia Waechter

Guten tag! My name is Sylvia, I'm an Urban Studies student at the University of Illinois - Chicago and I'll be studying in Berlin, Germany this semester! I'm a total public transportation nerd and love to write reviews of different transit systems that I ride on. Follow along as I explore Berlin, travel around Europe, and continue my education as an 'Urbanist in training'.

2024 Spring
Home University:
University of Illinois at Chicago
Urban Studies
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