Urban Classroom

by Deborah Flagg

As the second most populous city in the United States, Los Angeles leads the nation in both manufacturing and international commerce. Its 3.8 million people represent a mix of 140 different cultures and ethnicities, speaking 120 different languages. The peoples of the world have come to Los Angeles, creating the city of tomorrow. This scenario blends both opportunity and challenge, alive with vibrant cultural expression, but faced with the problems of urban life: Los Angeles ranks among the highest in the nation in poverty, violence, homelessness, poor quality education, welfare, street children, and HIV-AIDS.

City Immersion
This unique urban microcosm also provides a valuable laboratory for the study of the emerging dynamics of life in America's cities. In response, Azusa Pacific University created the Los Angeles Term, a program in which students immerse themselves in the life of the city while investigating the issues that impact the local residents, from immigration and group relations to criminal justice and public health.

"Students gain valuable work experience, are challenged with rigorous academics, and also have a chance to discover more about the church's role in the 21st century," said Doretha O'Quinn, Ph.D., former director of the Los Angeles Institute for Urban Training. She sees this program as an unparalleled opportunity for students to experience the "unbelievable diversity" of Los Angeles firsthand and grapple with the biblical values of liberty, justice, equality, and compassion.

Katie Cripe '03, a global studies major at APU, agrees, "This program has been the most life-changing experience I've had." Cripe credits her internship at El Rescate, a pro-bono legal firm for the Latino community, with opening her eyes to the struggles of the L.A. Latino population, especially in the areas of racism and immigration. As she researched human rights issues in Colombia, assisted El Salvadoran immigrants, and helped clients fill out required paperwork, she found herself drawn to the people and their stories. "Everything I did was connected to the community," she said.

A New Meaning for “Family”
Students live with local families while enrolled in the program. For many students, the "homestay" is a high point of the 15-week semester and the time when they learn the most about day-to-day life in an urban setting. "It's really amazing how students have bonded with their homestay families," said Kathy (Martin '99) Rowe, L.A. Term program assistant. "It's not always 'family life' as they expect, but rather having their assumptions challenged and seeing a different way of life than the norm."

For L.A. Term students, "family" takes on a whole new meaning. Alyson Williams, a sociology major at Mid-America Nazarene University in Kansas, lived with a Latino family in Hollywood while she participated in the program. She took classes and interned at the S.A.Y. Yes! Center, an after school program in the heart of skid-row for children living in homeless shelters. "If you live in a white, middle-class enclave, you tend to view the city as this big evil thing, but that's not reality. There are many different cultures and colors, but they are all people just like me," she said.

Robert Hueners '03, an APU student majoring in Christian ministry and sociology, interns at the West Angeles Christian Academy where he works with students in grades K-8. He discovered he was "the only white kid in the neighborhood," a fact that, at times, was a "bit intimidating." Amazed by his experiences during the L.A. Term semester, he was enlightened by his overnight stay in a homeless shelter: "I've visited homeless shelters before, but always as an outsider," he said. "This time I was one of them – I saw how they live and what they have to go through."

"The strength of the L.A. Term is its immersion in the culture," said O'Quinn. "Students live with families and take public transportation-they see the faces, smell the smells, and hear the languages of the city." As part of their experience, students are given the opportunity to visit various community agencies and network with community and religious leaders. "There is a transformation of life as they begin to understand God's creation as diverse and as they risk to move beyond the textbooks to breathing, sleeping, and eating with the inhabitants of this urban community."

The Community Classroom
Although a required component of the global studies major, the L.A. Term provides a "community classroom" that can vitalize and deepen any major field of study. From politics to public art, business to biotechnology, entertainment to education, L.A. has become synonymous with innovation and invention.

“There is a transformation of life as they...risk to move beyond the textbooks to breathing, sleeping, and eating with the inhabitants of this urban community.”

Communication majors: Join the multitude of writers, filmmakers, actors, and dancers living and working in Los Angeles - more than any other city at any other time in world history. They generate over 100 theatrical productions each year, and produce an average of 50 films each day on L.A. streets.

Business majors: Los Angeles is the number one import and export port in the United States, and the city with the highest percentage of women-owned and ethnic-owned businesses in the country.

Music majors: Study traditional and contemporary music and dance forms at over 160 ethnic festivals held each year in Los Angeles.

Missions enthusiasts: Los Angeles is home to people from 140 countries, speaking over 120 different languages, and boasts the largest Mexican, Armenian, Guatemalan, Cambodian, Korean, Filipino, Thai, and Salvadoran populations outside their respective countries.

Art majors: In L.A., artists from every continent combine their heritage with trend-setting concepts and technology to forge the future of creative expression. From automobiles to architecture, fashion to furniture, L.A. has become the design capital of the world.

Biblical studies and Christian ministries majors: Los Angeles has the most diverse collection of religious communities in the world.

Social work and political science majors: The city's downtown district, the largest government center outside Washington DC, challenges students to imagine urban systems that preserve justice and maintain order for everyone.