Brooke Goes Global: Gentrification in Washington, D.C.

August 17, 2018

Change is inevitable. The economy goes in cycles. The unemployment rate will fluctuate. And gentrification and development will overcome cities. If these processes are inevitable, how do we, as a community, adapt with the change? How can institutions, as part of the community, continue to preserve the population’s culture and diversity?

Before 24 of my fellow classmates and I take off for India, we are spending two weeks in the nation’s capital. While in Washington, D.C., we are studying America’s health systems, health inequities, and the related role of systems and institutions within the field. 

The International Honors Program pushes their students to view health holistically — understanding there are ample factors influencing one’s health. One major factor to the health of an individual is their home and community.  During a recent experiential learning day, we explored a city within the D.C. area.  My group, a total of five students, set out on the metro to study the area of Howard-Shaw. 

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The Howard-Shaw area has beautiful murals scattered among the neighborhood.  The street art represents and maintains the city’s rich history and culture.


When we emerged from the underground metro station at Howard-Shaw, we were met with vibrant store fronts, colorful restaurants, and a lot of construction.  I stood in the center of a city that very clearly was overcome by the controversial topic of gentrification.  To explain, gentrification is the process of developing an area.  This involves stimulating a neighborhood’s economy through the building of up-scale real estate, restaurants, and modern boutiques.  As a result, the neighborhood generally becomes more aesthetically pleasing and economically viable.  However, this also displaces the original locals of the neighborhood, as they become priced out of their current homes.  Rents increase and developers pressure homeowners to sell their homes for a portion of their worth.  In Washington, D.C., Blacks are disproportionately affected by this forced moving as a result of gentrification.  

In Howard-Shaw, as you look beyond the beautiful architecture of a historic building, you are struck by the overwhelming and ever-consuming construction cranes, trucks, and bulldozers.  This week, I had the opportunity to listen to the locals of Howard-Shaw voice their opinions on how they are directly affected by gentrification. 

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The Howard Theatre is a historic landmark  in the neighborhood.  It was recently renovated in 2012, and it still acts as a functioning theatre.  The crane in the background demonstrates the ever-present condominium construction across the city.

A physical education teacher at a local school, named Pamela, had the biggest impact on me.  She works at a public school with grades pre-school to fifth grade.  Her official title is the physical education and health teacher, but unofficially she is the community liaison.  Pamela described the changing demographics within the school as a result of the last couple years’ development.  The older grades are predominately made up of Black and Hispanic students.  Whereas the younger grades are predominately made up of White students.  We asked Pamela what these new changes to the neighborhood meant for her and the students.  Her response, “I’m a half-full kind of person.  You just have to take advantage of it.”  And taking advantage of the situation is certainly what she is doing.  She creates partnerships with the new businesses that inhabit the neighborhood as a result of the development.  She brought in local businesses and their employees for a school-wide Career Day.  She partnered with a nearby recreation center so the students have the opportunity to swim.  When she was not able to stop a bar from moving in across the street from the school, she convinced the business to instead donate a portion of their profits to the school.  Last but not least, she assisted with the partnership of a nearby clinic, Mary’s Center, to open within the school.  The clinic has health services —  including mental health — for the students and their parents, open from 8am to 6pm.  A change and evolution of a neighborhood is inevitable.  Nonetheless, Pamela is bravely ensuring the change is positively influencing the children of the area. 

Additionally, to reference Lawerence, another employee of the Howard-Shaw area, individuals who contribute to gentrification are part of a complicated relationship.  As they bring something new and vibrant into the area, they also push history and culture out of its original place.  However, Lawerence believes development does not have to constitute displacement.  Lawerence urges the development companies to change their plans to accommodate those who already live in the area.  He believes condominiums should be built for a mix of incomes.  Apartments should be of mixed value, so that a range of income levels can live in a newly developed building.  Nonetheless, in order for this to happen, development companies and contractors must prioritize communities, culture, and individuals over profits.  

Neighborhoods are pleating and begging for their voice to be heard over the noise and selfishness of big businesses.  And without their voice and opinion, culture and history will be lost to modern and expensive real estate.  

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The future calls for development without displacement.  Beauty without a loss of history.  Diversity without isolation.  It calls for a culture that uplifts entire communities, not just particular groups of individuals.


Brooke Goes Global: Only the Beginning

August 10, 2018

It takes courage to go abroad.  It takes courage to leave the comfort of your room, the Richmond campus, to leave America.  To walk new streets and listen to an unfamiliar language. It takes nerve to disregard the boundaries and norms of a lived culture and to, instead, completely delve into a new one.  It takes commitment to leave the comfort of old friends knowing new friendships will complement the old ones.

It’s only the beginning, yet I can feel myself fidgeting with anticipation of the unknown, but I hold back tears knowing so much will be left behind for my return at the University of Richmond.  This post is for all the other fellow students who have the courage to study abroad.  I commend your recklessness, wit and spirit that pushes you to spend the semester in an unknown land.

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Here I go, chasing the sun around the world.  I will miss the sun’s breathtaking color and beauty at Libby Hill Park.

Over the next four months, I will be traveling across oceans to four drastically different locations.  My semester begins in the local and historic area of Washington, D.C.  Then, I travel to the colorful and crowded streets of Delhi, India.  From India, I will fly to the diverse and beautiful land of Cape Town, South Africa.  And to finish off my abroad experience, I will spend my final month in São Paulo, Brazil. In these drastically different locations, health inequities are widespread and ever-consuming.  Our program challenges us to see how factors like culture, community, wealth disparities and government intermix to create a country’s current health institutions and care.

I am majoring in Health Care Studies and minoring in Anthropology and Business Administration.  Through my studies and experience, I understand health is not a one variable factor but instead multifaceted and greatly impacted by circumstances uncontrollable by the individual.  For instance, I have a mother with a full-time job providing us with healthcare coverage.  I live in a suburban area with an abundance of hospitals, clinics and health care facilities available if needed.  And I go to a university that prioritizes wellness.  But what if my family did not have health insurance? Would I be able to afford the care I need?  How would my life differ if seeing a specialist meant a 4 hour round trip every appointment?  And would my healthy lifestyle be maintained if my school refused to offer nutrition, physical activity, and wellness services?  In my experience, my health has critically been impacted by the luck of the draw.  My cards, thankfully, have been winners. However, because health worldwide is not a human right, there are countless individuals whose circumstances have not been as lucky.

As I learn from natives, hospitals, and peers across the world, I am excited to see how individuals view health based on their societal expectations and cultural opportunities. I am beyond grateful to have this opportunity to study health, culture, and community across the world. Thank you for letting me share this opportunity with you.

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 I have yet to meet a sunrise that rivals the peacefulness of the early morning over the James.  New experiences and new cultures will be the theme of this semester, but I know I can rely on the steady and vast sun to put things into perspective.


Ella in Buenos Aires: Reflection

July 20, 2018

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Wow. I can’t believe that my semester abroad is already over! I had such an amazing time in Buenos Aires, and I will definitely be advocating for other students from UR to choose to study abroad in Argentina–or at least in South America. My semester was so different than what I expected it to be, but in the best way possible. I am truly going to miss my host family, my new friends from all over the world, and the city itself.

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I learned an incredible amount about Argentine culture. I also came to realize that every single country and the provinces within them in South America are so unique and different. Before actually living there, I had sort of grouped all of the countries together under one big category. However, they are truly so distinct and are proud to tell you about how their nation differs from others. Once, two of my friends started playfully arguing about whether Argentine or Venezuelan empanadas were better. It turns out they are made in a completely different way and filled with different meat! This is just another example of something that I would never have expected to be so distinct in every individual country.

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Before I left, I wrote that one of my goals was to improve my Spanish-speaking skills, and I think I definitely succeeded. I am not fully fluent yet, but I can certainly understand people speaking very well, and can come up with a coherent response in Spanish. I credit this to my host mom, who only ever spoke to me in Spanish!

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Another one of my goals was to play a lot of soccer while I was down there. I am very happy with how much I was able to play, and I am so thankful for all the friends that I made through Buenos Aires Futbol Amigos. Above is a photo of a few of my friends and I after a tournament! I had an amazing experience that I will never forget!

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Ella in Buenos Aires: Family in Town!

June 27, 2018

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This past week has been crazy busy for me since it was finals week, the beginning of the World Cup, and my family came down to visit! Obviously, I hadn’t seen my parents or brothers for the four months that I have been down in South America, which was really hard for me. I was so happy to see them and felt so lucky that they were all able to make the trip down. We had such a good time together.


We did so many activities, like a tour of the Recoleta Cemetery! I had walked through the cemetery tons of times but had never done and actual tour. I learned so much about all the different mausoleums within the cemetery. Did you know that real estate companies buy the mausoleums from families that don’t want to maintain them anymore, and sell them to other families who hope to obtain a single place where they can bury all their loved ones? It was so interesting to learn about and observe the tombs of some of Argentina’s most important people. The cemetery is home to many Argentine writers, scientists, military leaders, sports figures, presidents, and politicians, one of the most famous being Eva Perón.

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We also took a visit to the MALBA, one of my favorite museums in Buenos Aires. Here’s me observing a self portrait of Frida Kahlo with a monkey featured in the museum.

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Here’s the whole fam at caminito in La Boca neighborhood! My brothers love soccer and were so excited to see the famous La Bombonera Stadium where the Boca Juniors club plays.

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Finally, we were lucky enough to snag seats at a restaurant to watch la Selección (the Argentine National Futbol Team) play in their first two games in the World Cup! I feel like my family is just as excited as the rest of the country that Argentina is moving on to the round of sixteen starting this weekend!

Chau for now!


Ella in Buenos Aires: A Weekend in Salta

June 25, 2018


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Things have been getting kind of crazy here since finals are coming up! This week I wanted to write about my amazing trip to the provinces of Salta and Jujuy, Argentina. I went with four of my good friends that I met here in Buenos Aires at the Universidad Católica Argentina.

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First we traveled to the cities of Humahuaca and Tilcara, which were absolutely incredible. The mountains were breathtaking.

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Next, we went to Purmamarca, and to the Salinas Grandes, or salt flats, which went on as far as the eye could see. We learned that the government harvests the salt to sell! I had never seen anything like it in my life. We thought our car looked cool against the barren landscape.

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Last, we went to the city of Cafayate, which is kind of off the beaten path. None of our friends had been there before, so we weren’t sure exactly what to expect but we ended up having such a great time. The bodegas weren’t all open since it is the low season in terms of tourism, but the ones that we found were so cute and nice. I think this is my favorite city I’ve been to in Argentina outside of Buenos Aires. I can’t tell you how calm and relaxing it was! Also, the people we met were so nice and friendly.

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The whole trip was an incredible experience, but the highlight was definitely the hike that we went on in Cafayate. Our guide took us all the way to the top of steep mountain, where we could see the whole city below us. On our way up we saw five different waterfalls, and a whole herd of wild mountain goats!

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Now that I’m back in BA, I really have to hit the books this week so that I’m ready for finals!

Chau for now!


Justine in Russia: My Friend, My Host Mom

June 18, 2018

The hardest part about leaving Russia was not leaving the place itself, but leaving the people. This includes the people in my program, the Russian students I met at the university, and last but not least, my host mom. One of the main reasons I had such a wonderful time in Russia was because of how my host mom treated me.

I remember the first time I met her, I was extremely nervous because I thought I was being rude. However, I really did not have much to say. I only knew about twenty verbs and none of them I could use to describe me. I also had a two month long break from my Russian (only a semester), so I was extremely terrified. I remember sitting in this taxicab with my host mom and she could obviously feel my nerves. She would tell me to look out the window and talk about how beautiful certain streets/monuments were. When we finally got to the apartment, I was really tired and still stressed because I hadn’t spoken many words to her. However, she was extremely kind and accommodating the whole time. Even though I share a room with my grandma at home, sharing a flat with an older person still worried me.

What if I made too much noise after 9pm? What if I came home late too often? I remember over our first dinner, she was speaking 90% of the time and I did not really talk much (only because I really could not understand most of the things she was saying). I managed to pick up a few things about her family, but I forgot a lot of important details. Towards the end of the program, I asked her things like what she used to work as, etc. As she retold me all of this information, it hit me that she did tell me all of this information, but my vocabulary was not big enough for me to understand half the words she was saying.


In my second week, there was a power out in our apartment complex for about three hours, but we still managed to have dinner in the dark.


My host mom always treated me like I was one of her own, not just a student living in her house. Every time she made a meal, it was for us to share and we always talked about our day. She would divide our food in half, but always snuck an extra scoop of rice or extra piece of cutlet. I always felt bad whenever I called home and let her know that I would not be home for dinner, but most of the time I just went home and stuffed myself anyway because I did not have the heart to call her thirty minutes earlier. Every morning, I would tell her when I was leaving and she would either tell me I was overdressed or underdressed or that I forgot to bring an umbrella. She asked me if I was wearing a new shirt or if she has just never seen me wear it before. She asked me about my friends and about my plans everyday. She wanted me to have plans. She was happy whenever I stayed out late because “I am young and I should”. On her birthday, she hosted a dinner party with her friends and I. She was young at heart, even though she had just turned eighty one years old. We lived on a fifth floor walk-up. She walks everywhere and goes skiing every Saturday in winter and early spring. She told me she’s been to Brazil eight times. She has been to many places. She talks about her daughters and her grandchildren.


The dinner table (that she set up in her bedroom since the kitchen only had room for approximately four people).

Sometimes I came home from school late and she would have left a note for me telling me what she had prepared for me to reheat. I would always wait for her to come home before I went to sleep (once that was around 1:10am, but it was a Saturday). She always supported my decisions and never questioned what I did. When I was sick for that one week in March, I told her I did not want to go back to the doctor anymore and she did not push me to do anything crazy besides sleep. I told her I was going to Kazakhstan and Ukraine for travel week and she told me they were great places to go. I told her I was going to hop on the midnight bus to Helsinki and come back eighteen hours later because I did not want to pay for accommodation. However, all she did was laugh at me and said that she would look forward to seeing me home Sunday morning at 5am (she was asleep when I came back, but woke me up at 9am for breakfast).

I remember when I was packing my stuff up the day before I had to go, she would pass by my room and laugh at my lack of progress. I usually am a fast packer, but knowing this was the end of my study abroad made it a lot harder. I know I will return to Saint Petersburg to visit her, but I would no longer be the person living in that room. I no longer had the keys to her apartment. There would be someone else living there. I know she will let me in and make me tea like she always did. She will yell at me because I would have brought her a souvenir from somewhere (I always brought her back something whenever I left Petersburg). The day I left Petersburg, she was going to fly to Greece that same night. I assume she has returned, but who knows, she could be anywhere right now. I am currently writing a letter to her, but I haven’t finished yet.


Packing on the day before my flight.

I remember us hugging goodbye as my Uber driver patiently waited for us to say our last words to each other. When I finally got into the car, my street was full of traffic, so my host mom stood by the car for another two minutes. My driver was a kind Uzbek man from Samarkand. He asked my host mom if she wanted to come to the airport too and she smiled and said that I would be alright. When we finally drove away, my driver could obviously tell that I was sad and started asking me questions. He asked whether she was my grandmother and I smiled and told him that she was my host mother. I spent the rest of the ride telling him all about her and how much I looked forward to coming back here (might have shed a few tears along the way).

As I sign off for the last time, I can’t say до следующего раза (until next time) anymore. The last thing I said to my host mom was увидимся! (I will see you) and I hope this statement holds true, wherever my life takes me next, to Saint Petersburg, to my favorite pasta bar, to the Central Asian market, to the 24-hour flower shops, to the 181 bus to Smolny, to Russia, to my host mom.





Justine G.

no longer Жюстин, but Жустин (Джастин, on official documents).

Ella in Buenos Aires: Soccer in BA – Round II

May 27, 2018

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Hello!!! This week, my awesome host fam brought me to watch a professional soccer game of one of the “big five” clubs of Argentine futbol. RACING! Racing Club plays in the top division of the Argentina league system.


Here’s what their logo looks like. I didn’t have a jersey of theirs when I attended the match, but I made sure to wear light blue and white. Everyone there was completely dressed in Racing gear. It was amazing!

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I loved seeing how all the different neighborhoods and areas of greater Buenos Aires made signs and banners with their neighborhood names. Other banners had phrases on them such as “Racing, I love you so much it hurts.” Everyone sang and jumped throughout the whole game. It was such a different culture than that of soccer games in the US.

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Also this past weekend, I played in a co-ed soccer tournament with the soccer organization that I joined here, Buenos Aires Futbol Amigos! It was an insanely fun tournament. Each team played about 6 games, 15 minutes each. I was super tired by the end!


When my team got eliminated, the team that beat us asked me to join their team to play in the championship since one of their girls got injured! The matches were really competitive but friendly afterwards which I appreciated.

See you next week!


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