The Medellin Practicum/Studio

A six-week summer program for University of Colorado Boulder students

High in the Andes Mountains, overlooking the city of Medellín, a new neighborhood is being built by Colombians who, due to war and violence, were forced to flee their hometowns across the country. In 2009, its six founders began constructing their new community with their own hands, using only materials they could salvage. They decided to call it “Manantiales de Paz,” or “Springs of Peace.” This name not only reflects the land’s abundance of freshwater springs that nourishes the city below, as one community founder explained, it also expresses their deep desire to establish and sustain a community with resilience and peace.

In the Medellin Practicum/Studio, students collaborate with some of the now 7,000 internally displaced residents living in Manantiales de Paz and other communities around Medellín—in particular, women and families. By working side by side with community members in the production of a plan for neighborhood development, students will learn about planning and urban design methodologies.

The city of Medellín’s innovative approach to improving the quality of the environment of informal settlements is celebrated by scholars and media outlets as one of the best models in the world. Medellín has been named the world’s most innovative city in a competition organized by the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, whose leaders wrote in a statement online:

"Few cities have transformed the way that Medellín, Colombia’s second largest city has in the past 20 years. Medellín’s homicide rate has plunged nearly 80% from 1991 to 2010. The city built public libraries, parks, and schools in poor hillside neighborhoods and constructed a series of transportation links from there to its commercial and industrial centers. The links include a metro cable car system and escalators up steep hills, reducing commutation times, spurring private investment, and promoting social equity as well as environmental sustainability. In 2012, the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy recognized Medellín’s efforts with the Sustainable Transportation Award. …

"Medellín’s challenges are still many, particularly in housing. However, through innovation and leadership, Medellín has sowed the seeds of transformation, leading to its recognition as a city with potential for long-lasting success."

More details about the Medellin Practicum/Studio

The 9-credit course will be taught by Jota Samper, Assistant Professor for the Program on Environmental Design, who has been leading education abroad programs in Colombia since 2008. A native of Medellín, he has been living in the United States for 17 years, which has prepared him to serve as an excellent cultural translator between the U.S. and local Colombian culture. He is an architect, urban designer, and planner whose work concentrates on sustainable urban growth and dwells at the intersection between urban informality (“slums”) and violent urban conflict. As a researcher of informality in Medellín, he is very familiar with the history, diverse locales, and people of the city.

Each student will live with a homestay family, eating most of their meals at home and going to family events. Participants will also be matched with compañeras/os (friends), Colombian university students who want to show them around the city and share what it's like to be a young adult in Medellín. All of the families live in the same lush green neighborhood, along with the program director and site coordinator.

This neighborhood was built 50 years ago to provide teachers, students, social workers, and artists with affordable housing that’s within walking distance of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the city’s public transportation system, and cultural spaces. Many of the current residents, now grandparents, planted the original tropical trees and gardens. Today, this neighborhood is a thriving intergenerational residential space with homestyle restaurants that serve traditional Colombian food, a bookstore, a public library with one of the best photographic archives in Colombia, cafes, and two art spaces. It is a bustling and safe hangout for university youth and faculty in the evenings and on the weekends, when the city of Medellín often hosts free cultural events.

Students will tour art museums and other cultural centers around the city, including the Museo de Antioquia, Museo Casa de la Memoria, and MDE Museo de Historia Urbana de Medellín, and get to see some of Medellín’s most important cultural events. This includes the annual Flower Festival (Feria de las Flores), which immerses the city in beautiful, elaborate flower arrangements and designs by farmers around the region, honoring the Medellín’s heritage and bringing light to its official nickname, city of the eternal spring.

Students will also learn about and visit many of the urban projects that have won Medellín national and international awards—and serve as models for more inclusive and sustainable urban planning for other cities in the Americas. These projects include hospitals, community centers, library parks, public gardens, and public transportation systems. These excursions last no more than a day, as students always sleep in their homestay families’ homes.

All participants in the Colombia program will be covered under a limited health and accident insurance policy provided by CU Boulder Education Abroad. The cost is included in the program fee.

If you have any questions or concerns about any aspect of the program, don’t hesitate to contact program director Jota Samper ( or site coordinator Ryan Catalani (


Application deadline: March 1, 2018

Program: July 8 - August 19, 2018

Apply on CU Boulder's website

Contact the directors

Jota Samper

Ryan Catalani


This program is open to students of Sophomore class standing or above, with a GPA of 2.5 or above at the time of application. Students should also be able to communicate in basic Spanish.


Please refer to the CU Boulder Education Abroad website for details about the program fee, what is included in the fee, and what additional expenses may be incurred. Financial assistance and scholarships may be available

Any additional costs will vary depending on the exchange rate of the Colombian peso. In the last year, one US dollar ($1) has been worth between about 2,300 and 3,300 Colombian pesos. That is, a typical lunch that costs 13,000 pesos might be equivalent to something between $3.93 and $5.65.

Other Requirements

US citizens do need not need a visa to travel to Colombia for this program; this will vary for citizens of other countries.