Learning To Value The Grey

By Molly Greenfiel101714d

During Orientation week (which feels simultaneously like yesterday and years ago), we were asked what we hoped to get out of this semester. There was a smattering of responses with everything from, “Becoming comfortable being uncomfortable” to “Breaking free of a small town”. Still, overwhelming, I heard peers say, in one context or another, that they hoped to figure out “What the heck I want to do with my life.”

Over the past several weeks, I have watched many of my peers have exactly those coveted moments of clarity and calling. A friend has found a niche in a surprising location and decided to pursue law school after this semester (a path she had never imagined). Other friends have made a nearly seamless transition into the corporate world, determined to only turn back long enough to grab their diploma before continuing up the corporate ladder. My roommate is in wedding planning heaven.101714_2

So yes, it is true that many people come to The Philadelphia Center and, through their internship and other experiences, figure out what really makes their heart beat. I have been able to witness friends dip their toes into their ideal career and the kind we all hope for — places where the world’s needs and their passions and talents meet. I, however, am here not to talk about my moment of clarity, but instead to admit that I am not likely to leave this semester knowing exactly what the heck I want to do with my life. I am here to share with you what I have been reminding myself, on a daily basis, that maybe that’s ok.

My placement is amazing. I intern at a small, grassroots nonprofit that works with Latino immigrants in South Philadelphia. It is primarily community organizing and yet it also has a strong policy advocacy arm. It is exactly the kind of placement that I was hoping to secure before arriving. My supervisor is great, the work culture is both extremely hard-working and extremely fun (Beyoncé dance parties are pretty routine), and I am learning immense amounts about the way that immigration status can bar a person from participation in society and human rights, a topic that I have been deeply interested in. But I don’t know! I don’t know if I can really see myself doing community organizing in the future. I don’t know if it’s ‘my perfect fit’, and even less sure that such a thing exists. I am learning that I think I could be happy doing many different things, as long as I get to be interacting with people and advocating for justice. And if that conclusion feels grey and, well, inconclusive, it is because it kind of is.

We come to Philadelphia for a variety of reasons, but a big reason many of us have come to Philadelphia, is because we really have no idea what the professions we have been studying for years look and feel like. We are full of theories and case studies, but bare of real, gritty, 9-5 experience. You will get the gritty 9-5 here. It may be the kind that makes Mondays feel less like Mondays, or it might be the kind that leaves you feeling that a field that sounded perfect in theory is actually less than a perfect fit in practice. Or, as in my case, your experience may fall somewhere between in that messy, amorphous grey space. I can’t tell you what it will be, but what I can guarantee is that you will learn exponentially more about purpose, vocation, and fit than you can ever will from the vantage point of a desk in a classroom. You may even learn, like me, to be okay with that grey space that you probably wouldn’t have signed up for, but might actually teach you more than that perfect clarity. While I may not have conclusions that I can tie a bow around and present to you, I am realizing that these feelings of clarity come and go. When I have spoken to colleagues in my workplace about these topics, they have admitted with an understanding smile that they too are still growing up and figuring it out. Instead of dejectedly waiting for my neon vocational sign, I am going to revel all the more in the grey space, confident that it is growing and teaching me.


By Bree Kremer

Hey Ya’ll!

I know last time I wrote about a class tour, so you would think I would switch it up. But nope. That’s just not the case. There is too much experiential learning going on here that I need to share about another class experience. It is called Inside-Out.

The basics: Inside-Out is a class consisting of 15 “outside” students and 15 “inside” students. By “inside” and “outside” I mean people who are incarcerated or free. We meet inside the prison each week in a classroom setting and learn together as peers. And get this: we are studying the incarceration system. We cover topics like “The War on Drugs”, “The School to Prison Pipeline”, “Purpose of Incarceration”, “The New Jim Crow”, and so on.

But it is more than that. This class is a once in a lifetime opportunity. So often, we as students, think through ideas and contemplate scenarios and impacts, but don’t have the opportunity to put a face to the fact. This class, strikingly so, puts a face to the fact. Not only am I learning about the fact that the majority of people incarcerated are non-violent offenders, but I build relationships with those same people. Not only am I learning about the overcrowded state of our prisons, but I also hear it from the mouths of my classmates, and see it with my own eyes. Not only am I learning about the ineffectiveness of our current system at maintaining public safety, but I am brainstorming changes and solutions with the people affected the most by that same broken system.

And talk about diversity! This classroom experience is different from anything I have experienced before! Since our incarceration system holds a disproportionate percent of men of color (that’s not an accident either), the sad reality is that most of our class falls into that category. But diversity isn’t just race. There is diversity of socioeconomic class, ethnicity, religion, age, and education level. It is such a refreshing experience to learn alongside people from so many different walks of life. We have so much we can, and do, learn from each other! And as much as I love Hope College, you simply don’t encounter that kind of diversity in the classroom setting.

Dignity and innate worth of a person is another component to this class. And empowerment! So much empowerment. In this class, we meet one another as peers, regardless of whether we are sporting the blues (the inmates wear blue) or street clothes. I am not advocating for an individual on “the inside”, but we are banding together to participate in a larger scheme of mutual advocacy. By participating in Inside-Out we are educating ourselves on the incarceration system while breaking down stereotypes that are ingrained into all of us. We contribute to a movement for change, for justice.

I could go on forever. I’ll work on a second installment, sharing my personal thoughts and processing. You know, all the fun emotional stuff. But, I don’t want to suck up all of your time with my justice rant. If any of this resonates with you, I highly suggest reading a book called The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. Or, you know, you could just come to The Philadelphia Center and be a part of the next Inside-Out class.

Fitting In, Standing Out

Rachel Walcott

Internships are hard. You don’t get paid, you work long hours, you are asked to do some menial tasks that make you wish you could hire your own intern just to pawn those tasks off on someone else. Being an intern means you are at the bottom of the totem pole, the guppy that hasn’t quite grown its fins. It can be so scary walking into a new environment, not knowing what to expect or how to conduct yourself. You got the job, so at least there’s that?

Although internships can be stressful, and sometimes maddening, you learn a lot about yourself through the process. At the end of the week, you won’t get a paycheck, but you will realize that you did something to contribute to the bigger picture. No matter what the work is that you decide to do, you are a part of that work. Whether it be directly, or simply through your company’s name, there is a mark in history.

One of the first things we try to do in our internships is fit in. Dress like them, talk like them, do the same things as them, etc. etc. It’s a constant game of guessing. I had so much anxiety about becoming a part of the culture of my organization in the beginning, and to be honest, I still do. Fitting in is hard. But I have learned some things along the way.

No matter how stressful it is, it is worth it. When I am feeling stressed out at work, I am so much more aware of my surroundings. What about this situation is stressing me out? Is it a good stress or a bad stress? Could I be okay with being under this stress full-time, as a future career? These have been super super important questions for me to ask, because I know now some things I want, and don’t want, for my future career.

But no worries! There are also so many positive experiences that have come out of interning! You will be the one to lead a group of your own, you will have your very own clients, you will formulate a contact list and solicit some rich folks for all they’re worth! You will shine, maybe not in the ways you though you would, but nonetheless, SHINE ON SHINE ON! These moments make everything feel worth it. You can stand out in the most unpredictable ways. Take initiative, be bold, be yourself. Letting go of some of your fear and hesitation can do wonders. Fitting in, and standing out, go hand in hand. And it’s A-okay to have a mix of both.

Six Degrees of an English Degree

Six Degrees of an English Degree

By Jacob Bedel

If you are like me in this CURRENT moment, then give your intrepid self a pat on the back, because you just decided to switch internships (which is very, very rare, but apparently a thing you can do if you absolutely have to). Also, if you are like me, then you find yourself in the incredibly scary place of no return. In addition to leaving on a good note with your former supervisor, you need to start looking for another internship. You are slowly approaching the halfway point of your stay at Philadelphia, and you feel like time is running out. Even better, your major in college is English, what could you possibly do with English?

Why, you could always become a teacher! Or, you know… a Starbuck’s barista?! Besides making frappes for business professionals or teaching their children, or teaching their children how to make coffee, there are many things that you can do with an English degree. Mind you, this is not some typical rapidly-written Yahoo article about what to do with your apparently useless degree. This is coming from someone who has wondered, “I have the skills and ambition to succeed. How do I make something out of this fancy piece of paper amidst a significantly less fancy pile of increasing college debt?” Well, let me explain you a thing or two (or four).

  1. Your major in college is something that, hopefully, you were actually interested in and not forced into because of looming sophomore year major declaration deadlines. While your major in college will likely provide opportunities to further your career, you are not restricted to what is written on your diploma. You don’t need a fancy piece of paper to tell you that you’re fancy, ‘cause you already know that.
  2. Do not be afraid to branch out. Tree (eh? Nope? Nothing?) different things. While the teaching profession and pursuing one’s doctoral degree in English Literature are the two obvious options, do not limit yourself to what you studied, and ESPECIALLY do not let others try to limit you to options that are stereotypically associated with a degree in English.
  3. For those actively seeking a starting point in an English-related field, remember back to your old freshman year papers, imagine that you are holding them in your hands right now. Literally, close your eyes, travel back to your college with a blindfold, and hold your freshman papers in your hand, breathe in the smell. Now that you have that old, decrepit taste in your mouth, spit it out. You have successfully graduated, or are very close. Your skills have improved immensely in the field of writing. You are not your degree; you are the skills that you worked so hard over a four-year period to achieve. So go, DO you, and do it well.
  4. You may be asking yourself at this point, “Well, what ARE some jobs other than the two you described?” Let me show you a whole new world, eager young English major. Hopefully, you paid attention to number three, because we’re about to do a review. Remember how I said that it was your skill set, and not the degree, that often gets you the job? Guess what? You can decide what skills you want to strengthen. If you find your skills are more creative based with a dash of door-to-door salesman, assuming the doors are webpages and you like social media, then a digital copywriter might be something to pursue. Do you find yourself fancying telling people how to do something without ever actually meeting them? Does a technical writer sound lively? They focus on creating the user manuals that you say you never need but do because that HD TV won’t hook itself up. There are also corporate bloggers, policy analysts, librarians, grant writing, editing, freelance editing (a great way to build a portfolio, which is not something that just art majors use), publishing, branding, event planning, and a coffee barista on the side to make extra dough. And getting an internship in any of these will help you so much you have no idea. Keep exploring, swimming, jumping, floating, and generally moving forward, and you might be surprised by where you find yourself in the future.


No Napping!

By Molly Greenfield

101314_friendsListen up all of you college students out there with all of your odd midday free time. That is the one thing that a normal college semester has on PHL:EXP (that’s right, only ONE) — naps. Take as many as you can, while you can. Take one a day. Take an extra one for me. Because the truth is, eight-hour work days are no joke, and I had no concept of the importance and beauty of the acronym “TGIF” before a 35 hour week. Props to all of you real people out there with real jobs. While all of my friends will graduate with some crazy ideal that naps live on forever, I will know that they do not. I will also know that you can, actually, live without a nap a day (though not if you continue to stay up until 2 a.m. That will not work for you). It takes a little bit of getting use to, which is why some days I come home and eat pizza rolls in bed (sorry coach) while falling asleep to Netflix at 7 p.m.

101314_NightMarketI actually write this to implore you to not, in fact, succumb to pizza rolls and Netflix nights too often. I did not come here for pizza and Netflix. Hope has pizza and Netflix. Philadelphia, on the other hand, has what feels like everything else. For instance, Philadelphia has basically owned ‘pop-up’ events. These pop-up events are announced the week, or even day-of and look something like this past weekend’s shutting down of Benjamin Franklin Parkway to erect a fall, outdoorsy festival complete with campfires (and ALWAYS live music and food trucks). Go to pop-up events. Try to eat your way through every food truck in this city.

You are going to be tired and bed is always going to sound like a good idea, but if I would have stayed in bed last Thursday, I would have missed the last night market of the year in China Town — it was an absolute blast. I would have missed out on discovering my new favorite food truck, Ka Chi Korean With a Twist, where I sampled the best chicken on a stick I’ve ever had along with these crazy amazing rice balls. I got to spend the evening with a couple of thousand other people in a killer atmosphere that, instead of tiring me more, energized me in the way that an extrovert like me just needs.

101314_kooksAnd after an impromptu text yesterday morning from one of my new friends from the program, I found myself last night at a Kooks concert at Union Transfer. She had won the tickets, so we got to see a band we both loved in a very cool venue for absolutely nothing. So yes, after working until 6 and then meeting my roommates for our weekly 35-cent wings and dollar beer dinner night at a local bar, I thought that bed was a better idea (especially since I was still in my work clothes). But as I found myself laughing and running past City Hall in the pouring rain at midnight on my way home with a good friend (still in my work clothes), I realized that these are the nights that I am going to remember. It may sound obvious to you now, but the lure of sedentary evening and weekends is strong and enticing. Give in when you must, but fight it when you know you should. Take it from me — the semester flies.


PRIDEBy Justin Duchene

I think this weekend may have been my absolute favorite weekend since I have arrived in Philly. This weekend was non-stop and spectacular. I took advantage of Philly and all it has to offer. (At least for this weekend, anyway.)

Philly is full of all sorts of new opportunities. This weekend was definitely a food-filled weekend. To just get something clear, I HATE trying new food. I am so scared of getting anything outside of my “usual” — which is usually some sort of turkey club. Friday night, my friend Emily and I decided to wind down after a long week and have some Japanese take-out and a movie night. Friday night was the first time I have ever tried sushi. I was terrified but Emily convinced me. Of course, being the wimp that I am, I got the California Roll, with no seafood. Although, I built up the courage to eat one of Emily’s rolls which happened to have salmon on it and it was delicious!! On Saturday, I went out to breakfast at the Green Eggs Café, which might now be my favorite restaurant ever. I ordered the Red Velvet Pancakes, which taste even better than they sound. On Sunday, I decided to stop by this BBQ place I walk past everyday after work. Holy crap. It was so delicious. Let’s just say that my weight loss goals aren’t going to be achieved any time soon…

On Saturday, I was lucky enough to see my favorite artist of all time, Betty Who. For those of you who do not know her music, shame on you. It is some of the best pop/dance music that has been realized since I have been born. She is absolutely amazing and puts on a great show. One of the things I have grown to appreciate about Philly is how close everything is. I was able to stand in the second row to see my favorite artist in a venue that was less than a mile from my apartment. It doesn’t get much better than that.

After getting home late on Saturday, I was surprised when I was awoken by loud music through my window. At first I was livid, but then I got up and looked out my window and saw that there was a festival occurring outside my window! This festival is called “Outfest.” In honor of Coming out Week, the Gayborhood, as it is known in Philly, throws a celebration through the streets surrounding my apartment. I wandered though the streets meeting amazing people, seeing live entertainment, and getting all sorts of free things! One aspect that really made me proud to live in Philadelphia was the people. There was a man condemning LGBTQ people on his megaphone, and instead of turning violent, the volunteers at Outfest merely made a blockade in front of this man so he could not be seen, and the bar across the street turned up their music so he could not be heard. This event was one to celebrate people, not bring them down. I have never been more proud to live in this city than at that moment.

Academic Challenges: Inside Out

By Mindze Mbala-Nkanga

20141006_163135In case there might have been any concern that I am not being challenged educationally, or personally, let the records show that indeed I am! While some of the credits I am receiving from this quarter away are coming from my internship, the other credits comes from a seminar class that I am required to take. Most students at TPC are required to take a city seminar and an elective; however, the Kalamazoo College curriculum will only allow me to take one class for credit (although I am actually taking the elective, too – I’m auditing it just because I want to!) At any rate, my city seminar is called Inside-Out.

In this class we go into one of the six prisons in Northern Philadelphia, and sit side-by-side with a group of inmates. We spend the class period discussing topics of incarceration, from the causes of incarceration, to the treatment of incarcerated individuals both while they’re in prison and after they have left the prison system. For this class our professors gave us a large course packet filled with articles and excerpts from books discussing different aspects of incarceration, the most popular, and recently discussed excerpt coming from the book “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander. I have come to look forward to the one day a week that I get to go up and discuss with my classmates on the inside, and I find that I am constantly being informed on things that I had no idea about before. As a biology major on the premed track, I rarely get to explore sociological topics such as incarceration, so this course was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up. The men with whom we meet on the inside each week are all encouraging classmates, and overall the class feels productive, inviting, and educational. I’ve found myself on many occasions, and in particular today, meditating on many of my preconceived notions of incarceration and the way in which the criminal justice system works. There have been many days when I would come home from class and have to, for a lack of better word “vomit” all of my frustrations or discoveries onto one of my roommates, which usually leads to even more discussion! 20140929_161436

Unlike most of the other seminar classes, we haven’t had very many papers to write yet, although we have been warned that there will be a 10 page paper in our future. Similar to most other classes, though, we have to write journal entries at least once a week. I am finding that these journal entries have been beneficial not only for remembering what was discussed in the previous class, but also to fully digest what has happened. Our professors have emphasized the importance of writing in a journal as consistently as possible, and I’m finding that writing in a personal journal has been extremely beneficial for me. I have been able to track my train of thought, and it has helped me to lay out some of the more complex ideas that I have had to chew on after class. And trust me, there’s a lot to chew on!