Don’t Be Afraid to Say Yes!

by elena 

There are a lot of things that I will miss about Philadelphia. When I went home for Thanksgiving I started to realize what a unique and weirdo place the city is, and how it has shaped me over the past couple of months. It’s all happening so fast! The end of the semester is this week. Soon I’ll be turning in my portfolio to my adviser, Diana, and saying my final goodbyes to “Conversations on Constructions of Race.” Soon I’ll be walking up those three flights of stairs to get to work one last time, and powering down my computer for good. Soon I’ll be packing up my apartment, bidding farewell to the rickety wooden stairs and the first floor of our old refurbished church. It’s happening so fast, but it also seems right, like the next logical step in the gigantic story of my college life. As I leave Philadelphia, I wanted to share some of the things that made my experience here special, some secret insider tips for navigating the city of brotherly love.

Don’t be afraid to say yes: “Yes” was the watchword in our apartment. “Hey, do you want to go to this experimental theater show in the basement of a building bordered by generators?” “Yes!” “Hey, do you want to go see a movie in this old burlesque house?” “Yes!” “Hey, do you want to go to this coffee shop that has an alien theme?” “Yes!” …This is how my semester went. I think it’s the main reason I had so much fun and did such diverse things: I wasn’t afraid of saying “yes” to new and foreign concepts. That’s how I found out about Mugshots, my favorite coffee shop. That’s how I found out about the secret basement kids section of the Free Library of Philadelphia. That’s how I found out what “Spanish fries” were (for the record, they’re delicious). That’s how I got involved in grassroots organizing, in editing web content for my job, in finding the best hamburgers in the city. Saying “yes” didn’t just help me have fun, it helped me in my workplace. Although some of the tasks they asked me to do I had little or no experience with, I learned quickly and wasn’t afraid to ask clarifying questions. Now I can confidently say that I know how to format and edit magazine content for the web…a skill I didn’t have at the beginning of the semester. “Yes” is the most powerful word in the English language, and I used it to the fullest.

Make things feel like home: Homesickness overtook everyone at The Center at one point or another in the semester. I was lucky enough that my mom came down to visit for my birthday, and that I could go home for Thanksgiving, but not everyone had the luxury of being close to home. How my roommates and I combated homesickness is by making things in Philadelphia feel like home. The ice-cream shop Philly Flavors that we all went to the first week of the program became “our place,” and we’d go there together to have a laugh and eat birthday cake ice-cream. The delicious pizza-and-panini place a block away from us called Colosseo’s became “our place” as well, and we’d eat there and talk about our days. We’d watch TV shows together, make big meals together, swing on the swings in a school playground down the street. We made traditions and routines that built us up as a group as well as familiarized us with the city. Now I feel like when I’m leaving the city I’m leaving home, and it’s bittersweet.

Behind every great woman is a great…group of friends: The people at The Philadelphia Center are what made this program great; not only the students who I came in contact with, but the staff. Every member of the staff truly cared about us, and they showed it by helping us our first week and congratulating us on our last. It’s a homey, family atmosphere at TPC, and although this semester has been challenging, it’s that warmth that has encouraged me to keep going. I couldn’t finish this post without thanking my roommates, Sarah, Nichole and Jessica, for making the semester so memorable. Thanks for eating my cookies, cleaning the dishes, almost burning the apartment down three times (gas stoves are tough), and complaining about our obnoxiously loud upstairs neighbors who somehow always seemed to be moving their furniture and jumping. Even though we slept on the floor for a week at the start of the semester, I think we turned out all right.

Philadelphia became my city for a semester, and I hope it remembers me. I know I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.


By Maddy Shaw

Because this is my last blog entry, it has the potential to be this big, comprehensive reflection. You know, everything I’ve learned this semester and all that jazz. That might be what you’d expect from such a flowery writer as myself, but nope, I saved that for my portfolio.

What is this portfolio, you might ask? Well, happens to be one of the many things that TPC students are stressing out about this time of the semester. You see, that’s the catch about experiential learning: there has to be some component of reflection and evaluation. This really is a good thing, because I’ve done so much in Philly, and I need a place to gather it all – I’m going to want to remember as much of this as I can. A portfolio organizes everything we’ve learned this semester under the categories of city living, city seminar, and internship. Within those categories, we list knowledge, skills, and attitudes and values that we’ve gained through our time here in Philadelphia. The last section is made up of evidence to  concretely display all of this wonderful knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Creative expression and interpretation are encouraged. We’ll present these at our final three-way meetings with our faculty advisors and internship supervisors. It’s a grueling process, but I know I’ll be really happy to have this portfolio in the future. After all, I’m going to need some reading material for when I’m an 80-year-old grandma sitting on my porch all day. 

There’s no way I will be able to completely capture all of my Philly experience, not here, not in my portfolio. So instead, here are a few snapshots.

  • The “Chinese stores” that seem to be on every corner in South and West Philly – they serve a mediocre version of the American rendition of Chinese food, along with some random curiosities like Philly cheesesteak rolls (picture a Philly cheesesteak in an egg roll), funnel cakes, $1 ice cream cones, aspirin, candy, condoms, and every flavor of blunt you could ever imagine.
  • Row houses.The Clark Park Farmers MarketThe Clark Park farmer’s market.

Kickin’ it at 48XX Baltimore Ave.

  • Riding the trolley – sometimes it was nothing special, but there are usually some great characters on there. The night we came home from a day of sightseeing in NYC there was a woman on the 34 who got the whole back of the trolley singing Rihanna and delivered a trolley pearl of wisdom: “stop the crime, get with the times, everybody love each other!”
  • Running in the Woodland Cemetery.
  • Dance parties in our apartment on weekends.
  • Riding my bike everywhere.
  • Occupy Philly.
  • Cracking up with my friends, whether at the Center or in the middle of Times Square (you know who you are).
  • Giving whatever food is in my backpack to the sidewalk-dwellers of Philadelphia.
  • Wednesday and Saturday harvests at the farm.
  • Making calls for the fundraiser.
  • Doing homework in Cedar Park.
  • Murals. Everywhere.

So Long, Farewell

By Faith DeVries

Faith and MaddyI cannot believe that the semester is coming to an end and it’s almost time to say goodbye to this place that I have come to know so well.  Soon I will be back at home surrounded by cornfields and livestock, where a fifteen minute walk in any direction will only lead me to another field instead of my favorite Greek restaurant on South Street.  There will be silence all around me instead of the constant honking from the cars as they pass below the window of my makeshift office at TPC. 

On the bright side, there will be no more confusion about the fact that I live in Illinois, go to school in Michigan and am temporarily living in Philadelphia — people could never quite grasp that.  It will be nice to go home for the first time in four months, but I will certainly miss the East Coast.  However, I am happy to say that I accomplished (or will have accomplished by the time I actually leave) everything I wanted to do while I was here.  I would have loved to travel a little more but I think the most important thing is that I really got to explore Philadelphia and all of the wonderful things it has to offer.

My biggest piece of advice to future TPC students is plan ahead.  Make a list of all the things you want to do then set a date to actually do them.  It is amazing the amount of things you can do in one semester especially on top of an internship (or two) and classes.  I really had to learn how to balance everything, but I really didn’t mind because I was doing things that I love.  Both of my classes were on topics that I found very interesting which made the readings, movies and papers all worth the time and effort.  Plus, I had one of the best internships ever.  Of course I’m slightly biased, but planning and attending weddings and events all semester was a lot of fun and I was able to see some gorgeous places not just in the Philadelphia area but also in the Pocono Mountains and New York City. 

I am looking forward to a more relaxed semester on campus in the spring without the craziness of an internship and sightseeing, but I have a feeling that I’m going to get a little restless; I will just have to make plans to visit some of the amazing people I have met this semester.  It has been a great few months and I cannot wait for the day when I get to come back to this wonderful city. 

Thank you Philadelphia, it has been a blast!

Lucky Penny

By Allie

Yesterday at the safe haven for men with multiple disabilities where I intern, I was given the task of taking a picture of each gentleman that lives there.  We needed updated pictures for their files, so I set about to photograph each and every one of them.  I was excited about this task; I thought it would be a fun way to engage each gentleman.

Of course, some of the residents were less than thrilled about having their pictures taken.  A few of them cursed at me, others flat-out refused, and a few got extremely anxious and worked up.  I reassured them and coaxed them, and nearly all agreed to it in the end.

 And it was fun!  I tried to capture the residents as they are; the grumpy ones looked grumpy.  The confused ones looked confused.  And the happy ones had great big grins.  Seeing the pictures as they came off the printer was incredibly heartwarming; to see their smiles, their smirks, their faces captured just as they are.  My eyes welled up.

More than seeing the pictures though, the few minutes I got to spend with each resident, connecting and sharing, was even more important to me.  All I could think about was how three months ago, I didn’t know any of these men’s names.  I didn’t know their stories, their daily struggles, their victories.  I didn’t know their special quirks, what made them smile, or what made them sad.  And now I do.  These 40 men are my friends.  I care about them, and they care about me. 

I’m starting to feel really sad about leaving.  Even though some days I walk away feeling frustrated and exhausted, I love that place.  I feel more at home there than I do in my apartment.  The men make me smile every single day.  As excited as I am to go home, I know that I will carry them in my heart for years to come.

Yesterday as I was leaving, one of the residents gave me a lucky penny he had found on the sidewalk.  I got so warm and tingly inside.  He told me to carry it with me and something good would happen. 

But he was wrong, something good already has happened.

Butter in Chinatown

By Brooke McDonald

After 15 weeks in Philadelphia — with only one week to go — I’ve learned an important fact.

They don’t sell butter in Chinatown.
You’d think by now I’d know the Chinatown supermarkets near my house don’t sell typical American conveniences. However, I’ve learned in my quick, and frantic, forays in and out that these small stores carry every variety of tea, frozen bun, and green, leafy vegetable. But they don’t carry butter. 

 Or dish soap, or bread, or milk (trust me, I’ve looked). 

I say this not to complain that Asian supermarkets don’t cater to my American needs (there’s plenty of stores for that), but because I had to laugh that in my urgent rush to find butter (I wanted to do some holiday baking!), I found myself in a store that has NEVER carried what I’m looking for. Yet it’s close to my apartment on 9th and Race, and I thought, “Wow, it’d be super convenient to not walk a mile to SuperFresh tonight.”

Convenient. Living independently in a big city is convenient, and not, in many ways. 

SEPTA is convenient. A Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks on every corner is convenient, if you’re coffee crazy. If you work in New Jersey, the Ben Franklin Bridge is convenient. 

But lugging my Thanksgiving turkey a mile home from SuperFresh is not convenient. No dumpster for our trash, and having to keep it inside until trash day — that’s not convenient. When it’s my turn to clean the floors or the bathroom — that’s never convenient. Walking 20 minutes to class is not convenient. 

When I came to Philadelphia, I knew I was sacrificing some convenience in order to enjoy some independence. In other words, I knew the tradeoffs — trading a car for public transportation,  a whole closet-full of cute clothes for two suitcases of carefully selected outfits, old friends for new friends — would be worth the inconvenience. 

And honestly, learning is often inconvenient. How often do you learn through circumstances that exactly fit your needs, circumstances, and plans? How often does life go easily, without hiccups, without mistakes? 

I think at semester at The Philadelphia Center turns kids into adults and prods college students out of naiveté into knowledge. After three months here, I feel skilled to navigate the world alone. Now I can maintain a city apartment, pay bills, interview for jobs, work, grocery shop, budget, cook, and sightsee. 

I haven’t done it perfectly every step of the way. My housemates and I joke after every “learning experience” gone awry, every grand idea that ended in failure — we say, “experiential learning!” We say it in jest, but really, we all mean it seriously, too. 

Maybe it’s not convenient that I can’t buy butter within a five-minute walk from my apartment — but the inconvenience is part of becoming an adult. You make mistakes, waste time, learn, grow, and move on a better person. 

That sums up my experience in Philadelphia – full of inconvenient learning. Learning the hard way when I maybe wanted to learn the easy way. Learning in unexpected moments. 

But enjoying, even in the inconvenience, the adventure of it all. 

Life is richer when we take the experiences we’re served and let them teach us, inconvenient or not. 

Living in Philadelphia has taught me that.

Suburbia 101

By Hannah Szabo

As we all are more than painfully aware, our semester here in Philadelphia is nearing an end. I’m trying to envision what life will be like when I return to my quiet suburb and even more quiet and remote campus. When we first moved here, we had Philly 101 where we were told the basics — safety, transportation, fun places to see and restaurants to go to. Now, I present you with Suburb 101, a re-introduction to the quiet life.

  • Housing: We all have some kind of housing upon our return home. There will be no hectic week-long rush to find a suitable place to live with all the amenities we desire. I, for one, am looking forward to having free laundry again. The architecture and layout of our neighborhoods is a lot different from where we’ve been living all semester as well.

My suburb looks somewhat like this:

This is what my city block looks like:

  •  Transportation: I’ve missed driving all semester. I miss the convenience of just getting in my car and going where I want a moment’s notice. SEPTA has been awfully convenient and a great way to save on gas though.
  •  Safety: As a night runner, this was something that I missed doing during the warmer months. I was advised not to run at nighttime in my neighborhood. That isn’t the say that it’s not necessarily safe, but who doesn’t like to err on the side of caution? I also really won’t miss seeing cops everywhere.
  •  Culture, Food and History: I don’t know about you, but my city doesn’t really have any diversity. Sure, there is some ethnic diversity but nothing compared to West Philly. I’m going to miss seeing people of all shapes, colors, sizes and backgrounds on my way to and from the city. My city also doesn’t have any cool restaurants, historic sites or museums (though nearby Cleveland does).

As much as I’m looking forward to getting back to the suburb, I’m going to miss the hustle and bustle of the city. The city has taught me to be more aware of myself and surroundings and to take advantage of entertainment opportunities (like visiting historic sites and pay-what-you-can art museum days). For as different as the city and suburb are, they have one thing in common: we’ve been able to call them both our home.

You Say You Want a Revolutionnaire?

by elena

To my excitement a couple of weeks ago, my friend Nichole and I attended a Philadelphia Orchestra concert at The Kimmel Center. I adore music. Whether it’s Kelly Clarkson karaoke, Chopsticks or Chopin, I’m a fan of every shape, color and size that music comes in.

That’s why, when we got to hear the Orchestre Revolutionnaire, it was a real treat. We got amazing seats for just $10, one of the many perks of being a student in Philadelphia. The concert hall had an interesting design, something I’m sure was created for boosting the acoustics of the bands and orchestras playing there. The first thing I noticed was how clear and strong the sound was. I’ve been to orchestra concerts before, but there was nothing like hearing a professional orchestra play classic pieces. The booming of the timpanis, the frantic notes of violins, the airy flutes…it was truly magical.

I’ve always considered myself someone who enjoyed the arts, but in Philadelphia I’ve experienced and attended more cultural things than I have in all my years at college. The great thing is that there are so many things to see in Philadelphia: there are mind-blowing professional theater shows at the Wilma and 1812 Productions that will have you bawling, laughing, and sometimes even both simultaneously. In September, Nichole and I attended a slew of plays for Philadelphia’s annual Philly Fringe Festival. We saw a documentary about modern dancers one night, and the director of the company was performing with his troupe later in the week. We saw a humorous play in the basement of one of our landlord’s other buildings. The actual stage was more like one section of an industrial-looking basement separated by various curtains, but the strange location only made me more fully aware of the talent that the actors had.

My favorite event was an adaptation of Lord of the Flies in Clark Park. The novel, which deals with a group of British boys getting stranded on an island, was perfectly placed in the park. The giant hills in Clark Park served to illustrate the boys’ isolation so well, and every actor was entrancing. The best part of the event was that it was completely free. Nichole and I grabbed some blankets, hopped on the El, and sat in a park for a few hours, enjoying not only the nature but some art as well, all for the low, low cost of zero dollars.

I love that art is so prevalent in Philadelphia. There are constant signs for art showings, and right around the corner from my house is a dance studio. The dance studio is especially lovely because every time I take out my trash I can hear the music coming from the building. Sometimes I can even see some of the dancers rehearsing. It makes taking out the trash a whole lot of fun because it has its own soundtrack, like I’m in a movie. While my time in Philly is winding down, I’m so excited to see more things the city has to offer. Break dancing competitions, independent movies, one-woman plays…here I come!