Oh my goodness!! I have been living in Philly for a whole week already. Time flies. This blog is going to be a bit lengthy so maybe grab a snack, you have been warned.
OK… here is a little scene set up before i jump into my week – I arrived here on Sunday night and got to my host family house around 8:30 pm. It is a small row home in South Philadelphia with a red door and a large Irish flag hanging in the window. You really can’t miss it! Immediently I was greeted at the door by a lucky charms, thick Irish accent and the shrieks of little kids. It really just felt like home for some reason. My “family” for the semester is made up of an Irish Dad, Indonesian Mom and their 3 kids, Keira (10), Brenden (5) & Ola (3). They could in no way be more different from my family back in Texas. Everything from the way that they parent, what they eat, how they talk, how they raise their kids, etc. is the polar opposite of what I have ever experienced. And I love it. They are really opening me up to a whole other world I have never seen before. They are so welcoming and truly treat me as a member of the family.
Now that I set the scene here is a condensed play by play of how the week went down.
Monday: Today we had our first day of class. On the days that we aren’t working at our internships we meet as a group with all the other Kivu Gap year students and discuss different topics relating to people/our work here and reflect. For our first class we talked a lot about stories.. our own stories & hearing other peoples stories. I am coming to realize everyone truly has an amazing life story to tell and I deeply desire to hear as many of them as I can. After class we explored the city by way of a few hour long scavenger hunt around the city utilizing public transportation. all I am going to say about that is THANK GOD FOR GOOGLE MAPS. After that we grabbed some bubble tea in China Town and then I went out to dinner with my host family.
Tuesday: Normally we would go to our internship today but since it was the first week we did another day of class just to prepare for our time here. We had a guest teacher in class today who did a super cool exercise with us. We all were asked to bring to class with us a song, our favorite song, and the story attached to why it is our favorite. We then went around the group each playing our song for the class and telling the story of what that song means to us in our life, whether it be a feeling, a memory with family or friends connected to it, a spiritual connection, etc. I am so moved and motivated by music personally so for me it was inspirational to see the connections and hear the stories of my friends, as well as reflect for myself.
We then dilly dallied through the city the rest of the day and spent some time at one of my fast favorite hangout spots, Dilworth Park. That night I arrived home to an authentic Indonesian feast prepared by my host mom. I tried everything she and her friends had made and honestly enjoyed most of it. I had the opportunity to talk with her and her friends over the meal about their life, where they grew up, coming to America and a wide variety of topics from education to religion to politics. It was eye opening to talk so openly with people from such vast cultural backgrounds immensely different from my own.
Wednesday: Today I had my first day at my internship position with Nationalities Service Center. Myself & two other gap year girls are working to help settle refugees in Philly. The social work we will be doing with them varies day to day based on where needs lie.
After a very brief orientation I was whisked away to help lead a library tour for a large group of Middle Eastern refugees, all having arrived here in the past couple of months. Most all of them spoke very minimal English but a few within the group were able to help translate some. We walked with them to the library across the city where we proceeded to set them all up with library cards of their own. It was interesting to interact with the language barrier present, it was here I first realized just how much we can universally communicate without words. I was able to see hobbies and passions through the books they found interesting and relate. People are people and people love people, beneath the words we all have the same joys, fears, and hearts. After returning from the library I lead a slideshow in Swahili for a new group of refugees. I didn’t understand a word but it was nice to merely help where needed. The rest of the day I spent filling out school enrollment forms for different clients children. After work I took a short journey over to New Jersey with my host family for some dinner and shopping. Crazy how fast you can get from state to state up here!
Thursday: This morning I enjoyed a cup of coffee overlooking Dilworth park before heading to the office. The building I work in is just a block or 2 away from City Hall and right in the center of the city, which makes for some great city views. It is truly beautiful the serenity you can find in the middle of a huge, thriving city like Philly. I can be all alone enjoying a cup of coffee in the park but feel so much a part of something bigger. Today I realized the full extent of my contentment at this stage in my life. I have not been so full of joy and hope as I am now in years. God is filling my life with exactly what I need right now and I am very much enjoying listening to where he leads me.
Anyways… This was the best day of my week and here is why. Today I got to escort the most amazing Syrian family to the Einstein Medical Center. At first I was nervous because I don’t even know my way around the city very well yet and was now responsible for leading a family of immigrants through the city and helping them meet their appointment/ fill out medical paperwork but I was down for the challenge. I met them in the lobby with a smile, Mom, Dad, and 4 little kids all under the age of 5. They spoke no English and I spoke no Aribic but I grabbed the young daughters hand and pointed to the elevator.
We communicated some through body language and as the day went on came to form a bond stronger than I ever knew was possible without words. Upon arriving to the medical center to get the children’s blood work and vaccines, we ran into another Jordanian family. Of that family we met the older son, Muhammed, knew a bit of English and attempted to help translate some for me. He even downloaded a translator app onto my phone. I later learned he had known zero English when he had arrived to the states just 30 days prior and was shocked at how fast he picked things up. Incredible. The whole doctors visit ended up taking about 5 hours as we waited and then went over to a separate wing to get the parents work done, but we managed to all still leave with a smile. The 5 year old daughter, Hanin, latched onto me first and quickly, before the other children. Without words we made up a handshake and still managed to make each other laugh. She took selfie’s of us doing thumbs up on her phone and went around telling everyone “This is my friend” Muhammed later told me.
The entire day was an adventure filled with funny moments. In this picture you can see one of the sons picked the medical centers lovely bed of planted flowers to give to me… It was so sweet of him but funny at the same time.
Once we got back from the Medical center the kids had so much fun playing in the water fountains at the Dilworth Park before heading back to NSC. It is interesting to see how children interact. Children really are color blind and in this case language blind. Anyone they meet becomes a fast friend. I saw this as the children played and interacted with a couple of African American little girls. Wouldn’t it be amazing if we all loved like that?
Upon returning back to the service center the family really wanted me to go to their house to eat lunch. It was difficult for me to have to say no, as that is not allowed due to my job. I had to get a translator to come tell them I couldn’t go and say my goodbyes.
At first I was sad to say goodbye but then I remembered I get to do this all semester with tons of new families! The entire day was comical, weird and full of joy. I realized today I have such a heart for social work. For making people feel comfortable and loved and accepted. Every single person deserves to feel that way. If I had to flee my home and arrive in a country with nothing, not speaking the language or knowing anyone I can’t possibly image how hard that would be. But I am learning first hand how organizations like this make such a tremendous impact in each of these families lives. And I am so honored to have the opportunity to work along side them to make the process even a small bit more comfortable. Nobody should be looked down upon because they are different or foreign. Just being connected to that family for a day made me so aware of each harsh tone and stare directed their way. It caused me to reflect back on my own thoughts and actions. I am so excited for what the semester holds in this job and for the new stories i uncover with each day.
That night a group of us on Gap Year went to this thing called the “night market” which was a huge gathering of food trucks and street vendors stretching for a block or two with live music. It was an awesome experience and very tasty too. I am afraid i main gain about 20 lbs while here, the food is all so good haha! Luckily I am joining a gym next week.
Friday: we had class this morning but got off at about 3 to start our long Labor Day weekend. After class we went to go grab our wristbands at willcall downtown for the Made In America music festival we are hitting up on Sunday!
The rest of the day we explored new areas of the city. Tomorrow I am going on a day trip to Jim Thorpe with my host family to kick the weekend off. Should be a good time, I love any opportunity to spend time with them. They are so full of life and excited to have me here. I feel so lucky to be placed with them. Everyday is a new laugh and un comfy, crazy experience.
Until next time….