Ah! What a week it has been. I can’t believe that its already been a week, and that at the same time it has only been a week. Also, how is it already February?! I am so excited to be able to write about my experiences again and share them with all of you. To remind everyone, I am on a 4-month study abroad journey with an International Honors Program (IHP) that has begun in San Francisco, California for our 2-week launch. We will be headed to Kampala, Uganda next week for a month, and then to New Delhi, India for 5 weeks, and Sao Paulo, Brazil for 5 weeks. The program is a social innovation program studying entrepreneurship, design, and technology. Our program is an experiential learning-based program which means we will be doing a lot of our learning by doing, rather than just spending time in a classroom.
I landed in San Francisco last Sunday and met some of the people on my program right away in the airport. We traveled to our “classroom” spot and met the rest of the people on our program after getting some lunch. In total, there are 12 students on the program. We are mainly from different places along the east coast, however we have a student from Myanmar and a student from the Netherlands. Also, fun fact, there is only one male in our group. God bless him. We also have 2 faculty members that will be traveling with us the entire time. We have our trustee’s fellow, Kasey, who is basically a trip leader/mentor, and Ella, our professor that will teach two of our classes. We will be taking 4 classes during our travels. They are Social Entrepreneurship in a Global Comparative Context, Design Thinking and Development, Technology, Change, and Innovation, and Anthropology and Social Change. Here in San Francisco we also have our launch coordinator, Ansley, and our program director, Katy. We will only be with Ansley in San Francisco, but we will see Katy again in India and near the end of our time in Brazil.
We spent the majority of Sunday afternoon becoming familiar with all of our materials for the San Francisco portion of the program and learning more about what IHP is. IHP programs have been around for quite a long time and just recently joined in a partnership with the School for International Training (SIT) and World Learning. Each program looks at a different topic, some of the others are Climate Change, Food Security, and Health and Community, and travels to 4 continents. Prior to this day I did not realize what a legacy IHP has and how important its alumni network is. We learned that a lot of the experiential learning portion of our program involves going on site visits to learn about different organizations and how the work they are doing relates to social innovation. Unlike Lehigh, we do not have class every day or always at the same day. Some days we may have two site visits and a guest lecturer and another day a site visit and a class. In case your wondering how meals work while were in San Francisco, we were given a stipend to cover all meal expenses enabling us to explore different restaurants or go to the grocery store and cook in our hostel.
Early Sunday evening we traveled to Point Montara, about an hour drive outside of SF, for a 2-day orientation/retreat. We stayed in a nice hostel that was right on the water. It was absolutely beautiful. These two days consisted of us all getting to know each other, learning about expectations of the program, what the program is and going through the syllabi for our courses. All of the people are actually very great. We are all surprised by how normal everyone is.
Tuesday afternoon we traveled back to San Francisco and checked into our hostel. We stayed at the HI International Hosteling Center in an area of SF called the Tenderloin. We then went to Thumbtack for our first site visit. Thumbtack is a for-profit organization that connects professionals with people who are looking for their services. Whether you are looking for music lessons, dog training, personal trainers, or just about anything else Thumbtack is the place to go to. Thumbtack was actually founded by an IHP Alum. While we were there we met Joan Tiffany, who is the Senior Director for all of the IHP programs. After the site visit we had an IHP Alumni Dinner at Thumbtack where a bunch of alumnus from the area came to talk to us and offer an advice for any questions we had. It was really cool to see that people who have been on IHP programs years and years ago still came to this dinner.
Wednesday morning, we started out with a site visit to the Coalition on Homelessness, a non-profit that works towards advocating for policy change and education around the homeless population in San Francisco. A big portion of the homeless population in SF is actually where we are staying in the Tenderloin and it is not a secret that this is the case when walking around. The COH gave us a presentation about what they do and homelessness myths. Homelessness really began around the 1980s when there was a housing crisis and prices started to increase tremendously leading to the removal of a lot of people from their homes. I was stunned to find out that 40% of the homeless population is working. I learned that people can be fined by the police for sleeping, laying down, sitting and just hanging out. We were told that the conditions of shelters is far from halfway decent. People are often encouraged to sleep on the streets for at least one night to push them up on the priority list to get access to a bed in a shelter. Pregnant women are not guaranteed a spot in a shelter until their third trimester. I could continue on, but needless to say, this visit opened my eyes to homelessness and the systems efforts to alleviate this problem.
We then went on a neighborhood walking tour of the Tenderloin with a man named Del Seymour. A big part of the tour involved him showing us around a place called St. Anthonys, which offers free services that are integral to the livelihood of people experiencing homelessness in the area. They have a technology lab that allows people to come in and use the computers and WIFI. They also offer classes on smartphones. Across the street is a dining hall, intentionally not called a soup kitchen, for the community to use every day. They have a place where families can come and they will dress everyone from head to toe, a drug and alcohol center for people struggling with addiction and more. Right down the street is the Gubbio Project which is church that opens its doors for people to come in and sleep during the day.
Walking around with Del was quite an experience. He knows pretty much everyone. Every block that we turned onto people would stop and say hi, a car even pulled over to say hello. At the end of the tour Del revealed that he was homeless for 18 years and was the areas biggest drug dealer and that is why everyone knows him. He is now the mayor of the Tenderloin, running education programs, and spending his days working towards helping those around him in need out of rock bottom. Talk about an inspiration.
After debriefing the morning, we had our first Social Entrepreneurship class which was taught by our wonderful program director, Katy. Normally this class will be taught by the local faculty in each country. This class was basically an introduction to what social entrepreneurship and social innovation is. Social innovation does have one clear definition and can take on may forms, however at its core, social innovation is trying to address unmet social needs through ideas, actions, processes, systems and more that cuts across the public, private, and civil society sectors. Social entrepreneurship is a form of social innovation that works towards unmet social needs through organization and business. This work is not always positive and there are always losers involved which we will learn more about as the course continues.
IHP has this tradition called POD which stands for Person of the Day. POD will run us through the days schedule, check in with the faculty for any announcements, and have some activity for us to begin the day with. At any site visits, the POD for that day will introduce us and make sure our classroom space is clean after we use it. POD rotates through everyone in our group, so we all get a chance to do this job many, many times.
Thursday morning began with a guest lecturer with Jack Beck. Jack was previously the San Francisco launch coordinator for an IHP program and has his own non-profit that works with connecting LBTQIA+ volunteers with local events. His lecture was on the Social Entrepreneurship landscape which basically ran us through what social entrepreneurship looks like for profits and nonprofits and where they are able to get their funding from. He taught us about incubators and accelerators, foundations, B Corps, and more. We then had another guest lecturer, Dr. Morgan Ames, teach our first Technology, Change and Innovation class. Dr. Morgan Ames has done a lot of work with the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) project and analyzing its success. The OLPC project had the goal of providing every child with one laptop and was focused on countries in Latin America and Africa. This project ended up doing more harm than good due to a lack of attention to the effects of putting a technology into a classroom with no instruction and the assumption that the technology will enable learning. In class we learned about different technologies, aside from computers and the internet, and what was thought about their intended social impact.
After class we had the rest of the day to do whatever we wanted! We all went to lunch at a Mexican Restaurant and then spent the afternoon at Delores Park. We went to an ice cream shop on our walk balk and I got earl grey and honey lavender ice cream. I’m sure you can imagine how delicious it was. That evening one of the girls, Becca, made squash soup and I went to a yoga class. It was a lovely day.
I was feeling a bit under the weather on Friday, so the day dragged on. We visited Impact Hub which is a B-Corporation that is a big space that allows organizations and businesses with a social focus to use their space for a spot to work and to collaborate with others. Using their space requires membership and they host events for their members and the community. We had lunch there which was brought in by Farming Hope. Farming Hope originally started as a funded project through two students that went to Stanford. They hire people experiencing homelessness to help them with farming, gardening, and catering. We then went to Mission Asset Fund for another site visit. Mission Asset Fund is a non-profit that offers financial stability to low-income families in the community through lending circles and credit building. They also offer services to assist with Visa applications and work with the DACA programs.
After the site visits we headed back to the classroom to work on our case study questions. For our social entrepreneurship class we will be researching organizations that aim to address one specific topic in Uganda and India. We found out what topic we have and who we will be working with, and then started brainstorming broad questions we are interested in focusing on. I will be studying education. We ended the day with a debrief of everything we did throughout the week and then had the rest of the night to ourselves.
We have the weekends to ourselves to explore and do whatever we’d like. We took full advantage of this and had a great day on Saturday. A bunch of us took a bus across the Golden Gate Bridge to Sausalito. We got lunch, explored, went kayaking, had ice cream and then walked across the Golden Gate Bridge. Sausalito and the bridge were just as beautiful as they are talked up to be. We took a bus back to the marina area and went out for dinner at a nice pizza place. We had to wait over an hour for a table, but I promise it was worth it. We ended the day with going to the movies to see Call Me By Your Name. If anyone is looking for a good movie to watch in theaters, I highly recommend it. It was a beautiful film that left me crying like a baby at the end.
Sunday was just as nice as Saturday. We got acai bowls for breakfast. There is an Asian museum that is very close to our hostel that has free admission the first Saturday of every month. They had a Korean fashion exhibit, so we made sure we checked that out. I then met up with a friend, Kris, who graduated from Lehigh and is now studying at Berkeley. We grabbed lunch and went to Lands End, which is a beautiful park that has a beach and Golden Gate views. It was very nice to see a familiar face. I really love how the city, the ocean, hiking, and beaches are all so close to each other in San Francisco. I of course had to watch the superbowl. Luckily, the bar in our hostel was playing it, so a few of us hung out there and watched it. It was a great game in my opinion, especially the halftime show. We grabbed dinner at an Ethiopian restaurant and caught up on reading.
This post was a little wordy and I still feel like I left so much out. We are doing and taking so much in, so I found it quite difficult to break it down. I am feeling appreciative, blessed, curious, and excited for the weeks to come. I have been talking about this trip for so long that it doesn’t feel real that it’s actually happening. Thank you all for reading!!!
Sending my love,