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“Kristin made it to a new coast and a new terrain. Kristin saw diversity. Diversity in people, T-shirts, food, dogs, and hairstyles. Should people really be wearing winter coats and scarves and boots and stockings in early September? She rationalizes it, realizing that the weather is in the mid-50s. She witnessed a powerful sense of expression, people speaking out without using words; they spoke with their body language, their bumper stickers, their cardboards signs asking for loose change, and in their eccentricities.”
Where did these new sensations take place? In San Francisco, California upon arrival to Westmont College’s San Francisco Urban Program during the fall semester of my junior year. This excerpt is from an essay that I wrote after my first encounter with the beautiful city of San Francisco; each student in the program, all 27 of us, wrote what our initial thoughts of our arrivals into the city were. As we all reflected, I realized that just like me, my fellow students were nervous about their transition into the big city. Even though I knew that this semester was going to be a challenge, I also knew that the Lord had big things in store for our group. I was convinced that my heart and life would never be the same.
I realized that the big blue house on the corner of Lyon and Fell Streets (lovingly called the Clunie House) would soon become home. Just a stones throw away from the legendary Haight and Ashbury Streets (yes, hippies still reside in the area) and a quick bike ride away from Golden Gate Park, I knew that this semester was going to open up a vast array of exciting opportunities for my new friends and I.
Photo: Bird's eye view of the city of San Francisco
Within the first week of our experience in San Francisco, my group and I were exposed to the vast diversity and rich culture of the city. We were first introduced to a bird’s eye view of the city before we took a cursory tour of some of the districts of San Francisco. We split up into different groups, and my team had the opportunity to taste the delicious Mexican food and ice cream of the Mission District, purchase flowers in the Castro District, and test our navigation skills as we followed a map which took us from our initial vantage point all the way back to the Clunie House.
As we became accustomed to our new fast paced lives in the city, adventures such as the one previously mentioned became a frequent past time. Our sense of exploration couldn’t be stifled; we all found our favorite cafés, bookstores, and boutiques. Because of the vast diversity of the people in San Francisco, we were exposed to restaurants serving food from Ethiopia, India, Argentina, Vietnam, Israel, as well as innumerable other countries. The extent of the diversity of the people within the city was proven to us continually when we sat on MUNI (the bus system of San Francisco), hearing someone speaking French or Chinese and every now and again, hearing a tongue that was unrecognizable. The richness in diversity of the people of San Francisco added to the beauty of my experience; every day was an opportunity for a new adventure, and every new person I met was an opportunity to learn about the beauty of this life that the Lord has given us.
Photo: Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival with friends
During my semester in San Francisco, there was no shortage of entertainment. My friends and I went to see movies and concerts, Maira Kalman’s lovely art exhibit at the Contemporary Jewish Arts Museum, a San Francisco Giants baseball game (before they became World Champions!), the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park, and many other wonderful experiences.
Photo: Driving over the Golden Gate bridge to explore the beauty of Northern California
Not only was I able to explore the city of San Francisco, I also had the opportunity to cross the Golden Gate bridge and explore more of the back roads of Northern California with my parents. On our adventure, we drove along the breathtaking coast, we stopped in a small town and ate clams, we gazed upon the expansive redwoods, and then we drove to a look out and saw grey whales feeding along the shore and elephant seals basking in the sun. The location of the San Francisco Urban program opens up multiple opportunities for adventure and exploration!
Photo: A bustling street in Chinatown, located near my internship at IIE
In addition to our exploration of Northern California, my fellow students and I took classes and were placed in internships which not only exposed us to more of the beautiful intricacies of San Francisco, but they also revealed how each of us are uniquely gifted to work in the city with the skills that the Lord has blessed us with. The first couple of weeks, students traversed the city, going from interview to interview, but after our positions were secured, we were able to pour into our internships.
One of the most challenging, rewarding, and thought provoking experiences of my San Francisco semester was at my internship in the city. I came into the city wanting to find an internship that was art or design related, something that exposed me to the creative side of the Bay Area. As I interviewed at diverse organizations throughout the city, I realized that I wanted to take a risk and try something new. So, I began my internship at the Institute of International Education West Coast Center.
Within IIE, I worked as a Program Officer in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). IIE works with the U.S. State Department and U.S. embassies in order to bring distinguished foreign leaders to the Bay Area. When the leaders are selected, they come to San Francisco on specific programs; these guests come to the area in order to meet with their professional counterparts to exchange ideas and to mutually encourage one another in their fields. My job as a Program Officer was to schedule the meetings between the delegates and professionals in the Bay Area, and once the meetings were scheduled, I was able to attend them with the leaders. In this position, I was exposed not only to different cultures, but I was also able to learn more about world concerns and how the leaders of today are collaborating to fix them while promoting the health and vitality of creation.
Photo: The jellyfish exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium
One of the most exciting opportunities I had within my internship was when I went to Monterey Bay Aquarium with delegates from Ecuador. These delegates came to the Bay Area in order to meet with professionals at local aquariums. These four leaders were working for the government in Quito, and they wanted to meet with aquarium executives for practical advice about how to maintain and create a successful aquarium. Because of their goals and needs, I scheduled meetings for them at the Monterey Bay Aquarium with multiple professionals, including Ms. Julie Packard, the Executive Director of the aquarium. I was able to spend the entire day at the aquarium with these leaders, taking a behind the scenes tour, and then when our meetings were over, we drove the scenic 17 mile drive along the coast on our way back to San Francisco. It was truly an amazing honor to experience the rich resources of the Bay Area alongside these foreign leaders. My internship was an opportunity that I will never forget.
Photo: My friends and I visiting Chinatown
Throughout the weeks, as we adjusted to our new lives in the city, my fellow students and I grew closer in our friendships. I looked forward to Thursday evenings, when our whole house sat down for Community Dinner; this opened up more opportunities for fellowship with one another and for discussion of everything from the interesting people we met on the bus that day to the ways that we had been challenged by the most unexpected circumstances.
In San Francisco, the relationships that I cultivated with my housemates truly meant so much to me. As the city of San Francisco became overwhelming and as I thought through burning questions, my housemates were willing to come alongside of me, put their arms around me and listen to me when I needed it most.
Photo: My friends and I eating pizza in North Beach, the Italian district of San Francisco
Within the community established by the Urban program, we discussed the nature of the culture of San Francisco through the lens of Christianity. We discussed poverty, sexuality, drugs, sustainability, gentrification, homelessness, race, the role of churches in cities, and many other topics brought up in an urban environment. Discussing these heavy and many times confusing topics with peers and professors was helpful; I learned in San Francisco just how important it is to trust in the Lord for strength and wisdom and to depend on the Spirit’s guidance when the answers to life’s toughest questions seem hard to find. I learned that I can rest assured that He will bring ultimate justice and truth to this broken world and when my strength runs thin, He will always be strong for me.
Photo: My roommate Katie Tong and I at our midterm retreat
As the Urban program came to a close, my fellow students and I wrote reflections about our experience in San Francisco, just as we did when we first arrived. This semester challenged me, encouraged me, scared me, and made me see Christ more clearly. As I left the Urban Program being challenged with more questions, I reflected in my final essay on where true comfort can be found. “The beautiful truth that Kristin has learned is that in all her questions and fears and hopes and dreams, Jesus offers the answer that everything is possible for one who believes that He is the answer.”