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Ful-“philling” New Adventures on the Sidewalks of Philadelphia

Growing up in a city vast driving population, I was thoroughly amazed by how many new adventures can be experienced in a walking city such as Philadelphia. The sidewalks of “Philly” have many adventures that are very uncommon to the normal human eye. I never realized how truly isolated I was from the “real world;” living in a city with a population with a higher socio-economic class while younger and attending a school with very little diversity, I was sheltered from the uncertainties of living homeless or on the streets. Living in Philadelphia for my study away program opened my eyes to many new adventures surrounding street living in Philadelphia.

On my first day in Philadelphia, I was invited to attend a walking tour with my study away group. They divided all 61 of us students into smaller groups, with faculty leading it, based on college attendance, hometown, and gender, so that we might get a feel for the true view of Philadelphia itself—as well as how diverse and unique a city could be. We traveled eagerly through the center of the city, seeing just how a business-oriented area could be. Through the rest of the tour, though, I saw the middle class being perpetually lowered; soon enough, I noticed just how much of a vast homeless population resided in Philadelphia. There were many people holding signs made of cardboard, begging for food, money, or anything to get them by. I realized at that moment that though I was supporting myself financially in college and while on study away, these individuals were not even able to support themselves.

Being a sociology and psychology double major, I also wanted to know more about their true mental states. My city tour guide informed me that this was common question because 30-40% of homeless people in the greater Philadelphia area had been diagnosed with some form of mental disorder. For some reason, though, they felt they did not need psychological or psychiatric services or could not receive healthcare benefits. Attending college in Kalamazoo and growing up in Lexington, Kentucky, I did not fully understand the world I was beginning to see in the rest of my time here.

Now, three weeks later, and truly reflecting from that experience, I have been asked at least five times a day for financial support from homeless individuals; I have also seen the police ask homeless people to move from their street homes. I have also seen human feces on the ground next to them as well as more people that have mental disorders than one could imagine. I knew I wanted to get involved and help these people; since I have been in Philadelphia, I have fed the homeless at Cafés, went to help out at ministries and temples, and even brought around granola bars.

Kalamazoo College has prepared me to experience these situations with an open mind. Being a person active in creating social justice, I want to create change here in Philadelphia. I am trying as much as I can, but as I have learned the process takes more than just one person. Philadelphia, though a big city just like Lexington, has taught me to truly appreciate ful-“philling” new adventures as well as just truly how appreciative I should be for what I have in life: a great family, education, and the thirst for reflecting from new experiences as well as helping create social change.

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About Mara Richman ’15

Mara is from Florida and a psychology major. She is very involved in Psychology research and works in the admissions office as both a tour guide and student worker. She recently studied away in Philadelphia, through the program Kalamazoo College offers. Read her blog!