It seems a little incredible, but I have just over a week left at my internship. Next Friday is my last day and I’m moving out of our apartment the following morning.
It seems to me like now is the time to sit back and reflect on the last two months. Did I accomplish everything I wanted to? Did I learn something?
On the living-in-an-apartment-in-Philadelphia front, I certainly learnt a lot. I’m a lot better cook than I was two months ago, as evidenced by the fact that the number of successful meals I cooked increased inversely proportionate to the mess I made and number of kitchen items irreparably destroyed. I now know how to unclog a drain, have keys fixed, get rid of flies, and go grocery shopping on a student budget (even when tempted by all of the wonderful foodstuffs at Whole Foods).
I also experienced Philadelphia as a tourist and a resident. I went to Independence Mall, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Love Park, Penn’s Landing, the Italian Market, Chinatown, Reading Terminal Market and the Magic Garden. I had my first Philly cheesesteak. I also learned how to navigate the crowds of tourists who have the annoying tendency to block the sidewalk near our apartment as they line up to get a cheesesteak.
Did I get to see everything I wanted to? No, there is still the Philadelphia Zoo, the Franklin Institute, the Atwater Kent Museum…
Of course, I did also go to my internship this summer Monday through Friday. I can’t possibly list everything I experienced and learnt at the Women’s Law Project here but I will share a couple things.
The range and breadth of my experience certainly far exceeded my expectations. I now know nearly every zipcode in Philadelphia and can tell you, with a fairly high degree of certainty, its location and racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic make-up. I learned this rather inane set of data in two ways. Firstly, through outreach. I spent many hours a weekend researching each zipcode and combing through the Telephone Counseling database looking at call distribution across zip codes. Secondly, through counseling and intake. Behind all this demographic data, are people who call the WLP at some of the worst moments in their lives. For many zipcodes, I can also picture a specific caller I have talked to, trying to help her deal with the problems in her life.
Nobody calls the WLP when life is going swimmingly well. Everybody calls the WLP when they have a problem, usually of an unimaginable magnitude. Rarely does a caller have just one question. Most of our clients are trying to fight multiple fires: they have an abusive partner, they are fighting for custody of their kids, they need a divorce, they have no money, they have no health insurance. I listen to their problems for an hour or even just ten minutes, but I can get off the phone. For our callers, these problems are their lives. That was one of the hardest things for me to come to grips with this summer.
On the phones, you see the best and worst of humanity. You hear about terrible things people to do one another. You also hear women who are so resilient in the face of incredible hardship. The dignity and graciousness of many of the callers I have talked to takes me by surprise every time. I can only hope that if I was ever in a similar situation, I could be like that.
The thing that I learnt this summer which was probably the hardest to understand but the most essential is the importance of listening. Sometimes, all anyone needs is to have someone who will listen and validate the person’s story.
The learning curve over the last two months has been huge. Whilst I may eventually forget all the technical details I have learnt about family law or Philadelphia zip codes, I believe I won’t forget the larger lessons about privilege, compassion, and justice.
Also, I won’t forget to make sure to always be really nice to the office manager as she will be the person to help you when you break the copier… and the shredder.