Grace Kerschensteiner is a volunteer for the Community Bridge program at Drexel University. She is a senior Economics major in the Lebow College of Business.
Triangle Talks: How long have you volunteered for the Community Bridge program?
Grace Kerschensteiner: I was among the inaugural volunteers of the program in 2012 when it first started.
TT: How would you describe the Community Bridge Program to Drexel Students?
GK: The program provides families away from home for International Gateway Students. It brings together international students with Drexel students, faculty and Philadelphia community members. The families meet once a month and participate in events of their choosing — from Drexel events, to eating lunch downtown and even playing Apples to Apples at Starbucks. As a Drexel student, you would help provide mentorship to International Gateway students by helping them practice their English, explaining American culture and providing general support and friendship.
TT: Why did you become a student leader?
GK: At the time I signed up, I had just transferred to Drexel so I could empathize with the tumultuous first year of college combined with the cultural and language difference that the international students have to face. I also read some statistics that said many international students who do not get the opportunity to interact with domestic students outside of the classroom usually struggle with retaining English. I thought this program was the easiest way for me to help support a student’s language skills and at the same time make friends.
TT: Are there any skills you were able to learn during the program?
GK: I was able to learn about different cultures. The program also helped support my communication skills with non-native speakers and promote mutual understanding.
TT: Do you feel like the program met your expectations?
GK: Yes, I knew the name being “Community Bridge” is to provide a bridge between faculty and students; and it indeed provided that bridge. I was able to meet and interact with people that I wouldn’t associate with on a daily basis.
TT: What do you enjoy the most about being a student leader?
GK: My new international friends opened my eyes to another culture that I didn’t just want to visit, but live among. The program also embedded a sense of mutual understanding that extends beyond the once monthly events with my family.
TT: Can you tell me about one of your favorite memories from the program and your most rewarding experience?
GK: I went to study abroad in Singapore in January 2014, but before I left, one of my last activities with my Community Bridge family was going to the Christmas Village in [Love Park] on a snowy December day. For many of the international students, it was their first taste of what Christmas was like the in United States — the decorations, the shopping, the carols and songs, and the general excitement for the holiday. Flash forward a couple of months, I was in Singapore celebrating Chinese New Year and experiencing the energy and excitement for the holiday. I practiced my Chinese New Year’s greetings that I learned in my Chinese class with my Community Bridge family back in the U.S. That’s when I realized that the experience had really come full circle for me and I am sure the international students got a kick out of my attempt at Chinese.
TT: Why should others consider volunteering?
GK: First off, it is fun. The program gives you plenty of new and exciting ideas of things to do in Philadelphia.It’s a great way to explore your own city while at the same time making new friends. The programs also help support mutual understanding and community development.