The Tenderloin

Did you say… the Tenderloin?  For those unfamiliar with San Francisco’s neighborhoods, the Tenderloin has a rough past and present.  The popular account of how the Tenderloin got its name goes like this: back in the day the cops in this area were particularly corrupt and collected a lot of bribes.  They made so much money they were able to afford the tenderloin cut of meat, which was very expensive.  The name stuck. 



The Tenderloin is located in the center of San Francisco.  It is nestled between Chinatown, Downtown/City Center, and Market (where many bankers and lawyers work).  It is also a neighborhood densely populated with homeless people (also called un-housed).  Due to a mix of misunderstandings and misconceptions, most people who know SF were concerned for our safety.  So, why the Tenderloin?  And why San Francisco?   Heck, why are we starting a study abroad in America?

The most obvious statement about this study abroad is that it is not a typical study abroad.  It is an “academic program that travels”.  We go to three countries, live in host families, take four courses with a traveling professor and local professors, visit 50+ sites, and have guest lecturers.  We analyze, in-depth, social entrepreneurship, technology, and development from a myriad of perspectives.  We research specific topics of interest and create a business prototype by the end.

We start in San Francisco because it is the global hub of technology and innovation (at least, Silicon Valley).  We start in the Tenderloin because high wages and cost of living has priced out many locals and created a serious homelessness problem.  We start in America because before going off to other places, we need to be grounded in understanding that our home country has issues.  Additionally, San Francisco is new to most of us, so we are experiencing a new culture through street art, man buns, and the constant smell of marijuana.

We met with the Coalition on Homelessness SF, whose mission is to “organize homeless people and front line service providers to create permanent solutions to homelessness, while working to protect the human rights of those forced to remain on the streets.”  Their recent big win was Proposition C, a tax on wealthy corporations that will generate $300 million annually for the homeless.  Homelessness is a violation of human rights, according to the UN Declaration of Human Rights, but there is not enough allocated government funding to address it.  Liberal tax policies supported the Tech Boom in the Bay Area, so a tax on those corporations to help the neediest of SF’s population makes sense.  Last year, a UN expert called SF’s homelessness crisis a “cruelty that is unsurpassed.”  Although the U.S. acknowledges the Declaration of Human Rights and goes to other countries “promoting” them, we also criminalize homelessness.  The U.S. is a country of contradictions.

The Coalition asked if we would continue to educate ourselves and our communities on homelessness.  What I would like to share is that, although the most visible part of the population struggle with substance abuse and mental issues, that that is not the majority of the population.  When we were walking, I saw a young man shooting up on the street.  Sometimes, a person walked by talking to an unknown audience.  For me, the fear I have around people living on the streets comes from not knowing if I am putting myself in a vulnerable position by acknowledging someone because they might not be all entirely there.  At the same time, it was emphasized that acknowledging someone is a way to humanize someone who is suffering.  When I am inclined treat someone differently because of a past experience or a generalization I have on homelessness, I must remember that every person, at least, deserves their humanity.

Community mural

Community mural



We are on stolen land. Thank you Muwekma Olhone for hosting us.

 I walk into an orange room on Valencia St. with my suitcase and airplane hair. I am immediately greeted by the staff and soon walk over to where my new peers are chatting. I say “hi” to another girl getting a Trader Joe’s snack on the table, and am struck by how at ease and mature everyone seems.  Conversation is easy as we all share a bit about ourselves.

We come from New York, Rhode Island, North Carolina, Washington D.C., New Jersey, and California.  Some of us travel often to family abroad and others have never been out of the country.  We go to a mix of universities across the country and study everything from Studio Art to Sustainable Management.  After introductions, we fumble into vans and drive south of San Francisco to Point Montara. 

Our first morning together we are awakened by a fuchsia sunrise.  For most of us, this is our first time seeing the Pacific. Waves lap at the cliffs, birds dive for fish, and our cohort sits facing the Pacific.  Is this the edge of the world?  I think, despite knowing the Earth is round.  

In each country, we start with a two-day orientation.  In America, our orientation consists of the handbook, an academic overview, and going over who’s who in the program.  We each share our “life’s poster” in a five-minute presentation.  Each of us has a different life story bringing us to this place.  Camilo comes from a big Columbian family, Patience studied in Ghana over winter break, Emma loves photography, and Kaycia calls her mom “Boo Boo Kitty”.  We start establishing community guidelines and make committees, like the wellness committee and the lit committee, and in doing so get to learn a bit more about the fifteen people we will be with for the next four months.  

After two days soaking in the sounds of the waves and the gentle Northern California sunshine, we return to San Francisco and check into our hostel in the Tenderloin.  

Preparing for the Unknown

How do you prepare for the unknown?

A packing list helps. So does Googling “Uganda street fashion” and “what to wear in India.” Actually, that does not help. I feel like I am not going to be able to dress myself in the clothes I normally wear because I am not going to be doing the things I normally do. I am going to be in three entirely different countries with different cultural norms. Not only that, I am going on an epic transformation, I will change, I might not even recognize myself. What makes me think I will want to wear that old cardigan during this “transformation?”

Getting ready to go on this trip is intimidating me, and I cannot quite figure out why. Last summer, I packed the night before my flight to Tel Aviv without much thought. But I have been studying my packing list for weeks now, picking up gear and clothes, making sure I am fully prepared.

As I look at my nearly packed suitcase, however, I realize that having the right shoes, shirts, and pants is not all that it takes to be prepared. Preparation is just as much emotional as it is physical. In an attempt to be as prepared as possible, here is my last-minute emotional packing list.