Tips for Getting Settled in West Philadelphia
New school, new you, new city to learn. It’s thrilling and a little bit terrifying to try to get to know a new place. Drexel University is situated within the tight-knit neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, but even if you weren’t born and raised here, you can figure out how to navigate it with ease. West Philly is a place where neighbors know each other and take care of each other, and as long as you come with an open mind — and a little bit of insider know-how — you’ll feel right at home in no time.
Luckily, some Drexel faculty and staff actually were born and raised in West Philly, like Shardé Johnson, director of the Center for Black Culture. And not too long ago, people like Anyi Ye, International Student and Scholar Advisor at International Students and Scholars Services (ISSS), were getting to know the area, too. Here are their tips for getting acquainted with the area around Drexel.
Brush up on your neighborhood names
West Philadelphia is very residential and there are a lot of families that live here, Johnson said. The history of the community around Drexel and University City goes deep.
“If you want to really get to know the community, there are tons of opportunities here in West Philly,” she said.
However, before you do, Ye said to take a minute to learn how local people pronounce names of local places. She said it’s good for international students to be prepared for the pronunciations of local places, which can be confusing. Manayunk? (Ma-na-yuhngk). Schuylkill? (Skoo-kl). Mantua? (Man-choo-uh). The names of rivers (like Schuylkill) and neighborhoods (like Mantua, Manayunk and Passyunk [Pash-unk]) in Philadelphia often come from Dutch and Algonquin languages.
“It’s a nod to historical Philadelphia, which has a lot of different cultural influences,” Johnson said. “It’s helpful to know the phonetic spellings for these because these are some words and neighborhoods you’ll come in contact with pretty often. When you look at Schuylkill, it does not look like which is how it’s pronounced.”
Figure out the public transit system
As you’re getting settled, use SEPTA trains and the subway, said Ye . The El is the Market-Frankford SEPTA line, which travels east and west. Drexel is situated near Market Street; 30th Street Station and 34th Street Station are both close to campus and can take you into Center City or further into West Philly.
Johnson advises conquering the El before working out the trolleys, which Ye said were tough to figure out when she first arrived at Drexel.
But if you don’t have a car, the train will help you out a lot. Get a SEPTA Key, which you can purchase for $4.95 at a station’s Fare Kiosk, and make sure you stay aware of your surroundings in order to stay safe.
Try out food trucks
Ye hears from a lot of international students who can’t keep away from the many food trucks on and around Drexel’s campus once they get a taste. Some international students gravitate towards trucks because they advertise food like they have in their home country, only to realize that it tastes different in America. However, Ye advises students to get a little adventurous in their dining.
“It’s a very diverse city and food trucks sell a lot of diverse food,” Ye said. “It may be different from what you had in your home country because here, food is catering to American tastes. However, so many restaurants in Philadelphia keep their traditional cuisines and serve authentic food. It would be fun to explore once students settle down.”
However, even with different palates, there’s bound to be something delicious to try.
Make friends outside your comfort zone
Plenty of other people are also experiencing West Philadelphia for the first time, so Johnson and Ye recommend that new students get out and get involved. Johnson encourages new students to go to the Resource Fair and seek out cultural resources like the Center for Black Culture and ISSS.
Ye wants new students, domestic and international, to take advantage of all the events happening on campus. She urges students to step outside of their comfort zone and make friends with people outside of their normal social circles — for example, she encourages international students who are involved with ISSS to make friends who aren’t from their home country. It’s good to learn together.
“Philadelphia is a very international city,” Johnson said. “There are pockets in the city, outside of West Philly, where people also might also find their community. Go experience the brotherly love."
There is always more to learn, too, so ISSS is hosting an event with Johnson and Robia Smith-Herman, LCSW, staff therapist and embedded BIPOC specialist for the Counseling Center and the Center for Black Culture titled “West Philadelphia Born and Raised: A Guide to Living and Loving in West Philly.” The goal is for ISSS to help their international students understand Philadelphia and the West Philadelphia neighborhood, especially the demographics and history.
CBC will welcome international students to ask questions that will help them understand Philadelphia. They hosted a preliminary event over the summer and will host another at ISSS on Oct. 13 at noon.