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Society & Culture

Making International Friends at Home and Abroad

January 15, 2016

Grace, second from right, with four other Drexel Singapore exchange students in Singapore.

Grace, second from right, with four other Drexel Singapore exchange students in Singapore.

“It's easy to classify someone that speaks a different language as a ‘foreigner,’ but it's just as easy to classify them as a friend once you get to know them,” said Grace Kerschensteiner, a senior economics major in the LeBow College of Business.

She speaks from the heart. Since 2012, Kerschensteiner has volunteered with Drexel’s Intercultural Community Bridge program, a program housed in the English Language Center in which fully matriculated Drexel students welcome International Gateway students new to Philadelphia. Plus, she knows what it’s like to live in a foreign country herself after studying abroad in Singapore as a Gilman Scholar.

“The Community Bridge experience embedded a sense of mutual understanding,” she explained. “Through this experience, I have found that I am drawn to international experiences and issues.”

Kerschensteiner first became involved in the program after transferring to Drexel in 2012 and reading about the group in an email.

“I had been in Philadelphia for just a few months and understood the feeling of acclimating to a new environment. I originally thought about the program as a unique opportunity to mentor peers and meet new people with diverse backgrounds — but I didn’t anticipate the impact those mentees would have on me!” she said.

Through Community Bridge, Kerschensteiner met and befriended students from all over the world as they explored their new mutual home of Philadelphia. Activities ranged from visiting the Christmas Village at Love Park, shopping for Halloween costumes in Center City, walking around University City and hiking in Wissahickon Creek. On campus, when the weather is bad, she said they often get hot chocolate at Starbucks and play popular party game “Apples to Apples.”

Meeting with students studying abroad helped inspire Kerschensteiner to live in a foreign country herself. She wanted to go to a region she didn’t know that much about — she’d heard about life in Asia from Community Bridge friends, but she had never experienced it personally.

“Plus, as an economics major, Singapore appealed to me because of its rapid economic development and the fact that it is a major Foreign Direct Investment outflow financier in the world. It's a powerhouse in Southeast Asia,” she said.  

The country’s languages also appealed to her; though one of the primary languages of Singapore is English, she says there is also a large presence of Chinese, Malay and Tamil languages.

“The native language of Singapore is English but it’s often referred to as ‘Singlish.’ Singlish has its unique slang and syntax and it took me a while to be able to interpret it. While studying Mandarin Chinese at Nanyang Technological University, I was able to find parallels between the two dialects,” said Kerschensteiner. 

Before leaving for Singapore in January 2014, one of the last things she did with her “Community Bridge family” was to visit the Christmas Village in Love Park — the first Christmas activity for some of her international friends at Drexel. Just a few months later, Kerschensteiner found herself in Singapore celebrating Chinese New Year for the first time, something she’d only heard about from Community Bridge mentees.

“That’s when I realized that the experience had really come full circle for me,” she explained.

Having lived in Singapore and traveled to Vietnam, Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia, Kerschensteiner recently submitted a Fulbright application to complete economic research in Indonesia after graduation. She also plans on pursuing a master’s degree in an international field and work in international development.