Hometown: Boca Raton, Florida

Major: BBB

Activities: African Rhythms, CityStep, MERT, research assistant, Osiris, Carriage, Friars 

34th Street Magazine: Sounds like you’re pretty busy!

Isabelle Tersio: Quite, quite, quite busy, yeah. I have a job off campus too. I work at a farm in southwest Philly. It’s called Sankofa Farm at Bartram’s Garden. They have a youth program, and so I grow food, plant, and teach [high school students] about cultivation and the land, and basically how to farm. During the school year, it’s a little different. We do some farming, but we try to get the students to reach out to their own communities and teach their own communities about food access, food justice, healthy eating, things like that. I also help them with their resumes, and anything else.

Street: You dedicate a lot of your time to helping others, with your involvement with Sankofa Farm, CityStep, and MERT. What inspires you?

IT: Everyone needs help, everyone’s human. It’s really important to me to not only seek out new experiences for myself but to give other people new experiences, and I think that the best way to do that is just to talk to people. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it through farming or through dance, but I think that the major thing is that I’m learning about this community that I’m deciding to live in, and they’re teaching me so much. It’s an exchange between the people who have lived here their entire lives and me who just came here for the four years. I don’t know how it all ties together—it’s just a thing that I love to do. I love to talk to people and see where that takes me.

Street: How did you get involved in African Rhythms?

IT: I danced when I was really young, and then I quit to play sports in high school. I tore my Achilles at the end of senior year of high school, so I was in a cast and boot my entire freshman year at Penn. So I didn’t really get a chance to join many clubs because I just physically couldn’t get around campus to participate in a lot of things. So my sophomore year, I was like, this is the year. I need to join things, I need to do something that’s different. I don’t want to be too comfortable. This was a great opportunity to dive into something I’d never done before, so I joined African Rhythms. 

Street: What kinds of dance do you do in African Rhythms?

IT: Each dance comes from a certain region of either West Africa or Cuba. So we do West African styles and Afro–Cuban styles. With the Afro–Cuban styles, they usually originate from a certain orisha, or god, and so you have to learn about these orishas to convey the dance properly. For example, Oshun, she’s the goddess of water, so our instructor will give us background about who she is and what she’s known for. These are deeply rooted, traditional dances. 

Street: How does your involvement with African Rhythms and CityStep overlap?

IT: CityStep Penn has traditionally leaned toward hip–hop and pop music, but this year we’re trying to push our city steppers outside of their comfort zone and having them experiment with different styles of music. I’ve helped to coordinate bringing African drummers into the classrooms, to have them dance to music that can change with their movements, so they’re not restricted by a song and its lyrics. So if they decide to go really fast, the rhythm will go fast with them and change with them. We’re leaning toward modern, instrumental, drumming—that kind of dance.

Street: You’re also a part of MERT. What’s that like?

IT: The time commitment is between 24 hours to 30–something hours each month, which is really attainable. If you do an overnight shift, that’s eight hours right there, so you do that three times a month, and there’s your 24 hours. I like it because it’s flexible, and I get to choose my days and which shifts I take. I really enjoy working under pressure in emergency situations. I want to be an emergency room doctor, so this has been a great first step for me to see what it’s like.

Street: So is medical school on the horizon for you?

IT: I’m planning on taking a gap year next year, and working for my EMS service back home—it’s like riding in the back of the ambulance. So I plan to do that for a year, and then hopefully get into med school the next year after that, so fingers crossed!

Lightning Round

Street: My favorite show is… 

IT: Broad City

Street: I can’t stop listening to… 

IT: “Anything” by SZA

Street: There are two types of people at Penn… 

IT: People who appreciate chunky peanut butter, and those who are extremely against it.

Street: Which are you?

IT: Oh, I appreciate chunky peanut butter. I love it. You know how people have handles on top of their cabinets, I have empty peanut butter jars. It’s a lot—I want to say close to 40 now, since June.

Street: The best part of Penn is… 

IT: Philly.

Street: The worst part of Philly is… 

IT: The winter.