Name: Julia Park

Hometown: Long Island, N.Y.

Major: Urban studies with a minor in chemistry 

Activities: Service LinkUNAIDS at Penn, Fellowship with Grace Covenant Church, work with the Urban Studies department

Tell us a little bit about your senior thesis project.

My senior thesis is about addressing housing instability in Philadelphia. I did a case study looking at a housing program spearheaded by Temple University Hospital. Over the past decade, housing has been seen as a social determinant of health. Whether you have housing or not largely determines your quality of life and your quality of health. Unfortunately, not a lot of hospitals address homelessness, specifically housing instability in its various forms. I think when we think of homelessness, we immediately think of somebody that we see on the street, but there are various types of housing instability, like people who are couch–surfing, people who are at risk of eviction, or various populations that are falling through the cracks. 

The case study at Temple University Hospital was one of the first housing health collaborations spearheaded in Philly in collaboration with two insurance companies. The study asked the question of how we address housing in regards to healthcare. My thesis was an analysis of the program, looking at how effective it was and its impact. It was very encouraging to see that Philly was one of the few cities jumpstarting progress in the space of housing health collaborations.

Tell us about your involvement with the religious community at Penn.

I grew up in a Christian household. Like many people who have grown up in Christian households, college was the first time I was presented with the question and opportunity of whether I wanted to keep going to church or whether I wanted to no longer attend. I checked out Grace Covenant Church once I got to campus, and I decided that the religious community remained important to me. And I would say that being involved with Christian Fellowship has taught me how to take ownership of my own faith while also finding and defining my own beliefs and morals. When we get to college we're told college is where we learn to become an adult. We’re told it's where we get life experience. 

I think part of becoming an adult has involved defining my own beliefs. I have learned what my priorities in life are and what's important to me. In the midst of my professional and academic pursuits, I found myself questioning and challenging the Christian theology that I grew up with. Overall, I am less afraid to ask questions and I have been able to explore theology. I have claimed ownership of my own faith and become more of an inquisitive thinker. I built off my own faith by going into places where I can ask these questions about religion with peers who were going through the same struggles. I think this was super helpful in learning the value of community. I think Christianity has really been important to me; it is one of the first labels I would define myself with. 

My growth alongside Christianity has made me bold and able to ask tough questions both inside and outside the classroom.

Out of all your extracurricular activities, which would you say has had the biggest impact on your experience at Penn?

I would say Service Link. Service Link was one of the reasons I changed my major into urban studies. I was previously studying biochemistry, but as I was listening to the stories of medical patients and their struggles, I realized it made me want to take action. My heart broke because of the numerous inequities that exist in the city of Philadelphia and the discrimination that a lot of people around us face. Meeting and talking to these individuals and seeing how their lives are actually impacted by systemic racism and other inequities in health care makes you really think about how we can help.

As a student in Penn, how can I help the larger community of Philadelphia? Service Link has made me a better listener and helped me see humanity. Additionally, it has changed the way I think and interact with people. I'm really thankful for the program. 

Who are some of the professionals in the field of urban studies that you’ve been able to speak to? 

Urban studies introduced me to the nonprofit space in Philly, which I was previously unaware of. I switched into an urban studies major late sophomore year. Even though I started a bit late,  I was able to meet the CEO of Why Not Prosper, Reverend Michelle Simmons. She is the epitome of a boss woman, and she helps support formerly incarcerated women. She eases their transition and integration back into society when coming out of prison. She's one of the coolest people I've met. I admire her work, her drive, and her passion. And I actually think working in the nonprofit space in Philly has really expanded my perspective of what makes up a city, and also Penn's place in the larger city of Philadelphia. 

How have you found balance in everything you do?

I think [it’s important to] pause to actually think about what you're doing and take intentional time to evaluate where you are spending most of your time. Is that reflective of what you care about? You know, I think Penn is a really fast paced environment. And there's always this notion of how you always have to be doing something, you always have to be productive, whatever that means. You always have to be making the best use of your time. I think in the midst of the busyness, we often forget why we're doing the things that we're doing. You know, I think finding spaces to be able to pause, reflect, and really evaluate your life is helpful. 

I think for me, part of this activity [of] pausing and reflecting is giving thanks for all the things that you have. Practicing gratitude is actually a really great way to find balance or even sanity, in the midst of busyness. It takes a lot of intentionality to actually pause and think about what you're doing, and how you're living. I think intentionality is the one word answer I would give. I think actually, something that's largely a part of that is showing yourself grace. I think showing yourself grace is critical and finding balance or any type of rhythm in life.

However, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friends, mentors, and professors who’ve always been a steady support network for me. I also have friends who love me so well and mentors and professors who continue to challenge me and help me grow. Doing life within a community makes all the difference.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned during your time at Penn? 

Compassion goes a long way. I have learned how to be compassionate to others and how to receive compassion. 

What's next for you after Penn?

I would consider myself a generalist, so I have many [insurances] and many things I enjoy. I wouldn't say I have a specific thing I find great passion and joy in, but I am interested in the public health space. I want to improve people's quality of life. Whether that be through medicine or through policy, I'm not really sure. Medical school and working in the nonprofit space are also of interest to me. 

Lightning Round:

Last song you listened to? "Help My Unbelief" by PsalmCollective

Last thing you cooked? Dakdoritang (Korean Spicy Chicken Stew)

Death row meal? Kimchi–jjigae (Kimchi Stew)

Favorite study spot on campus? Beiler's Doughnuts and Annenberg Library

There are two types of people at Penn… People who care and people who don't care

And you are? Well, I can’t say I don’t care. You can take that for what you would like. 

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.