I love Allentown & it’s not a joke anymore.

Allentown City Clock Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com

This semester I am a community intern at Promise Neighborhoods of the Lehigh Valley. Three times a week I get to take the bus and interact with the world and life outside of the Muhlenbubble. It’s amazing. Promise Neighborhoods has opened me up to people doing the everyday work to solve the “big world problems” I get to learn about in my interdisciplinary, liberal arts, sustainability and international studies double major (with a concentration in race, colonization and social justice because I just can’t get enough). The day before the internship application was due to the Office of Community Engagement, I sent a hasty email to Beth Halpern—can I have more time? I just decided I was going to stay here next semester. 

I had been planning to go abroad. This whole school year. I left in May of 2022 not expecting to step foot on this campus until August of 2023. My whole sophomore year I spent so much time comparing, contradicting and corrupting my capacity to enjoy this space. This place. These people. So I was going to escape. I was going to see the world. I was going to do so many different things. Just ask the Office of Global Engagement. In my mind, in my plans, and in my forms I have been to Costa Rica, Uganda, Amsterdam, Chile, Cambodia, the list could go on. 

But my feet, my heart, my soul and maybe my anxieties too, they all compounded and brought me back here. Allentown, Pennsylvania. 

Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Pennsylvania. 

In many ways I have learned more in transit in Allentown, interacting with people on the streets and at Promise Neighborhoods than I ever could in a classroom. More than I could and all that I could anywhere in the world. It doesn’t matter that I’m in Allentown. Yet it means everything that I’m in Allentown. Small moments shared amid massive and minuscule movements. I smile when I witness a “how are you?” between strangers on the 101. I am amazed with the odds of the universe when old friends find and greet each other on the 213. I feel powerful when I figure out I can take the 218 to get back to campus quicker without Google Maps having told me so (though it is amazing and I highly recommend leaning on it as a guide to LANta!). 

I knew someone in high school who had just moved away from Allentown. When I told him I was going to Muhlenberg he didn’t know what it was, let alone that it was located in Allentown. A speck and spark of a place that we get to call home for four-ish years. How amazing is that? To live in a city that has not been built around us: remarkably privileged, complicated, anxious, learning, changing, annoying, beautiful college students. I think about land and space a lot. Land use, the ways it has been stolen, degraded, destroyed, morphed, memorialized. We make land out to be so much more and so much less than it is. We construct borders and national identities and… we betray the environment and forget how we are a part of it. We build on top of entire ecosystems and then scream if a bug dares enter “our space.” 

My freshman year, a centipede entered “my” space. This space that I had lived in for maybe two months. Do you know how long centipedes have been living on this planet? I don’t know either but I’m sure it’s been a long time. My single in Brown set up to be a triple. What a time to be alive and growing on this campus consumed and concerned with COVID-19. So much growth took place once I did have a place to call my own. 

I am constantly struggling with ownership and feeling a sense of belonging or rightful ownership over a topic or place. This struggle is easing as I realize no one owns anything and we all belong to everything. I’m sure that the triple in Brown I once felt at home now houses the hopes, dreams, and tears of new inhabitants and homemakers. Now, as I am near the end of my junior year in college, I really do love Allentown. At the beginning of the school year, I went to an OCE Block Party where I took a temporary tattoo that read “I <3 Allentown” in gold sparkly lettering because I thought it was funny. Now I truly do love Allentown and that temporary tattoo wound up not being so temporary as it has glistened on my window, watching my love for this place grow over the past eight months.  

So, that’s been my experience thus far. If I were to leave you with anything, I hope you’ll take the bus sometime, open your eyes up to the wide world that exists in this single city alone. See people and smile when you walk by them on the sidewalk. Say ‘hi’ not just to the dog but to the person walking it too. Take your headphones off every now and then and listen and learn from the birds in the wind, the people in their cars and whatever else you may find. It’s a curious thing, this life we’ve got. And we live in an “all inspiring” city, as the motto says, so get out there and be inspired.



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