International Impact: A Danish Student and His San Francisco Experience
GLIDE Emerging Leader Intern Char-Leen Craner shares her experience of meeting with Niels Koch, a University of Copenhagen student. Completing a six month internship at GLIDE, Niels shares his reflections with Char-Leen on working in the Walk-In Center, Men In Progress/ManAlive programs and his overall GLIDE experience.
I was surprised to have contact with the international community at Glide during my first week at GLIDE. During Sunday Celebration, Rev. Cecil Williams asked if there were any first-timers and several rows of people stood up. The group was from France and they were not only enthusiastically present but were also actively participating in Celebration. I was immediately impressed that people from outside of the country found GLIDE as important and essential as we did.
GLIDE makes a difference everyday in the Tenderloin. This difference is evident in the faces of those that line up for the meals program, those in the Walk-In Center and from those who use the clinic. GLIDE is well known throughout the Bay Area and much of California and is even relevant on a national level. But the fact that GLIDE can make an impact on people internationally continues to amaze me.
GLIDE not only welcomes international visitors as guests during Celebration, but they are also welcomed as integral members of the GLIDE Community. Glide’s global impact was made evident to me through a conversation I had with an international student who has spent the past six months interning at GLIDE. Niels Koch, a University of Copenhagen student, shared his experiences working in the Walk-In Center, Men In Progress and ManAlive. Niels sheds light on his thoughts on social philosophy and the cultural differences between his home country of Denmark and the U.S.
During our impromptu interview, Niels was full of energy and easy to talk to. As a Social Education major, he has an interest in social issues, especially in regard to his previous experience in schizophrenia and drug abuse. “And that’s when I found out GLIDE was something for me.” He finds the work that GLIDE does important and essential for the well-being of the community.
Niels started by working in the Walk-In Center, seeing clients and providing immediate need services for them, while simultaneously building meaningful relationships with the people he worked with and adjusting to living in a new country. It wasn’t until his supervisor suggested he attend a Men In Progress meeting did he find his main focus of his internship.
“In the beginning I was a little nervous to go out there.” Niels confesses. “But from the first moment I got in there, they were really welcoming and expressed how they appreciated that I was there.”
Niels was very moved by his time in both Men In Progress and Man Alive, even attending meetings held in San Francisco county jails. “The thing about Men In Progress is it’s based on community.” Niels confidently tells me. “It was a great experience. All these men are so aware of when it [violence] happens and what to do about it and how to stop it. It was intense to experience and talk with people who have been there so long… being where they are, not being able to be with their families and raise their kids or be there for their birthdays. That was a little tough, hearing those stories.”
Niels relates his experience with Men In Progress and ManAlive to his own country. The social and emotional differences between Danish and American society may prove to be too disparate to implement the same programs. “I think it [the curriculum] fits more into American society.” He asserts, explaining that there is a greater belief in male superiority here than in his country. “They [Denmark] are more on an individual level, where men go and talk to a counselor who most commonly has a degree in psychology…generally it’s more one-on-one.” Niels address his concern that a similar focus on individuality in the U.S. could make men feel inferior and thus prove counter-productive to Men In Progress and ManAlive’s values.
Niels makes several more observations of the major social differences he sees in the U.S. versus Denmark. “The main difference in my experience is that here everything is taken care of by private organizations and NGOs where as in Denmark it’s more taken care of by state organizations.”
He validates the uniqueness of the services GLIDE provides, pointing out that in Denmark it’s unusual to find a variety of different services in one place. “Here it seems you can have all you needs met under one roof. Which is really great. That is a really good thing about GLIDE.”
Niels vocalized some of the challenges he faced in his daily work at GLIDE. “One thing that was challenging for me was coming as a white person from a rich country to work with social problems out here. I started thinking ‘well my background is so perfect’ – [there are] so many things people here deal with we don’t even have to deal with because we have a very big welfare system that catches us if we fall. I started realizing some people have to fight a lot more for things I take for granted, because of the cultural differences in our society.”
In addition to recognizing the challenges within his own experience, Niels shares some of the ways his involvement at GLIDE has impacted him: “…everything that I’ve learned and all the inspiring people I’ve been working with have taught me something, someway. It’s been like a cultural journey…Both mentally and professionally.”
He speaks to how well the staff works with the clients here, as some of them have benefitted from GLIDE’s services themselves. Of the Tenderloin community, Niels was also left with a strong impression, stating, “When I walk around the area, in the Tenderloin, everyone is talking about GLIDE. Everyone is coming here either to get lunch or get a ticket or mental treatment. They [Glide] help in so many different ways, depending on what you need or what your situation is…It’s kind of like a place where you start and you can move toward a more stable situation in your life.”
Niels also brings up some of his biggest takeaways. He is deeply grateful, for his team at GLIDE, for the Tenderloin community and for the powerful experience of living in the ‘city by the bay’. It is simple, the reminder Niels presence at GLIDE instills in me: that GLIDE makes an impact on everyone who comes through the front doors, regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, or, in this case, nationality. GLIDE meets people where they are, unconditionally accepting people as they come and radically welcoming everyone into the GLIDE family. The impact GLIDE leaves is not just monumental for San Francisco or other social services programs; its message ripples out into the world, allowing the international community to experience the radical inclusiveness that is GLIDE.
Niels shares how his experience at GLIDE will always stay with him. “…working with people here who have so little already and they come into GLIDE and get their needs met – they just light up in a way.” He says. “They get super excited. And when they come in the next day or next week, they still recognize me and say “Hey thanks for the help you provided last week!” To be able to provide services for these pe
ople…that really impacts me in a good way.”
Because of Niels’ internship, GLIDE has a new partnership with the University of Copenhagen that will allow even more international students to experience GLIDE. While Niels’ story shows how someone from a different country can be impacted by GLIDE’s unconditional love, it also provides us with a look towards GLIDE’s social innovation in the global beloved community.
GLIDE gives a shout out to the work Niels has done for us! We hope to be blessed with your presence again one day.