My perception of San Francisco Chinatown after participating in the Urban Institute has transformed in multiple ways. Before participating in the Urban Institute, I had no idea just how connected SF Chinatown is to different agencies across the city. My perception of Chinatown prior to this fellowship was that all services and anything else to do with Chinatown were pretty much consolidated within this neighborhood alone. I’ve always thought of Chinatown as its own space and I did not previously consider that it is considered and cared for by people/places outside of the immediate neighborhood. However, after attending the various field trips around San Francisco such as City Hall, the Public Utilities Commission, and SPARK, I have learned that Chinatown is taken into consideration and is dealt resources unto as any other neighborhood in San Francisco. A reason that I formulated this perception was because in my mind, I always saw SF Chinatown as self-sufficient and thriving. However, through my experiences in the Urban Institute, I now see that Chinatown definitely has its fair share of issues and it takes many different resources both in and outside of the neighborhood to work towards sustainable solutions.
After delving into our project that is centered around Tourism and Economic Activity within Chinatown, the most surprising highlights of this experience came from the survey portion that my group successfully facilitated. The surprising part did not entirely come from the results of the survey itself, but from my own growth and process as an interviewer. My first surprise happened during the first day of interviews. I was initially very excited and picked this topic as my first choice because I thought I would be great at talking to tourists. I couldn’t be more wrong! When approaching the first group of people we decided to interview, I immediately froze and purposefully walked hurriedly past our intended interviewees. My interviewing partner, Guinevere, thankfully was on the same page as I was on and agreed with me that this was not as easy as we thought it would be. I have always considered myself a highly interpersonal individual, but from this one assignment I have learned that I have a lot to practice upon in regards to being an interviewer and even as an interviewee. When it came to the tourists inquiring about our program, the intention of the survey, what Chinatown CDC was, etc., I initially was flustered and wasn’t prepared to answer their questions. However, after time went on and the surveys flowed, I became more comfortable as I was practicing my answers with each passing survey. I think the greatest takeaway from this project that I will apply to my life after this fellowship has ended is the knowledge that I need to practice and work on my interviewing skills, especially as I am preparing to enter the professional working environment.
In regards to our project’s findings, I was surprised to find out that 100% of our 44 respondents answered that they did not know where the Chinatown Visitor Center was located. I think that this is definitely an area to explore and improve on as visibility and accessibility will boost the economic activity within Chinatown when individuals know where they can shop and spend their money. While in Chinatown, I did not see any signage pointing towards or even mentioning a visitor center. I think that by having more posters, directional aid, etc., many more tourists will flock to the visitor center and become better acquainted with Chinatown. Personally, I enjoy traveling more when I know where I am going, where things are such as restaurants, shops, and points of interest that would make my vacation more memorable. Another surprising finding was that a majority of our respondents utilized public transportation to get to Chinatown. I was surprised that this was the most utilized mode of transportation because I assumed that many tourists would rely on rideshare options -- especially as the buses are always packed full which I thought would be a deterrent for tourists. I know it is for me sometimes!
The Urban Institute has been a very unique experience that I am glad to have taken part of. I feel like I have learned so much more in these handful of weeks than I would have in a traditional semester of college. I will definitely be applying the connections I have made and the resources I have attained far beyond this fellowship. I am glad to have come into contact and personally meet many individuals from different backgrounds as I widen my career options and begin my post-graduation job search. One of the greatest takeaways is that I have learned of so many new-to-me and interesting different careers pathways, many of which align with my strong interests in community empowerment and sustainability.
- Megan Mah