Sydney Peters (right), with Breakthrough staff members

The Chicago Semester program gave me the opportunity to grow professionally, academically and personally. The internship aspect was a critical step for me to gain confidence and experience before entering the workforce.

I was blessed to have interned at an organization called Breakthrough, whose mission is to help those “affected by poverty to build connections, develop skills and open doors of opportunity.” In relation to my criminal justice emphasis, I saw what Breakthrough was doing as the preventive side for crime and was inspired by their mission before starting there.

“While I was there to make a difference in their lives, they ultimately impacted my life more.”

– Sociology major Sydney Peters on interning with Breakthrough in the East Garfield Park neighborhood of Chicago

Before I interned at Breakthrough, all I heard about the East Garfield Park neighborhood was that it was dangerous and that crime and violence were everywhere. Although crime does happen there, that was not my experience in the community. Instead, I saw hope through those that worked, volunteered, or were a part of the Breakthrough family. I was welcomed with open arms and supported every step of the way, not just as an intern but as a person. At Breakthrough I worked with K – 8th graders and, while I was there to make a difference in their lives, they ultimately impacted my life more.

Academically, the Chicago Semester focused on getting outside of the classroom to learn. Classes went out to different neighborhoods around the city and put context behind issues and topics learned in the classroom, which gives students a better understanding of what they have learned. It is one thing to learn about poverty and housing inequality, but to witness it first hand gives new meaning behind those issues.

Working and taking classes in a big city challenged me to grow personally by becoming more independent. I was forced to navigate the city unlike I had ever before, by taking different forms of transportation and going to different neighborhoods I would have never visited otherwise. The semester was about stepping out of my comfort zone to meet new people, to learn new things and create new experiences that I would have never had if I stayed at Hope College for the semester.

Sydney Peters is a Hope College senior from Glen Ellyn, Illinois, majoring in Sociology with a Criminal Justice emphasis.

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