Community Walking Tours

by S-L Program Assistant & Co-op Haomu Chen


Pictured above: A group of Honors students took a traditional selfie (without a selfiestick) at Villa Victoria.

What do I talk about when I talk about Boston?

What do I talk about when I talk about Boston? When I applied to Northeastern, I talked about how Boston is a college town and a medium-sized metropolitan area. When I spent a year here, I talked about the snow and how easily I could find decent Asian food here. Having spent almost 4 months with the Service-Learning Program at Northeastern as my first co-op, what do I talk about when I talk about Boston now?

That is right, the communities! My co-op at the Center of Community Service has really opened a brand new door to the beauty of Boston for me. Not only have I learned about historical events and development around Northeastern’s campus, but also a new way of exploring cities/communities –the community walking tours.

The community walking tours of 4 neighborhoods our campus is in (Fenway, Mission Hill, Roxbury and South End) were originally designed by an AmeriCorps*VISTA at Northeastern. Since then they have been edited and updated by former co-ops multiple times based on feedback and changes in the neighborhoods. Although the structure and routes might have changed over the years, the philosophy behind these tours has remained: Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD). As such, tours focus on introducing community assets -schools, churches, restaurants, libraries, public facilities and of course community partners who work closely and frequently with Northeastern students, faculty, and staff. By doing this, we try to ensure that students understand the diversity and richness of those communities and the fact that we, as students on an urban campus, will always engage with them in different ways –through volunteering, off-campus housing, or simply going out to eat.

The Honors Program shares this philosophy and vision with us. As a result, each year we train the Honors peer mentors to give out community tours to first year students (over 600!). On October 11th, the Tuesday before their walking tours, Christine Beluk and I, together with our Vice President of City & Community Affairs John Tobin, Director of Service-Learning Becca Berkey, and two fantastic Street Team members, Claire Bergsten and Jon Miller, presented to the Honors students on what they will be doing and why they do it the following week. Integrating more than 30 trivia questions about Boston and its communities, this kick-off session gave them an opportunity to learn about ABCD, fun facts about the communities, and what to expect in the tours. As always, the tours include snacks from four great local restaurants –Flour Bakery, Haley House, El Pelon, and Green T Coffee shop.

Now they have talked the talk, it is time for them to walk the walk. As fun as the tours sound, community engagement shouldn’t stop when the tour ends. In fact, the tour is only a beginning.  We want the community tour to be a gateway to resources in the community, a catalyst of active exploration, and an opportunity for future involvement. The Center of Community Service is always happy to help students connect to opportunities in the community, but more importantly encourage them to be self-motivated and willing to expand their comfort zones.

As I am finishing with this blog post, the Honors Program is also wrapping up its last tours. Unlike Honors students who only go to one of the community tours, I personally walked all of them twice or more, while editing them. I realized how much that I hadn’t known about Boston. I was amazed at how much I could learn just by walking them. And I am passionate about exploring the parts that I still haven’t experienced. My friends notice that I know “a lot” about Boston and I notice my growing interest in the history and assets of the city. So, what do I talk about when I talk about Boston? –a few things I learned already about Boston and a lot of things I still want to learn in the future.

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