Arjun Gupta | Bubble gun
Frosh Quaker Oats | What Syria and an overflowing inbox helped me realize about myself
September 17, 2013, 7:43 pm · Updated September 17, 2013, 11:10 pm·
Frosh Quaker Oats
Penn is a bubble.
I’ve often heard upperclassmen express this statement. They, of course, are referring to the tendency to become so involved with life on campus that one hardly ever explores the cultural metropolis of Philadelphia right in our backyard.
Turns out that there are more bubbles than just geographical ones. Last Tuesday, my house faculty master invited our building to watch President Obama’s address to the nation on Syria. I couldn’t go for some reason, but it occurred to me that I wouldn’t have had much context to understand his finer points because I had no idea about what had been going on in Syria since I left home — or really anything else, for that matter.
It’s surprising how quickly we can forget to be aware of things beyond ourselves if we don’t make a conscious effort to do so. It’s terrifying to realize that your only contact with life outside Penn is high school friends, family and Breaking Bad. The good news is that it’s easily rectifiable by switching your homepage from Facebook to CNN.
But like I said, there are more bubbles — within campus, too. Signing up for 40 different listservs at the student activities fair was fun, but now they just flood your inbox. Because there’s no way you can do all of them, you end up unsubscribing and occasionally feeling awkward when a club shows up at your door to shower you with gifts. So you fall back into routine.
I’m not saying it’s inherently a bad thing. Discipline is good — it’s a skill I struggled with in high school and am adamantly trying to develop here. There’s always a practical reason you shouldn’t go to that movie screening or talk on magnets. While college is a time (and arguably the last) to do things you wouldn’t normally, if you jump too often at your impulses you’ll never really be that efficient.
But discipline can become restricting, too. After my personal, miniature Syria Crisis, I’m making more of a conscious effort to be aware and to observe. After the news, what better place to start than with the places I frequent most every day?
Have you ever stopped to look around you? I mean do you ever really look at your surroundings at Penn? Well I’ve decided to do so. I’m launching an effort to expand my awareness from the ground up. Where my classes are held naturally lend themselves to this initiative, and if nothing else, the results are amusing.
DRL: David Rittenhouse Laboratories. Poor David Rittenhouse, a Pennsylvania native and first director of the U.S. Mint. Ironically, this wasn’t enough to get him a nice building. While one of my pre-med friends assures me the actual labs are very nice, the place itself feels like a high school.
Huntsman Hall: It’s been described as “the devil’s corporate headquarters.” If the devil lives in a giant, cylindrical spaceship that’s an interesting mahogany color (or pink, depending on the light). Although, let’s not forget that Dante imagined his Inferno as a giant, albeit upside-down, roughly cylindrical/cone-shaped structure. Coincidence?
Each of the floors has more or less the same layout, though I haven’t yet explored them all. I haven’t felt the need to, because every floor seems to have more or less the same layout. Which makes sense.
The one exception to the floor layout similarity is the eighth floor. It has huge, wall-sized windows. It also features a really fantastic view of Philadelphia, especially at night. Unfortunately, seeing it will cost you getting yelled at by a security guard, as students aren’t allowed up there. How do I know this? I got yelled at.
But that’s okay, because I was exploring. It forces you to consider more than just the idiosyncrasies of buildings. In the past week I’ve thought about why high school wasn’t the best proving ground for one’s potential, and contemplating the Philadelphia skyline makes you realize there’s things bigger than yourself.
In a roundabout way, I was popping a bubble. And you should too. Stop and ask yourself if Penn has become a bubble for you, and pause a second to take in your surroundings as a means of fixing it. The thoughts that follow might surprise you.
Arjun Gupta is a Wharton freshman from Matthews, N.C. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. “Frosh Quaker Oats” appears every other Wednesday.