Arjun Gupta | Silly freshmen, naivete is for us

Frosh Quaker Oats | What I've learned about dining halls, mediocre sports games and how to make the most of freshman year

· December 9, 2013, 8:17 pm   ·  Updated December 11, 2013, 12:39 am

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Arjun Gupta
Frosh Quaker Oats

So it ends.

We frosh have completed about four months at our new home. Ironically, what made me realize that Penn now feels like home — and not just a place I happen to live and study — was returning home for fall break, and more recently, Thanksgiving.

As I packed up a few things, grabbed a jacket and headed out the door, I felt weirdly disoriented. I certainly wasn’t sad to be going back home, but leaving my dorm didn’t feel … correct, like I wasn’t oriented in the right direction. I should be packing things up with the intention of bringing them to my room, not taking them away.

Now after this first semester, most of us feel well-acclimated. College is now comfortable. While it’s very easy to forget along the way — and NSO helps kick that trend off — the main purpose of college is to learn. So what have I learned?

The dining halls have their own little idiosyncracies: Omelets at Hill are really good, but you have to be able to enjoy omelets while eating in a sauna. And you have to get to the sauna early, or the hoards of other omelet-seekers will turn your nice weekend meal into merely having an omelet in a crowded dining hall at 12:30 p.m. Sometimes Commons has pretty good food, sometimes it has pretty bad food. King’s Court is somewhere far away, and unless you live there, I don’t know why you’d go eat there.

Also, if you like eating three meals most days, there’s no way you can survive solely on a Penn meal plan. People try. And then they run out of Dining Dollars and have a paltry amount of meal swipes left in early November. Or, like me, you over-conserve and have far too many swipes at the end (for upperclassmen who haven’t kept up, the unlimited option is gone).

Maybe it’s because the University has been around so long and things tend to evolve organically rather than efficiently, but most departments have very confusing numbering systems.

Philadelphia is far more windy than it should be.

Ivy League football isn’t very inspiring. This is probably an unfair judgment, considering I only went to one game. But I went to the first game against Lafayette. I threw some toast and accidentally hit someone in the front row. Then I left feeling uninspired.

Ivy League basketball has the potential to be inspiring. Maybe it’s just because basketball by nature has a faster pace, but when we almost upset Temple in a packed Palestra, it was awesome! Then we lost. But I left feeling a little bit inspired.

Those are the finer points of life at Penn. But as I considered the question for longer than a moment, I realized I’ve gained much more than just street tips about dining halls and building layouts.

If Wharton is cut-throat, I haven’t seen it yet, and most people are actually surprisingly willing to help you. Speaking of which, ask for help. You’d be surprised by people’s various talents and knowledge and by how approachable they are. I recently asked a senior in the next cubicle something about formatting a Word document. After helping me, he asked if I needed anything else, and I jokingly asked, “What’s the secret to success?” Instead of laughing and sending me on my way, he responded with, “Hmm. You wanna get lunch and discuss?”

I think that’s the main takeaway from this semester. Penn is full of infinite opportunities and people willing to help. Not just in 400 clubs and major combinations. In some ways, being at the bottom of the pole is a blessing. You can ask a million stupid questions and mess up, but it’s OK. The worst you’ll get is, “Silly freshman.” And the best could be something much more.

As my Econ 010 professor said, “This is the lowest opportunity-cost time.” So to my fellow freshmen, we still have more time than anyone else here. Don’t be afraid to be that “stupid freshman” (that’s likely what upperclassman readers are thinking of me right now). But from experience, it’s the best way to learn.

Arjun Gupta is a Wharton freshman from Matthews, N.C. His email address is “Frosh Quaker Oats” appears every other Wednesday.

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