I am terrified of my roommate’s wall calendar. I am scared of the time running out, of my inability to stay a freshman. My friends and I sieve our schedules through countdowns and deadlines. Two weeks until Easter. Four weeks until Fling. Seven weeks until finals. I procrastinate meeting with my advisor to discuss classes for next semester — I’m barely recovered from midterms, so I don’t want to plunge into the next batch of classes without thinking. The thought of completing a quarter of college feels more like a punishment than an accomplishment. I just want time to stop, to freeze on Locust Walk long enough to enjoy the spring weather and not think about having to leave. I know freshman spring is too early to feel sentimental, but I can’t shake the idea that the existence I’ve crafted at Penn has an expiration date. I’m stuck in a state of premature missing.
A week at home for spring break got me thinking about what characterizes my time at Penn, what contributes to my, most likely naive, belief in college as a utopia. While academics occupy a large chunk of my time and energy — and rightly so — college isn’t solely defined within the classroom. My friends are an integral component of my life here, but the elements of college that thread through my days are less tangible. During break, I missed the people I’ve grown close with, the nooks I’ve found on campus, but I also missed a part of Penn our campus spends a lot of time complaining about: I missed the Penn bubble.
We’ve all heard the urges to get into Center City more, to escape Penn’s boundaries and take advantage of the tourist destination at our fingertips. I love Philadelphia and have made some of my fondest memories this year exploring downtown, but I’m so attached to the environment we create on campus. There’s something beautiful about life surrounded by passionate, driven people. I take for granted that my friends and I can argue about the Supreme Court while walking to the Palestra or discuss philosophy while meandering aroud the Quad. Rushing down Locust on my way to class, I overhear snippets of conversation on everything from Kerouac to Descartes; over ketchup and fries in the dining hall, we debate Spanish politics before going over our weekend plans. That brand of palpable intellectualism would dilute if we weren’t all cramped onto our relatively small campus and if we fled campus borders at every available opportunity.
The Penn bubble intensifies our college experience; it pushes us to interact primarily with people who, despite stemming from myriad different backgrounds, go through the same sets of experiences as us. Those of us who plan on entering the workforce right after graduation might not have an another opportunity to be surrounded by members of the relatively same age group. The only adults I interact with on a daily basis are bosses and professors; the only time I’m not in the company of someone my age is during the rare shifts at my job that don’t overlap with other work-study students. We create an unrealistic, idealistic world where the most taxing items on my to-do list involve analyzing political structures or contemplating literary theory. I live in a dorm with some of the most brilliant, accomplished kids I’ve ever met, and still, sometimes none of us can get the damn microwave to work. We live in messy contradictions, bite-sized stories to trade with each other about our spring breaks or our last weekends or that one BYO karaoke that got too out of hand.
When the main stretch of campus gets too much for me, I plop down in Penn Park — sometimes with a book, sometimes with just myself. I sit on the plot of grass that looks like it could belong on any college campus, especially more rural ones. I catch my breath, I stop parsing through my planner or overanalyzing (Danalyzing?) the minutia in my life. Then I pick myself up, head back down Locust and pass the LOVE statue.
Penn is a lot to handle. The Penn bubble, even more so.
But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
DANI BLUM is a College freshman from Ridgefield, Conn. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “The Danalyst” appears every Thursday.
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