On a hot summer day, after being lost in the maze of the Quad, I finally found my room on the fourth floor. Through my sweating and panting for a breath of air, I saw a tall man stare at me from the corner while I was trying to figure out how to scan my PennCard to get into my new room. I was flustered, annoyed and tired because ,after a long day of traveling and lugging my belongings up so many flights of stairs, I couldn’t figure out how to do something simple.

After going through so many trials and tribulations to make this door budge, I asked for help from the man who just so happened to be my graduate associate. In an instant, I was shown how to get into my room. After expressing my words of gratitude, I formally introduced myself: Carlos from Stamford, Conn. — just like it says on the creative movie ticket my GA had printed out and placed on my door.

As soon as my floormates arrived, we gathered in the room of my GA, Kent Grosh, for introductions. In a room full of 10 other strangers, our anxiety and awkwardness were suddenly cut through by Kent’s welcoming and chill attitude. He expressed to us that we could visit him during his office hours to talk about anything that is going on in our lives. Personally, I felt the sense of community within my floor that he was trying to create, and I appreciated that.

I implore students to get to know their resident advisors or graduate associates on their dorm floors better. They are the hidden gems of support beneath the craziness of being a freshman in college. You get to know about their experiences in their personal lives, their aspirations, their travels, their studies and the similar problems they faced as undergraduate students.

Some of them are third- or fourth-year college students. Others are graduate students in various fields of law, medicine, engineering, et cetera. They have a plethora of knowledge and are aware of the resources to help any resident’s need. The transition between high school and college life is difficult, and these people have been trained to help our young, naive selves thrive at Penn.

After speaking with other freshmen, I learned that most don’t go to their RAs’ or GAs’ office hours. For some students, they don’t find a need to talk to their advisor. And, that’s OK. Every dormitory floor has a different dynamic and interaction between the residents and their advisors. Undergraduate students run from classes to clubs to volunteering, which takes up all of their free time. Nevertheless, in between our full schedules, we should not be afraid to reach out to our RAs or GAs if we have a problem. 

Wharton freshman Anna Jellinek commented to me on why she does not attend office hours: “I see the weekly email. It conflicts [with] when I’m working on homework. I live in a really small hall and I am a part of my RA’s section that is responsible for … residents living above me, and I don’t really see them a lot.”

Since New Student Orientation, all the residents on my floor have made friends with one another. I believe that our GA was instrumental in helping these bonds form because of all the small things he has done for us. For example, instead of going the traditional route of informing residents about his office hours, he makes it a point to invite us personally when he sees us in the halls or through the GroupMe chat he created called, “Fourth Floor Friends.”

Third-year Medical student Kent Grosh, a fourth-year GA, spoke to me about why he likes being a GA for freshmen. “You have an amazing opportunity to get to know people and their interests in the dorms. This is my fourth year, and I sort of feel like I have my personal style of doing my own things and set a tone and create a space for a community for the residents I have. For office hours, I feel that it is important to make it available for people who want it.”

Through our many chats on searching for the meaning of life that could result in a spiritual journey through the mountains of Nepal, I realized that my GA was just as lost as I am — a young boy trying to find a way to make everything work. Before you move out of your first-year dorm, take a trip to your local RA’s or GA’s room. You’ll never know what they have gone through or see the extent of how they can help you if you don’t try to connect with them.

CARLOS ARIAS VIVAS is a College freshman from Stamford, Conn., studying communication. His email address is cariasv@sas.upenn.edu. “Convos with Carlos” usually appears every other Tuesday.

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