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My application essay to Penn included the line "I live and breathe this Philadelphia freedom," from the Elton John song appropriately titled, "Philadelphia Freedom." This was something of a lie.

As a native of Washington, D.C., I often passed the city on the Amtrak train to New York or Boston, and took class trips to Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell. But based on these trips and one campus tour, there is no way I could know what it meant to live in Philadelphia, let alone breathe it (though the poor air quality has meant four years of miserable allergies come spring).

And while I'm graduating with a degree in Urban Studies, I'm only just starting to understand what it means to "live" Philadelphia, although I have a few ideas.

In terms of personal exploration, it has been getting lost in the labyrinth of corridors and shops connecting SEPTA stations beneath City Hall. Ordering water ice from a truck on the street - even if their lemon tastes like every other flavor they have. Tripping on a sinking piece of sidewalk.

Through my professors and coursework, it has been exploring community gardens, murals, the suburbs and the waterfront. Sharing samosas, bubble tea and, yes, even cheese steaks with my classmates. Learning that the Comcast Tower doesn't fall over because a giant bathtub on the roof keeps it stable.

Along with Urban Studies, I'm very thankful that The Daily Pennsylvanian offered an early opportunity to get out into the city. I'll never forget some of my earlier assignments that helped me first learn my way around campus and the city. Covering the early stages of Penn's eastward expansion (just had to work that in one more time!) offered an opportunity to witness city planning on paper, and I can still envision the sketches as I look at the space from across the Schuylkill.

As a Penn student, Philadelphia living has meant best friends and food trucks, in a very major way. Like Virgil describing Aeneas' quest to found Rome (I figured I needed a shout-out to the Classics department, my other major, too), I could write an epic poem about my culinary exploits throughout University City. "Of burritos, I sing, and a girl, first to come from the shores of the Potomac, exiled by Commons."

It has also meant hearing the trolley screech around the corner just as I'm about to fall asleep. Grappling with landlords over water damage and mice in the off-campus housing I've lived in for the last three years. Sitting inside Fisher Fine Arts Library and wondering if the person who chose the quotes in the stained glass windows was the great-great grandparents of the library-goers who shoot you deadly glances when you sneeze. "Talkers are no great doers," one says.

In the course of exploring over the last few years, I've found that I have a lot in common with the city, which might explain my affinity for it. We are both small, when compared to our peers (I stand just over five feet; Philadelphia has a little less than 1.5 million people). We both love inspirational sports stories and microbreweries. We are both tough but sometimes need to work a little harder to be taken seriously.

Although I'm still discovering what it means to live Philadelphia, I do know that I've come to love the city and would very much like to stay. Whether that's a realistic prospect is still in question - I didn't want to write about the economy and dismal job market, but I guess it's inescapable - and if I can't stay now I hope to come back at some point.

Many of my Urban Studies classes have either begun or ended with the professor asking who would want to remain after graduation, usually to make a point about the city's brain drain. Over the last few years, the number of hands going up has continued to increase, and I take heart in knowing that I'm one of a growing number who see a future here. I might still be figuring out what it means to live Philadelphia, but I definitely feel the freedom.

Zoe Tillman is a College senior from Washington, D.C. She is the former editorial page editor editor of The Daily Pennsylvanian. Her e-mail address is She plans on pursuing a career in journalism.

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