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Sara Schonfeld
Sara, Struggling

Credit: Sara Schonfeld

The first week of a new semester is a beautiful time when my school supplies are new and I haven’t lost all of my pens yet. I spend my first round of new classes trying to decipher syllabi, updating my planbook and dealing with unexplainable feelings of aggression towards freshmen.

I don’t know when it happened, but somewhere between Intro to Experimental Psych and General Chemistry, I became the dreaded upperclassman.

I bought one of those messenger bags with a little duck on it, I got a sorority rain slicker and, to complement the physical transformation, I began staring at my toes and not making eye contact — not ever. I keep my headphones in until the professor starts talking, and every second that I’m not taking notes, I pretend to text on my phone.

The first week of classes had been going well. Before my creative writing seminar, I had been having a good day. I had color-coded my binders and put on the latest Carly Rae for my jaunt down Locust.

And then, just before class started, a kid decided to sit next to me. Not just directly to my right, but at a desk that bordered on mine. No demilitarized zone, no buffer seat. I could actually see his elbow in my peripheral vision.

I had the impulse to physically remove him from the seat with a two-handed shove (I promise you, I didn’t). It was an instinctual reaction. This may be why they give upperclassmen canes on Hey Day: so we can shake them at freshmen like old men in rocking chairs, yelling, “Get off my lawn!”

As my teacher made the rounds, asking people to introduce themselves (my personal-space invading neighbor was, of course, a freshman), I began to question my internal monologue of violence and hatred.

After this near-assault, I determined I should reevaluate my life decisions — and not just his.

It’s common courtesy at Penn, I think, to not talk to people during class unless you know them already. A head nod to the girl from down the hall; perhaps a spoken greeting to that guy who plays on your rugby team.

For some reason, though, it feels taboo to strike up a friendly conversation before a lecture starts. At best, the conversation fizzles out after questions about other classes and dorms, and you end up nodding to yourself, muttering, “Cool, that’s cool. Very nice. Cool.”

As I personally don’t enjoy anything that causes me to resemble a schizophrenic bobblehead, I keep quiet and play Candy Crush on my phone.

The few times that I’ve attempted some sort of intrapersonal dialogue not contained within my mind, friendly overtures have sadly inspired a hostile response. It’s a trademarked look — that “why is she talking to me,” followed by an awkward laugh and an eyeroll that can only mean, “Wow, she’s weird.”

What happened to all the friendly people I met during NSO? Where are they? Did they give up on Penn after being rebuffed at every lecture? Is there an enclave of outgoing people who have been relegated to certain corners of campus?

Or worse, have they all, like me, slowly descended into silent ridicule of any and all strangers?

I wish I could say that it is mere fear of rejection that keeps me antisocial and staring at my shoes. As much as I make excuses about my general shyness, part of me has started ignoring every other human being in my classes. I sit down. I take notes. I leave.

So, to the freshman who was on the receiving end of my many death-glares, I apologize. If my hostility hasn’t motivated you to drop the course, I’ll make sure to attempt at least a cursory smile next class.

And as a belated New Year’s resolution, I’ll try to rekindle my doe-eyed freshman openness. I’ll try to see every person as a potential friend, not just a fratty T-shirt blocking my view of the professor.

Unless it’s a Friday morning class. Then all bets are off. Nobody should have to be social before 10 in the morning.

Sara Schonfeld is a College senior from Philadelphia, Pa. studying English. Her email address is Follow her ?@SaraSchon.

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