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Credit: Catherine Liang

During New Student Orientation, I often dreaded the inevitable question that almost all freshmen asked each other:

“Where do you live?”

I felt obligated to present my living situation with a laugh. I live in Gregory — the dorm with no air conditioning, where people rarely go out and are stereotyped as boring and unsocial. The last thing I wanted was to seem “uncool” during a period of time when everyone is eager to make new friends, so I would say something like,

“I live in Gregory, but I only put it down for the for-credit language program. It wasn’t really my first choice, though.” 

Such justification was usually followed by a comment about how I would spend most of my time in the Quad anyway.

Before arriving at Penn, I looked forward to living exclusively among other freshmen and acquiring tight-knit groups and hall friendships. I was ready to enjoy the college experience in the blooming social atmosphere of the Quad. Therefore, I was immediately disappointed when placed into Gregory, a college dorm no one knew the location of — a place that received no frat party fliers under the doors. 

My disappointment culminated during the first few weeks of school, when friends at other dorms would talk ceaselessly about how many people they had met, and how they would receive dozens of Facebook invites to parties that I would never have known about otherwise. I would watch Snapchat stories of downtowns I had never heard about with bitter annoyance.

Credit: Idil Demirdag

However, as the semester progressed and frat parties no longer held the glorified thrill that I had once assumed, I grew to appreciate my residential house and its own tight-knit community. We have free coffee and tea every night, a yoga room in the basement, and film rooms of our own. Even though it took a lot more time than I had hoped, I was able to forge strong connections with other residents in my hall. When my friends in the Quad began to complain about noise in the hallways during midterm season or were forced to undergo the chaos of roommate changes, I recognized the benefits of a suite-style living situation. 

Coming to this conclusion took a lot longer than it should have because of my peers’ continual negative reactions to where I lived. This begs the question of why, for myself and so many others, not living in the Quad is so stigmatized against. When I spoke to Penn upperclassmen, without fail, they insisted that the Quad would give me the most complete college experience. The Quad may be beautiful on the outside, but as fellow columnist Christy Qiu pointed, it is just an antiquated castle. There have been endless complaints about mold, rusty windows, and the cleanliness of bathrooms. 

Throughout my few months at Penn, I have come to recognize that your Penn experience really does not depend on the dorm that you are placed into. It is possible to be as social or as private as you want, because after all, there is not one right way to do college — it is truly a customizable experience. 

LILIAN ZHANG is a College freshman from Beijing studying the biological basis of behavior and Hispanic studies. Her email address is lilzhang@sas.upenn.edu.

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