One of my favorite things to watch on YouTube is college decision reaction videos. I find myself invested, hoping the person in the video gets accepted, whispering “it’s okay, it’s okay” when they don’t, and uncontrollably smiling once they do. Some of the wide-eyed adolescents who filmed their own Penn acceptance reaction video are now in University City for Quaker Days.
A recent editorial pointed out what the Class of 2023 should look out for at Penn. I’d like to share what to look forward to and what I’ve come to appreciate during my short time here. Those vocal about their perspectives on Penn seem to focus on the negative. It’s great that our student body strives to improve by being critical of our own college’s system. Sometimes, however, we get lost in this bubble of negativity that we forget why we even chose to commit to Penn in the first place.
Like many others, my joy of being at Penn fluctuates. Still, I’ll be the first to admit it: even with all its nuances, I love Penn, and I am so glad I chose to come here. When I was deciding where to commit to I narrowed down the colleges and developed pro/con charts, but ultimately, the deciding factor was a question I asked myself: Which campus would allow me to grow, professionally and personally, the most?
2,000 miles away from home, simply relocating to Penn would force me to grow personally. Back then, I had made up my mind that I’d become a sustainable architect. Now, I find it funny how I was so sure of myself at age 17, even when I had no proper exposure to architecture. A semester into the College of Arts and Sciences, with more than 50 majors and 2000 courses, I discovered new fields I was interested in, but most of all, I realized that I did not want to be an architect — an essential step in my professional growth. Perhaps it’s due to Wharton’s presence, but Penn’s entrepreneurial spirit has encouraged me to explore beyond my horizons.
One of my greatest concerns when considering Penn was its “Social Ivy” characterization. Would I, a massive introvert, fit in? On the first day of Quaker Days, after meeting my current roommate and confidant, I learned I wouldn’t have to worry. I’ve been able to distinguish those who have a real connection with me and distance myself from those who simply want to know people for the sake of saying they know them.
Despite the campus being predominantly white and high-income, Penn brings together students from all different backgrounds. Even among my racial identity as an Asian American, I’ve met some people who grew up in diverse ways and have unique stories to share. As a first generation student, I’ve come to appreciate the tight-knit, first-generation, low-income community, the specific services and opportunities Penn provides for FGLI students, and the way that it is spearheaded by Penn’s President, Amy Gutmann, who identifies as a first-generation student herself. Whether they’re pursuing a passion project, like creating a Hot Cheetos cookbook, or winning an Oscar for producing a short documentary, students constantly inspire and motivate me to dream bigger and work towards achieving those dreams.
Originally an add-on feature, the city of Philadelphia has made a monumental impact on my experience at Penn. During my first semester, every two to three days, I’d hop on the SEPTA right after class, and venture out into the city for a couple hours, sometimes with friends, but most of the times, alone. If I wanted a taste of home, I’d seek noodles from Chinatown or Asian groceries from H Mart in Upper Darby. A movie fanatic, I’d go to Old City multiple nights a week for indie movie screenings at the Ritz theaters. I’ve also taken full advantage of the fact that Philly lies in a prime location near some of the country's largest cities. New York City is just a two-hour bus ride, D.C. is three hours. Boston is a one-hour flight. Philly unlocks me when I feel caged by the stress-induced cell of Penn, but most of all, it reminds me that adventure awaits, just as long as I am willing to go find it.
I sometimes wonder how things would be if I had committed to a different school. Perhaps I would have had an easier, more enjoyable time. Perhaps without my daily Wawa runs, the freshmen fifteen wouldn’t have ever hit me. I may never know whether or not I made the “right” choice in choosing Penn, but I’ve welcomed the possibility that there may never have been a “right” choice. Nevertheless, as a second semester freshman, I can easily answer the question I asked myself a year ago confidently with 'yes', because Penn has forced me to grow in ways that I had not imagined before.
There’s so much more to Penn than Penn Face, competition, pre-professional culture, or its other flaws. The Penn experience is what you make of it — you may choose to accept that the university has deep-rooted issues, just as any other college does, and earnestly work towards improvement or engross yourself with bitterness and overlook the beauties. Current students may be disillusioned, but I urge them to think back to when they received their acceptance letter and the initial disbelief, immense pure joy, possible crying and screaming that ensued. To prospective students, reach out to current students, but don’t let their perspective form the image of Penn for you. Most of all, retain your jubilant feelings even as you step foot onto campus.
CHRISTY QIU is a College freshman from Arcadia, Calif. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.