When I was first thrown into life as a freshman at Penn last year, I was struck with a nauseating mix of euphoria and anxiety. During New Student Orientation, it was easy to get swept up in a flood of new faces, names, and prospective majors as everyone scrambled to lock down friends, clubs, and classes. The experience is utterly overwhelming. What makes it even harder is how difficult it is to open up to new people. Enter: My friends from high school.
I felt better after even just a half hour conversation with a familiar face about the stress of moving in, making friends, and navigating a strange new campus. Finding a moment to stop and talk to someone who I didn’t need to provide my name and major to was incredibly refreshing, and made me feel less homesick and just a little bit more willing to meet some new people. Keeping in touch with my friends from back home helped keep me sane during my first semester at Penn, and proved to be an invaluable resource whenever I got overwhelmed.
NSO is the lawless first chapter of everyone’s Penn experience. In between being on your own for the first time, the endless barrage of introductions, and the glut of parties every night, it’s very easy to lose sight of your identity. While of course it’s natural and healthy to reinvent yourself at college, you also don’t want to completely change yourself just to be more appealing to other people.
The best way to check-in and take inventory of that is to talk with your old crowd from high school. They can serve as a great tool for orienting yourself at Penn. One of the best pieces of advice an upperclassman ever gave me was that you know you’ve found good people at Penn if you can see them being friends with your people from back home. College will change you, but on a fundamental level you will always be you. If the friends you make at Penn are radically different from your lifelong friends back home, you might want to consider if you’re genuinely being you, or just putting up a front to try and make people like you.
Of course, it takes time to find your people at Penn, and for many that’s a journey that can last for months or beyond freshman year. In the meantime, while you’re trying to find your place at Penn, you can always take solace in speaking with your home friends, who are almost certainly grappling with the same challenges that you are and would love to hear how you’re doing.
And on that point: Although you’re certainly going to have a lot on your plate with adapting to college life, you won’t know if your friends at other schools are struggling or not unless you reach out and ask them. Friendship is a two way street, and if you expect your old friends to support you and be involved in your life long term, you need to do the same for them. A text or phone call from you out of the blue could be just the thing to brighten their day, and then they’re more likely to return the favor for you when you’ve hit a rough patch at school.
This is not to say that you should devote all of your time to your old friends to the detriment of making new ones. Although it’s good and comforting to stay in touch, Penn will ultimately not feel like home until you find a person or a group of people on campus who you can count on to have your back.
Starting college is a daunting experience, but it is especially so at Penn. The “work hard, play hard” culture of this university is not very healthy and it is not very easy to get used to. Carving out friendships and a sense of home in the midst of that can be incredibly challenging. Having someone who is outside of the Penn bubble to vent to is invaluable, and will help keep you sane throughout all the crazy shenanigans that you’ll get into at this school.
In spite of this campus’ sometimes toxic culture, you will almost certainly make lifelong friends here. Just make sure that you don’t forget the lifelong friends that you already have.
JAMES MORRISON is a College sophomore from Pipersville, Pa. studying English. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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