In August 2016, Jacky Chan was a freshman. Lauder College House was still called New College House. And Chan was arriving on campus all the way from Sydney, Australia.
Upon her arrival, the now-College senior felt jet lagged, shocked at Philadelphia’s 90-degree heat, and nervous at not knowing what to expect from Penn.
However, when Chan’s freshman year residential advisor, 2018 Engineering graduate Sean Trahan, greeted her by name and helped take Polaroid pictures of her and her father, Chan said she immediately felt welcomed. Three years later, Chan is now an RA like Trahan and is living her fourth year in LCH — a college house that became a home.
Although Chan is one of the few students to live in a college house all four years, the experience is one that the University hopes more students move toward. After the announcement that all sophomores must live on campus, starting in fall 2021, Penn is pushing a Second Year Experience Program to build community in on-campus housing. Policy changes such as the creation of Student-Designed Communities aim to keep students on campus and highlight communal aspects of housing.
“It sounds like a pretty cliché thing to say that college is a big transition but it really is, especially for an international student," Chan said of her first meeting with Trahan. "So from that moment, I thought it would be pretty neat to be an RA because I would love to help other people feel welcomed.”
Chan said she listed New College House as her first choice for housing in the summer before freshman year, as she was excited by the idea of living in a brand new college house.
In her first year at Penn, Chan lived in a five-person suite with students from Texas, Guam, Puerto Rico, and New York, adding that they all functioned as a "little family" and remain friends to this day. Chan said she met some of her closest friends through her work at the NCH Information Center, and she ended up living with two of them in a three-person suite for her sophomore year.
Chan said LCH's status as a freshman-only college house her first year was “huge for community building.”
“As a four-year house, it is different,” Chan said. “Especially being an RA, I like to think we do have a strong sense of community, but it’s different because the needs of most of the people that live here vary because you have sophomores, juniors, and seniors now.”
Although some of her friends moved off campus or chose another college house, Chan said a “significant amount of people” returned to live in LCH as sophomores, so there was a “pretty good sense of community” during her sophomore year in the house.
Chan added that she wanted to continue living in the house beyond freshman year because of the faculty advisors. She labeled LCH Faculty Director and Classics Professor Cam Grey, who also previously lived in Australia, her "college dad," and his wife, Senior Associate Director for Undergraduate Research Ann Vernon-Grey, her "college mom."
“To hear a very familiar sounding voice, that Aussie accent coming out constantly, was a source of great comfort,” Chan said.
Chan acknowledged that as an upperclassman, living in LCH has its drawbacks. The college house's distance from the west side of campus and its lack of kitchens in apartments are inconvenient, Chan said.
“Distance does have an impact," Chan said, "especially when you’re trying to study with friends and the majority of them live on 40th or even 42nd Street, and you just think to yourself — that’s eight blocks away."
However, Chan argued that if students are willing to make the effort to connect with friends who live far away, LCH has the best location of any college house — it is considerably closer to Center City, Trader Joe's, and restaurants such as White Dog Cafe and New Deck Tavern.
Chan added that the lack of kitchens in LCH wasn't a big deal for her. Chan was on a reduced meal plan during her sophomore year and received a meal plan as part of her compensation for being an RA in her junior and senior years. Chan added that LCH also has a third-floor kitchen which residents can reserve, as well as a seventh-floor kitchen open 24/7 for students that are not on meal plans.
As a senior, Chan said, the majority of her friends and acquaintances are people she met through LCH. And if she had the chance to redo her college experience, Chan said she would choose to live in the college house for all four years again.
“I wouldn’t do it any other way, because I knew that from freshman year, I wanted to be an RA in NCH," Chan said. "Continuing to live in NCH has given me opportunities, friendships, and relationships that I wouldn’t necessarily have developed if I hadn’t stayed here."
Graphics by Linda Ting
Want to read more housing content? Check out the project page here.