Although incoming first years recognize they will not have the semester they initially anticipated, students who are able to travel to Penn in the fall are relieved they will be able to experience their first taste of college on campus.
University administration announced on June 25 that Penn will welcome students back to campus on Aug. 1 for a hybrid model of campus life through a mixture of in-person and virtual courses and activities.
While students expressed an understanding of the importance of coronavirus prevention measures, they believe the restrictions on large gatherings and in-person classes will negatively affect their semester and make it difficult to meet new people. Although students from the U.S. said they plan to come to campus in the fall, some international students might be forced to take classes from home due to difficulties in acquiring visas.
Incoming Engineering and Wharton first-year Beth Fisher, who lives in Illinois, said she is excited to arrive on campus in the fall, although she recognizes it will not be the fall semester she anticipated earlier this year.
“I know it’ll definitely be different, but it’s going to be better than anything I would have at home,” Fisher said. “It’s not the typical college experience so it’s only going to improve in the years after.”
Incoming College first-year Imran Siddiqui, who lives in Michigan, said that after weighing factors including the pandemic and cost of living on campus, he decided to come to campus in the fall for the purpose of trying something new. He added that it is comforting that everyone in the Class of 2024 will be experiencing the unique fall circumstances together, which he believes students can use to connect with and form friendships with each other.
For incoming College first-year Asher Lieberman, who lives in Florida, the decision to come to campus was a “no-brainer.” His biggest concern about living on campus this fall is the changes to the dining halls and limitations on indoor dining.
Lieberman said he was excited for the buffets in the dining halls and to explore various restaurants in Philadelphia, which will no longer be an option. Students will only be offered take-out and pre-packaged meals.
Similarly, incoming College and Wharton first-year Emily Grossarth, who lives in New Jersey, said that although she was initially excited by the University's decision to welcome students back to campus, her excitement lessened the more she read the announcement and gained a clearer understanding of what campus life would look like.
Incoming College first-year Aba Sankah, who lives in Florida, said that after attending a boarding school for high school, she was looking forward to having more freedom in college, which she believes will be harder due to the coronavirus prevention measures outlined in the email, such as limitations on the number of people that can be in an indoor space.
Sankah believes that even with the physical distancing restrictions set in place for the fall, it would be "naive" of the University to believe an outbreak of the virus will not occur on campus.
Incoming College first-year Lia Della Porta, who lives in Pennsylvania and will be moving to campus, said she does not believe the University will be able to keep hundreds of 18-year-olds away from each other.
Global travel restrictions, caused by the coronavirus pandemic, are also impacting international students who might not be able to arrive in Philadelphia for their first semester due to difficulties in obtaining and retaining appointments for visa issuances and renewals. In response to the pandemic, all U.S. embassies and consulates temporarily suspended routine visa services in late March.
Anjie Wang, an incoming College first-year from New Zealand, said her visa appointment has been delayed three times. Her next appointment is currently scheduled for Aug. 9, which if not delayed, will allow her enough time to arrive on campus in late August.
Although Wang wants to be on campus for her first semester, she is worried about leaving New Zealand, where coronavirus cases are relatively low, for the U.S., where cases are climbing in the majority of states.
For, incoming College first-year Vishwesh Desai, who lives in India, the earliest visa appointment is on Oct. 5, forcing him to experience his entire first semester remotely.
While he is comforted knowing his many of peers will be in a similar position as him, Desai said he is nervous about missing out on hallmarks of the traditional college experience and acclimatizing to the new academic environment from home.
“I don’t know how a lot of college works, so for me this new normal is all I know,” Grossarth said.
All comments eligible for publication in Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. publications.