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Students on Locust Walk during New Student Orientation. Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

“Hi everyone! My name is Isabella, and I am planning on studying philosophy, politics, and economics with a minor in Italian studies. In my free time I love watching TV shows like ‘Game of Thrones’ or ‘Parks and Recreation.’ I am always down to go out or have a chill night in. Can’t wait to meet everyone!”

Odds are most Penn students have either written a message like that in their class Facebook group or read short biographies like these in the search for roommates or friends as an incoming first year. Online efforts like these can easily be met with success in the form of exchanging numbers, Snapchats, or Instagram DMs with future classmates. While there is definitely value in having the comfort of these virtual friendships before stepping foot on campus, this should not serve as a substitute for attending New Student Orientation events and making honest efforts to continue to build relationships with others in person.

The University, for example, rents the Philadelphia Museum of Art for incoming first years to meet one another during NSO. It is undoubtedly tempting to stay glued to the people you have already forged friendships with, but this is a chance to meet other people. So while these once-virtual friends can be used as a crutch to avoid branching out, they can also be an asset. With the comfortability of a group — or at least another person — it may be easier for some to exhibit the confidence to walk up to strangers and make an introduction.

This, of course, assumes that incoming first years choose to attend Penn’s organized NSO events. Some incoming first years may come to campus with a group of friends that they feel no need to expand — some met virtually or, perhaps, through networks of people known at home — and choose to not attend events like the one held at the Philadelphia Museum of Art or the Penn Athletics picnic and class photo. Incoming students may know next to nothing about Penn, but they should understand that NSO is organized with the pure intention of laying the foundation for students to build relationships with other students. Personally, if I had not made an effort to talk to other students, I never would have stumbled upon other first years with the same classes as me. While these people are not necessarily individuals that I remain very close with, the type of friendships made at NSO are vital nonetheless. Without NSO, I would have had to walk into MATH 114 completely alone; instead, I had people I could rely upon. 

Another important aspect of NSO is the opportunity to meet one’s hallmates. NSO is a great equalizer, in that everyone has the same allotted meal times and Penn-organized events to attend and everyone should be open to meeting people. Once classes start, schedules may not as easily line up, and the students two doors down could continue to be complete strangers. For that reason, limiting oneself to the friends met online during NSO also serves as an obstacle to meeting the neighbors that first years will be sharing bathrooms, lounges, and study rooms with for the duration of the year. 

The open-armed, welcoming spirit of NSO should not be limited to first years. For the Class of 2024, this is the first chance to be in the same physical space as many of the classmates whom they had only seen in small squares on their computer screens — or at best, passed in dining halls. Sophomores should also capitalize on NSO week to introduce themselves to their fellow classmates, whether they have only known them virtually or are complete strangers. The energy of NSO should not be limited to the incoming first years simply because orientation is typically geared towards them. COVID-19 has undoubtedly changed the course of the college experience, leaving the Class of 2024 to have their own orientation as sophomores. For this reason, it is equally important for sophomores to expand their social horizons and foster new friendships. Not everyone was on campus last year; being welcoming and friendly to others during this week is vital to creating a positive, inclusive atmosphere on campus.

College is not always filled with opportunities to transcend social boundaries and awkwardness. As time passes and people more concretely make their own friends, they may become more closed off, but NSO should be an exception to this. Don’t say no to NSO because you think you have met your best friends already. Maybe you have, but expand your circle and be engaged in Penn and its events.

ISABELLA GLASSMAN is a College junior studying philosophy, politics, and economics from Suffern, N.Y. Her email is iglass@sas.upenn.edu.

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