Other than first years, most students have likely heard about the Penn Bubble: an imaginary barrier between 30th and 42nd Street, Market Street and Baltimore Avenue. The problem permeates Penn’s culture, encouraging students to remain within the comfortable confines of campus. Many articles have been written about this topic arguing for Penn students and Penn as a whole to intellectually and physically leave the bubble. I’ll be honest, though, there’s a lot to like about the Penn Bubble.
Like nearly every other individual reading this article, I am a busy college student learning how to balance classes, free time, and personal health. Pushing myself intellectually to find diverse viewpoints and physically to volunteer off campus seems like an extra burden that, to be honest, I’m not sure I really want to do. Penn’s vaccine requirement also ensures that I will finally have the opportunity to have some sense of a normal college experience — something that “leaving” the Penn Bubble will make more difficult.
If anything, however, these constitute the very reason why I, and other Penn students, must leave the bubble. While it can be comforting, staying in the bubble leads to myopic social, professional, and academic lives.
From an intellectual standpoint, leaving the confines of campus ensures that students expand their worldview. Think of the Penn Bubble as a real life echo chamber: a space in which most Penn students only talk with other students. Such a culture leads to prosaic viewpoints that blind us to the surrounding world.
Psychological studies demonstrate that the individuals we spend our time with have a profound effect on who we are — people who spend time with alcoholics and smokers, for example, are more likely to to drink and smoke themselves. For a school in which nearly half of graduates take full-time jobs work in finance or consulting, there exists enormous pressure to participate in pre-professional clubs, major in disciplines ensured to pay high salaries, and network. Leaving the Penn Bubble, therefore, not only provides us with diverse non-business-focused viewpoints, but also helps us to decrease stress and increase our mental health.
In addition to the intellectual advantages, stepping out of the Penn Bubble presents numerous physical benefits for the surrounding community. When living and learning on Locust Walk, it’s easy to forget that we are not only Penn students but, more importantly, Philadelphia residents. However, we cannot only be residents of this larger community, we must act as one.
Instead of staying on campus, spend an hour tutoring West Philadelphia students. This is especially needed given the numerous problems with online learning and that the Philadelphia school district was all online for over a year due to COVID-19. The hour you “lose” tutoring, can lead to immeasurable benefits for the students you teach. Even positioning this as a loss, however, is dubious — altruistic acts make us happy, improve our health, and can even lead to unexpected financial benefits. Furthermore, studies show that tutoring helps reinforce your own knowledge.
Leaving the Penn Bubble is much simpler than it may seem. The easiest way to accomplish this is to quite literally walk off of Penn’s campus and experience the surrounding community — explore diverse cuisines, talk to strangers, and venture into unknown territories. Participating in organizations within the umbrella of the Netter Center for Community Partnerships provides an amazing opportunity to tutor West Philadelphia students. As mentioned, tutoring is a great way to escape the bubble as you help the surrounding community as well as yourself. Joining new clubs, such as Penn Bucket, that encourage students to venture out of the Penn Bubble and explore Philadelphia allows students to experience life outside of Penn. Finally, spending a summer working for an international company through Penn Abroad presents students with a unique opportunity to expand their worldview.
While there is a lot to like about and do on Penn’s campus, it is still important to escape the bubble. Instead of going to Abner’s for cheesesteaks, go walk the 34 blocks to Jim’s. Not only will the cheesesteaks taste way better, but you will experience the diversity of South Philadelphia. Instead of having a picnic on College Green, go to Rittenhouse Square to people watch. Instead of staying on campus, go burst the Penn Bubble.
DANIEL GUREVITCH is a College sophomore studying political science and philosophy from Wynnewood, Pa. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.