A Summer Street staffer who went on Pennquest last year answers the important questions – like what the hell the trip actually is, and whether they really do all shit together. 


What happens when you throw a bunch of awkward, nervous, and anxious freshman into the woods for four days? Some might call it Pennquest, but others know it as that “culty outdoor thing people do freshman year.”

Undoubtedly, Pennquest is the most well-known of Penn’s pre-orientation programs. Yet, a lot of people have no concept of what Pennquest really is. Although advertised by Penn as a “four-day outdoor experience,” the Pennquest experience is a lot more than hiking and bonding by the campfire.

When signing up for Pennquest, it never crossed my mind that I’d be licking random objects and cheering about buttering popcorn and rubbing rumps (if you’ve done it, you’ll get it), but that’s just the beginning of the unexpected shit Pennquest involves.

The journey starts with a series of ice breakers led by the Pennquest leaders at Camp Towanda, but nothing breaks the ice more than taking group poops once you get out on the trail. By “group” you might imagine taking care of business with a bathroom buddy, but when Pennquest-ers set out to do something, they do it big, which is why the biggest group poop is rumored to have included 18 people at one time (supposedly executed while all holding hands).

In addition to the bathroom bonding, there are other quirky Pennquest traditions that make the trip unique. You learn to lick everything: bus floors, each other, leaves, dirt, tree stumps, etc. If you’re as lucky (some might call it weird) as I am, your group members might even “convince” you to eat a dead bug they found in your tent.

Since the whole idea of the trip is to get the freshman to open up and get to know one another, there’s a lot to learn while on the trail. During Pennquest, the best way to find out anything and everything you want to know about your group members is by playing truth or rice. If you can’t stomach the ladle full of rice, you have to answer a question truthfully. If you’ve got a lot to hide, you better love eating rice. My truth or rice experience led to some hilarious stories that featured tales about anything ranging from our dirtiest secrets to our most embarrassing moments.

In my opinion, the best part about Pennquest is that you’re forced to get to know the other members in an environment that eliminates all of the artifice that comes with meeting and trying to impress new people. Unlike NSO, there’s no need to impress people with your looks, Instagram account and mutual friends – you’re all in the same dirty, technology-free boat. Instead of choosing your friends off of first impressions at a party, Pennquest allows you to make real connections and find life-long friends. It’s also an added bonus that you start NSO knowing over 120 other people. Unlike NSO friends that come and go, I can proudly say that a majority of my closest friends are from Pennquest.

Although it’s a pre-orientation program, Pennquest stays with you throughout your time at Penn. There are always social events and group outings that keep the memories from the trail alive. All in all, I might’ve seen a few too many naked butts and licked more than I’m proud to mention, but my Pennquest experience was one that I’ll never forget. Pennquest is not a cult, it’s a family. From pranking the other groups by stealing their shoes or spending two hours lost on a bus with a driver who managed to eat 30 chicken wings at a rest stop, Pennquest is certainly “the best” (insert 120 kids singing the Pennquest song here).


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