Each year, the blistering mid–August heat beckons a new class of Penn students. Hordes of freshmen rush to meet roommates, plug in refrigerators, and hang fairy lights in dorm rooms. They push carts, overflowing with posters and clothes, microwaves and shower caddies, struggling to keep track of their belongings. But large suitcases aren’t the only things that freshmen latch onto.
Unsure and anxious, they ruthlessly search for friends to explore their new environment with. These makeshift friendships are generally short–lived, but it’s often more difficult for freshmen to experience the beginning of college alone than to hang out with people they probably won’t talk to again. So they choose companions—either a couple of kids from their hall, a pre–orientation program or acquaintances from high school—to become their NSOulmates.
“The first week you’re just trying to meet as many people as possible… It’s really hard because everybody at one time is thrown into this really unique and different situation,” said Zoe Early (C’20).
During NSO, freshmen run from mandatory panels to frat parties to Convocation, with little space in between. They are forced to juggle Penn’s social scene, getting ready for their first classes, and homesickness. The responsibility of navigating all of these new things doesn’t leave much room for freshmen to be picky when it comes to their friends. They forge relationships with people they have little in common with because it’s convenient. But as time progresses, these social groups change.
“I only see my hall mates from freshman year walking down Locust or something like that. I don’t really hang out with them [anymore],” said Nick Hunsicker (C’19).
It’s tricky to get a feel for where one fits in at Penn, particularly during NSO when classes haven’t started, and most aren’t involved in any clubs yet. It isn’t surprising that NSOulmates don’t usually stick together.
College freshman Ally DiGiovanni described her experience meeting people so far: “… In the beginning you just kind of know that everyone is scrambling to make friends just as much as you are… Mainly the people I’m friends with I live near,” she said.
Clubs are one of the best networking opportunities for freshmen to meet like–minded students. So once NSO comes to an end and everyone starts to settle in, the clusters of freshmen who, weeks earlier, were dressed in all black walking to parties together, begin to go their separate ways.
“I definitely think there’s some sort of evolution [going on]. We’re all starting to kind of find different families at Penn whether it’s an a cappella group or a performing group or a writing group or whatever it is,” said Anthony Scarpone–Lambert (N’21).
Although NSOulmates are impermanent in the lives of freshmen, they should be appreciated. There is something unique about acknowledging how vulnerable one is as a freshman, and having someone to begin to figure it out with.