Late night Wawa runs from the Quad. Bland food and good conversation in Commons. Themed parties and messy roommates. Crowds of students, some lost, lining Locust Walk during the first passing period. The Penn first–year experience doesn’t look remotely the same as it has in previous years, but first years are still trying their best to compensate for the virtual semester.

Here’s a look into the thoughts of three first–years as they navigate this strange time:

Courtesy of Timothée Perakis

Timothée Perakis (C/W’24): Paris, France

Major: Economics and International Studies, minor in Chinese (Huntsman program)

Timothée’s alarm clock beeps. 

Although he wakes up at 10 a.m. in his home city of Paris, he’s running on only a small amount of sleep. He remarks that it’s hard to get out of bed at times. Living his new life on Zoom in Eastern Daylight time (six hours behind his home timezone), he doesn't get to bed until 4 a.m..

“At this point, I just feel like it’s a waste to spend this much money on an online university,” he remarks. Feeling as though he’s missing out on the college experience when he sees his friends attend universities with open campuses in France, Timothée constantly debates his decision to stay at Penn for the next four years. With no aid for international students, he heavily considers enrolling in a French university in the coming spring if Penn doesn’t open its campus.

“We can’t ever replace the time that we lost, and it sucks. I’m considering dropping out in the spring...I’m just trying to occupy myself at this point.”

When he isn’t in breakout rooms practicing Chinese or making friends in the Huntsman program, the first–year spends his time driving around Paris and continuing his lifelong passion for learning Greek. He’s committed to obtaining his driver’s license in France, and he loves to use his driving learning experiences as a break from his classes and pressure of finding communities at Penn.

Despite his disappointments, Timothée finds humor in his situation. “You know what? Here’s my biggest question for this semester: how tall are these people...actually?” he laughs. “You can’t ever tell on social media.”

Courtesy of Andrew Choe

Andrew Choe (C’24): Virginia, USA

Major: Philosophy, Politics, and Economics

Spending most of his time at a nearby park in his hometown, Andrew blasts Lana Del Rey and props his phone up on his laptop. He vents about his classes then asks his newfound community an open–ended question: how are you all feeling? In an effort to foster an authentic and open dialogue between first–year to mimic that quintessential Allegro's late night or Hill dinner, Andrew has turned to Snapchat. Along with several other Penn students, Andrew helps run a private, collaborative Snapchat story to give first–years a space to vent to one another, sharing their struggles of loneliness and never–ending midterms.

“It’s been a really great outlet for us,” Andrew explains. Referring to the idea that Penn students mask negative emotions in order to put on a front of stability, Andrew adds that “‘Penn face’ feels very real sometimes and it’s good to know that other people feel the same way as I do.” 

Andrew joined the Nominations and Elections Committee—the committee responsible for providing equity and representation within Penn Student Government and the University administration—and now spends much of his spare time in zoom meetings, often sharing his love for Avatar, memes, and, of course, Lana Del Rey with the other members.

Courtesy of Valerie Wang

Valerie Wang (W’24): Maryland, USA

Major: Economics, with a concentration in Management and Marketing

“I love finding little places to spend my time, like small coffee shops or places to study. It’s lonely being at home, but that helps.”

Despite her disappointment at not being able to explore Philadelphia this fall as she had planned, Valerie has transferred her love for adventure elsewhere. She spends the majority of her free time driving down to D.C. in search of hidden gems, and, she adds, to get her collegiate fill by immersing herself in Georgetown’s campus.

On top of her escapades in the capital, Valerie has joined a Penn dance group and spends many of her evenings on virtual dance classes via zoom. She remarks that although dancing on zoom feels a bit strange, the class is an amazing stress reliever and its been immensely rewarding to her to maintain such a fun community with others. 

When she's not in Zoom meetings or dance classes, Valerie returns to her childhood roots. She reflects that this time has given her the chance to re–watch all of the Harry Potter movies, which she often does late at night. “I feel like we’ll never be able to make up for the first–year experience, but I guess we all have to try our best to be positive.”


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