"I definitely feel as if I was rushed into being an adult to a certain extent. I feel a bit like we’re doing this backwards," Eliza Cohen (C '24) reflects. 

You heard from three first-years that are taking online classes from home, but what about the select few that decided to come to Philadelphia this semester? Are they having the quintessential Penn experience, complete with morning walks down Locust and late nights devouring Allegro's pizza?

Upon speaking with eight first-years about their motivations for coming to campus this fall, their responses were almost identical.

“I wanted to get some form of that college experience, some sense of individual freedom and responsibility,” Ben Slotkin (W ‘24) described. 

“I knew we’d have some form of freedom, and I was ready to come to school regardless of the circumstances,” Eliza reflected. 

“I wanted a taste of the college experience. I wanted to be independent, live on my own, and socialize with people that I was going to be spending the next 4 years with,” Layla Brinster (C ‘24) explained. 

“I wanted to try and replicate the experience of college, and to get some idea of what life at Penn would be like,” Samantha Stein (W ‘24) reflected. 

Though the lives of the 200 to 300 first-years that came to campus this fall are in a vastly different situation than previous classes, these students have been able to form connections with one another and replicate the first-year experience as best they can given the circumstances. 

Of the eight first-years that I spoke with, four are living in The Chestnut, two in Hamilton Court, and two in houses close to Penn’s campus. Though they recognize the differences between their lives and the lives of past first-years, they describe their ability to meet others in the class as "fairly easy." 

“Though there was no NSO where everyone goes to the same events, I’ve been able to meet some people and form bonds with many that I would consider close friends,” Ben described. Blair Barineau, an M&T student, feels similarly. “Though it isn’t the easiest thing in the world, and is probably harder than past years, there are always people out and about.” 

The days of meeting other first-years at overcrowded darties and in the halls of the Quad are a thing of the past, but these traditions have been remade into small group dinners at Distrito and long walks to Center City to get coffee.

“A lot of us kind of knew of or had talked to one another online before coming, which has made it a lot easier to meet one another. Given the circumstances, it’s really important to be proactive in your social life, and to make an effort to reach out to one another. If you don’t make an effort, there’s no way you’re going to meet people, especially during the pandemic,” Eliza reflected. 

Each first-year described a day in their life similarly. “I usually wake up, eat, do my classes and study for a while, workout, shower, and go to bed,” Jack Williams (E ‘24) explained. 

“Sometimes I’ll get dinner with friends towards the end of the week and on the weekends,” Eliza added. 

Karly Terlevich (E '24) described getting food and going on walks outside with friends as crucial parts of her day.

Though opinions on online classes were not overwhelmingly favorable, first-years who came to Philadelphia are grateful to have the opportunity to be taking their classes from Penn’s campus, rather than their bedroom at home. “Online classes are making do with what the current situation provides us, so I can’t complain too much,” Jack explained. 

The lack of in-person classes does not seem to be the aspect of life at Penn that these first-years most lamented. “You can kind of bridge the gap between classes being in-person or online, but I’d say realistically what we’re missing out on most is how hard it is to have a social life,” Ben described. Nearly every student that I spoke with reflected on their sadness in missing out on the opportunity to meet other first-years. 

“What I’m most upset about missing is walking out of the Quad and meeting someone new, or sitting next to someone in class and getting to know them. We’re missing out on all of the random ways that we’d normally be making friends and getting to know people from all over the world,” Karly reflected. 

Layla added: "We’re very limited socially. I would love to be able to walk around campus and meet people after class or between classes, which we really don’t get. I do all of my classes from either my bed or my desk, so it’s very constraining in that way."

Though these first-years are missing out on the typical dorm experience that past first-years have had, students living in The Chestnut have formed a community that almost resembles dorm life. “Our building has so many people that at times it functions like a dorm, which has been really nice. We have a couple of common areas in the building where people do work, and you always see people around. Obviously we’re not getting the full Quad experience with that many people, but we’re getting something,” Ben explained. 

Blair also reflected on how fortunate she feels to be living in The Chestnut. “It has been so nice to have. There are 70 or so freshmen here, so being that there’s so many kids we have all been able to get to know each other and hang out together. I feel so lucky to have had the ability to form those connections.”

Their increased knowledge of the University has been as much of a curse as it has a blessing. “Being here, I keep hearing about all of the things that we would’ve done, like going to the Art Museum during NSO or other things that I would’ve never known about if I wasn’t on campus,” she explained. 

Jack adds: “My least favorite part is being on campus and seeing it so dead, and realizing that I’ve never really seen it filled with people before."

Downsides aside, it is evident that these first-years are incredibly grateful for the opportunity to be on campus this semester and form connections with one another. They look forward to the next four years.

Karly summarized her emotions regarding this experience. “Having face-to-face interactions with one another and meeting new people has been everything that I could ask for.” 


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