The first year of college is supposed to be unforgettable, liberating, and most importantly, in person. 

My first semester of college was certainly unforgettable. I never imagined my college experience to include pinching myself to stay awake during online lectures and sitting through a New Student Orientation (NSO) that left me feeling less than impressed. 

After an abrupt end to my senior year, my friends and I tried to make the best out of our quarantine summer with plenty of dinners, movie nights, and picnics. We panicked every time one of our phones lit up with an email notification, anxiously waiting for decisions from our schools. Would we finally be able to escape Long Island?

After going on a crazy shopping spree and buying everything from shower shoes to notebooks, the disappointment came on Aug. 11 at 1:27 PM. Penn’s administration announced that we would not be allowed to reside on campus for the upcoming semester. Heartbroken and utterly shocked, my friends comforted me with coffee–flavored ice cream and PopCorners. No amount of snacks could make the sinking feeling go away.

Still, I wouldn't allow myself to mope around for the next three months.

Throughout the semester, I’ve been repeatedly asked, "How did you manage to meet people?" It wasn’t easy, but it was doable. NSO was not helpful in this endeavor. I passed out halfway through the seminars and would wake up to a finished Zoom call. What was supposed to be a week of socializing turned into a week of mandatory tasks and boring informational sessions. Then came convocation, which was simply a 35–minute video that left me confused by its abrupt ending. 

Even with our failed NSO, Penn students truly live up to the title of "the social Ivy”—even in a pandemic. I can't count the number of GroupMe group chats on my phone. Surveys, city meetups, Zoom calls, and game nights were formed to meet people and make the connections I craved.

Even with all of these efforts, it was hard not to feel the FOMO (fear of missing out) as first years flocked to off–campus apartments while I was at home. To me, it seemed like everyone already had their friend groups, career plans, and research or internship opportunities solidified. Meanwhile, I was busy trying to pass CHEM 101.

Imposter syndrome took over. I complained about how I was simply not smart enough for Penn. I seemed to be the only one in my classes who had no idea what she was doing. Transferring became more attractive by the minute, even though I knew I wouldn’t go through with it. After countless conversations with my mom, she finally got annoyed by my complaints. One day, tired of my melodrama, she simply said, "So, do it. Transfer." Needless to say, I shut up pretty quickly.

Since meeting people through classes was difficult, I found my community through other outlets. 

The Penn Masti introductory calls acquainted me with Athul and Nehaar. Athul reached out to me, and we started texting non-stop. The week after we met, Athul and Nehaar bullied me into joining their “study session,” when in reality we just watched a basketball game. Even though I was rejected from Masti, the process helped me make connections with people that I may never have talked to. 

A mutual friend introduced me to Rithu. Within an hour of us talking, I was telling her about my craziest stories. Through her, I got the chance to meet people like Emma and Ady as well. All three of these girls only amplified my interest in Greek life. 

The South Asian Society (SAS) helped me find my Penn family. For most of my life, I struggled to find people who had similar experiences to mine regarding culture. For some, I wasn’t “brown'' enough. I was shamed for not growing up living and breathing my Bengali culture. For others, I was too “brown.” SAS, my LIN (lineage) specifically, helped tremendously. From asking them for basic college advice to FaceTiming while crying in my bathroom as I chopped off all my hair, they’ve supported me so much. In such a short amount of time, their love and guidance have made a not–so–great semester worthwhile. Even in the midst of a pandemic, making meaningful connections is still possible.

Despite all of the negatives, I can't imagine myself at any other school. The true selling point for Penn is our community’s strength in the face of adversity. While online school has made connecting with others more difficult, it’s not impossible. It’s been an unforgettable semester—in more ways than one. Campus or not, it’s the people at Penn that make it what it is.