Author: Elizabeth Kimmelman Schwartz, C’04
The summer before I left for college, I was a really mean person. I wouldn’t admit it, but I was completely stressed out about starting school. Also, being from the suburbs of Philadelphia, most of my friends were going to Penn State. So, not only was I scared to go to college, but also I had to listen to all of my friends talking about how much fun school would be when they all got there together. A part of me was so jealous that they would get to experience all of this with a built in friend group and that I had to do the college thing alone. At the same time, I was so excited to go to Penn and was just itching to start my college life and gain more independence. It was a very complicated time, which led to me snapping at everyone in close proximity, especially my mother. I’m really sorry, Mom. Thanks for being patient.
Even with the combination of stress, nerves and excitement, official move-in day went pretty well, besides my Dad almost breaking his back carrying my computer monitor in and out of the car. My family and I were completely enthralled by the concept of the giant rolling carts and were amazed at how efficient the move in staff was. I got to my room before my roommate, so I got to pick my side first and decorate my dorm room to make it the happiest, most colorful place EVER. I had a collage of pictures on the wall next to my bed, giant corkboard already full of things above my computer, really bright fun bedspread that I had picked out at Bed Bath and Beyond, etc.
My roommate, however, was from South Korea and she came with two suitcases. Her side of the room had a pale violet bedspread, the free Penn calendar on the wall and that was about it. Grace was nice but very different from me – we quite literally spoke two different languages. She had never met a Jewish person before and I had never met someone who actually lived in Korea. A few hours in and already we were part of the Penn melting pot!
I don’t really remember a lot about official orientation besides those boring lectures on the Penn Reading Project (our book was Metamorphosis, which I hated, a guy turning into a bug seemed really implausible and I don’t enjoy books that are just one big metaphor), taking a walking tour of West Philadelphia, and attending a big fair for new students in Houston Hall that had a fake casino. I remember telling myself constantly to not call my parents so I didn’t look pathetic, trying not to sit on AIM all of the time talking to my old friends, even though I wanted to, and every time I left the Quad, hoping that I would come back to my dorm room and see a message on the whiteboard on my door.
The beginning of college wasn’t as easy for me as it seemed to be for other people, and this was frustrating. Everyone seemed to become insta-best friends with their hallmates. My “hall” was 8 people – two doubles and four singles. Grace, my roommate , immediately bonded with the Korean Christian Association so she had her clique. The two girls who were next door were on the swim team, so they immediately were friends with other swimmers, and the people in the singles across the hall seemed to have no interest in leaving their rooms and making friends. I didn’t have a built in group to eat meals with or go stand in the awful lines at fraternity parties with. It was just me. Luckily I’m an outgoing person, so I just forced myself to talk to people, but it really took awhile to find my footing.
As time went on, things got better. I became really good friends with the one other person at Penn who I went to high school with. There was a guy in one of my classes who I thought was cute – nothing happened with him, but I did become best friends with the girl who lived next door to him after hanging out at their dorm all of the time (we are still best friends – she was in my wedding in October 2010 and I will be in her wedding in March). I met the girls from a hall two floors above me and became really close with them, and, subsequently, an adopted member of the third floor of Baird. A month or so after orientation, and I finally had a hall to hang out with! Woo hoo! Slowly but surely, I was really starting to feel like I belonged at Penn.
So, Penn orientation for me didn’t mean insta-friendships, and now, when I work orientation events (yes, I get to staff that student fair with the fake casino!), I want to go up to the students who seem kind of lost and tell them, “Don’t worry. It works out!.” But really, everyone seems kind of lost, nervous and unsure of themselves, even the ones who travel around in the giant packs of insta-friends. I wish I had realized back then that I wasn’t so alone and that the people who seemed to have a lot of friends were just as nervous as I was. Also, be honest, how many of you are still really good friends with those insta-BFFs from orientation week?