Category Archives: Rachel S.


By: Rachel S. C’16

I never thought I would study abroad. I’m a transfer, so my time at Penn is already shorter than most, but as an International Relations major, I felt obligated to apply for an abroad program. I filled out the application very last minute, and was both excited and anxious when I found out I was accepted– now I had a big decision to make.

The great thing about Penn is that there are so many opportunities and activities going on at any time, but that also makes it easy to feel like you’re missing out on something. I considered the opportunity cost of going abroad– all the meetings and classes and late nights with friends I would miss– the financial costs, the academic planning and maneuvering I’d have to do, and I still had almost no idea if I was going the day before the deadline to respond.

My decision came down to a conversation I had with a fellow transfer. I explained to her my concerns and worries and excitement and fears about going to London, while she patiently nodded and listened. At the end of my long, long rambling, she gave me simple, clear advice: “Why are you worrying? You know what you want, and you should go with that.”

She was right. Penn is great because of all the opportunities it offers, and going abroad is one of them. I forgot that in the pull of Penn’s campus that I’d always wanted to study at one of the world’s oldest universities in a city rich with history and food and culture that I’ve always loved. Next semester in London, I’ll try to remember that advice: you know what you want– why aren’t you going for it?


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Filed under Interview Program, Patrick B., Rachel S., Student Perspective


Author:  Rachel Stewart ’16

It’s been less than a month since classes have started, but when I walked into my first lecture of the week last Monday, my Econ professor proudly announced that the practice exams for next week’s midterm were now available online.

Ah, midterms. For some reason, they begin here about a month after classes start and often don’t end (for the most unlucky students) until reading days. Once they start up, I feel like the “busy” competition between students on campus kicks into action: “Oh, I’ll try to make it tonight, but I have two meetings, a conference to prepare for, a midterm next week, and two papers! And I have OCR interviews. Ugh, it’s just so much to do” or “I’m SO busy tonight, I have a Skype interview at 9PM and then meetings until 1AM and then I have to study for finance.”

Penn students are the most self-motivated and disciplined group of 20-year-olds I have ever met. They do amazing work, tackle problems that even grown adults can’t solve, and start NGOs and businesses even before getting a diploma. All of this comes with an insane amount of pressure to be “busy” at all time of all hours of the day. The question that has been floating around campus these past few weeks, however, is: when is enough enough?

Enough is when you start falling asleep in class because you were up late last night arguing with the e-board of your club about the next event. Enough is when you have to skip class for a club or sorority/fraternity commitment, and then you do poorly on the next exam. Enough is when you’ve gone out for brunch three times in the past month and don’t think you (or your wallet) can handle another cinnamon bun cream cheese stuffed French toast. The secret to enough is that you have the power to define it.

I’ve come to love Penn and I know most students that go here do too, but we can drive ourselves and each other crazy. My hope is that the tragedies of this semester awaken students to define “enough” for themselves more readily, more proudly, and more actively.


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Filed under Academics, Campus Life, Rachel S., Student Perspective

Making my own deliciousness!

by Rachel Stewart, C’16

I’ve always loved baking. Probably because, come holiday season, my mother turns into an obsessive cookie-making machine. Every year our house fills up with dozens of cookies (lemon ricotta being my favorite, apricot rugelach my least), and, as an only child, I grew up helping my mom measure, mix, and drop cookies from Thanksgiving until Christmas Eve.

It’s much more difficult to find the same homemade goodness at college. Oreos from FroGro satisfy some late night cravings, and the occasional pastry from Metro or a donut from Federal Donuts is great, but none of these purchased goods have the same soul-satisfying deliciousness that I feel when I bite into a homemade chocolate chunk cookie.


During my freshman year I suffered from a serious lack of deliciousness in my life. I subsisted on a diet largely of toast with peanut butter and cereal. But now, I’m lucky enough to have a kitchen in Harnwell, and a group of friends who love to bake (and eat, of course). Lately, we’ve been spending these wintry days holed up with flour and butter, improvising when we need to and substituting expensive ingredients for ones we have lying around the apartment (who has $8 for a small tub of mascarpone cheese?) My favorite creation so far: a chocolate marshmallow peanut butter banana Biscoff pizza, inspired by Max Brenner’s chocolate pizza (but way tastier, in my opinion).

Look back for more baking adventures this semester!

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How to Survive the End of the Semester

Author: Rachel Stewart, C’16

It’s that time of year again: Christmas songs are on a never-ending loop in CVS, I’m bombarded with hourly emails from Crate and Barrel and Lord & Taylor about holiday sales, and… finals are rapidly approaching.

The end of the semester is always a rush, but I think it’s important to take some time and appreciate what we’ve already accomplished so far. Here are some relaxation/indulgence techniques that my friends and I have picked up:

1) Baking. Nothing is better than a freshly baked batch of cookies, or the smell of gingersnaps filling your apartment. Although I can never make them quite as good as my mom does, they’re a comforting treat on a long night of studying.

2) Secret Santa! I love Secret Santa because it makes me feel like a ten-year old again. Presents! Secrets! A guessing game! And at the great “unveiling” party, even more food and time with friends.

3) Calling my mom. It’s nice to hear how everything at home is going, if my mom’s found a gift for my dad yet, and what she’s up to this weekend. After intense hours of studying locked in Van Pelt, talking with my mom is a reminder that life exists outside of the Penn bubble.

4) Speaking of the Penn bubble… Go off campus. Mid-afternoon walks to Rittenhouse Square are relaxing and good exercise. On Saturday mornings, I love grabbing a cup of coffee and window shopping, and not letting exams or papers or projects crowd my thoughts. It’s also a nice opportunity to interact with people who haven’t been studying fourteen hours a day for the past three days.

5) Watching Netflix. Yes, TV bingeing has been recently condemned in popular media, but I think it’s a great reward at the end of a study session. Letting your mind wonder through an episode of Mad Men is probably my favorite form of late night relaxation (with a cookie in hand, of course).

So, from Quakers who are in the midst of their first finals experience, to those who are seasoned veterans… Good luck! And have a good break.


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Filed under Campus Life, Rachel S., Student Perspective

Two Months In…

Author: Rachel Stewart, C’16

“Why did you transfer?” is the common refrain when I mention that I’m a first-year sophomore. Two and a half months in, five classes down, a move from Hill to Harnwell, countless acquaintances made and too many dining dollars spent on coffee– and I still have no coherent answer as to why I transferred. Usually I rattle off some awkward jumble about the lack of social life or the complicated Columbia/Barnard relationship or my desire to get a little further away from home. But I know that Barnard is an amazing school that would have provided me with a great education and opportunities, its location is unbeatable, and the “small-school feel” within a big research university is ideal for me.

Beyond the rhetoric of admissions, however, I was not having the type of experience at Barnard that I had hoped for. Penn is comparable to Barnard in many, many ways, but what I love most about this school is the unquantifiable: making cookies with my roommate at 12am, running into my old friend from high school on Locust, the breakfast sandwich in Bridge cafe, the “Puck Frinceton” t-shirts that populated campus last week. I left Barnard knowing that I would miss a lot about the school and unsure of whether or not making such a big change would be worthwhile.

In my first year of college the most important lessons I learned helped me grow as a woman and understand the importance of community, support, and friendship– all of which I have found in abundance since my move from Philadelphia. I could have stayed at Barnard and succeeded academically but I wanted a college experience that was more than books and papers.

Lately when people ask me why I transfer, I smile and simply say, “For Penn.”



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My Second First-Year

Author: Rachel Stewart, C’16

My first day of college didn’t begin with a walk down Locust to Huntsman or a long trek to the labs in DRL. I didn’t have breakfast with my hallmates in Hill or use dining dollars to grab some sushi in Houston.

On my first day of college, I woke up on the eighth floor of a dorm building on 116th and Broadway in Manhattan. I crossed the street to take a class in Kent, had lunch in Hewitt, and then on to more classes in Altschul and Barnard Hall.

As a sophomore transfer, I have a different perspective on Penn than most first-years. I appreciate much of what most freshmen take for granted: that laundry is free, that I can get Insomnia Cookies delivered to my room, and that Starbucks accepts dining dollars. More importantly, I appreciate the sense of community and interaction in my hall, classes, and on campus in general. At my school last year, I could walk from one end of campus to the other without spotting a friendly face or someone who wasn’t engrossed in reading their e-mail. When I walk down Locust to class, I say hello to my friend on her way back to Hill for a nap, run into the President of the cooking club I just joined (and briefly ask her about our next meeting), give an awkward wave to one of my TA’s, and finally sneak into class where my friend is saving me a seat.

Penn is truly “the social Ivy,” and after about a month here I’ve an incredible array of people who are genuinely interested in discussing topics ranging from Obama’s next steps on the Syrian crisis to the best flavor at Capogiro. I’ve made Facebook friends, gained Twitter followers, added numerous numbers to my contact list, and managed to form a group of friends who I actually hang out with in real life. While it’s easy to complain with my friends and classmates about the high stress levels and competition at Penn, especially during midterm season, I try to take a step back and appreciate that I have people to complain with at all.


View from my dorm room window last year.

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