Finding Community at Penn

Read, Finding Community at Penn

Finding Community at Penn

This week, we invite Zoe Osborne, a junior from Philadelphia, PA majoring in Earth Science and Anthropology, to write a guest post. Zoe can be reached via email at zkassell@sas.upenn.edu.

When I wrote this blog post a couple months ago, nothing could have convinced me I would now be sitting in my childhood bedroom, revising it to reflect the ways that my Penn community has changed to fit the global crisis we are currently living in. But here we all are. My heart goes out to each and every high school senior who now has to choose a school without attending a single admitted students’ day, but I hope this post will in some way help shed some light on what my personal Penn experience has been, and what yours could be.  

I’ve found community at Penn in many places, but I’m going to talk about three. The first is Penn Dance Company. After dancing twenty-five hours a week in high school, I thought I wouldn’t dance in college. That lasted until about one day into New Student Orientation, when I attended a workshop by Penn Dance, realized that I didn’t know how to live without dance, and auditioned the next week. In the three subsequent years, PD has become not only a major part of my Penn experience, but also a family for me. While we spend roughly ten hours a week dancing together, my greatest friendships have been forged outside of the studio. If you asked me on any random Friday of my sophomore fall what I was doing that night, the answer more than likely would have involved watching Mamma Mia with three of my dance friends. I’m serious. We watched it about twelve times. Those are my fondest memories of that semester, and times when I truly felt I had found my people.  

The second place I found community on campus was the Undergraduate Admissions Office. I applied for a job at the front desk in the fall of my first year, hoping to make some money and continue to be a school ambassador as I had done in high school. What I did not expect to find was a home. Anyone who knows me knows where I work, and that the most reliable place to find me on campus is Cohen Hall. My coworkers are some of my favorite people, and work is genuinely my favorite part of the day. Beyond the student workers, my on-campus job has also given me the opportunity to get to know the adults who work in the office—the admissions officers and staff. They are supportive, kind, and always willing to dispense life advice or simply join in the continual conversation we have going when we’re not helping guests. The office is a place I can go whenever I’m feeling down, and I will always leave feeling better. If I could recommend doing one thing in college, it would be hands down getting an on-campus job. I miss it so much I’m writing blog posts for them in quarantine.  

The most recent community I joined—and the one that brought me the most joy this year—is Riepe College House, where I was a first year RA. I had wanted to do this since my first year here at Penn, when I was inspired by the wonderful RAs I had. This year, I had the unique privilege of seeing my “kids” form a community as a hall, and then branch out and find their own individual places on campus. I, too, found a community in the dorm. The other RAs and Graduate Advisors have become the people I turn to whenever I need anything. From help planning a dorm event, to a lunch buddy, to moral support in buying airline tickets or applying for a credit card, they have my back. We spent every evening hanging out in the staff lounge and watching Jeopardy, and, while my mom does make fun of me for being an 80-year-old at heart, I’d give a lot to be back there right now.  

The opportunities to make friends, find your college family, and create a home for yourself at Penn are endless—all it takes is being a little bit proactive in putting yourself out there. I am fairly shy, so I knew that, for me personally, joining groups was the best way to find my people. The experiences I’ve mentioned here are just pieces of my personal Penn experience. I have friends who have found their people through a cappella groups, research labs, orchestra, TA positions, and Greek life. So don’t worry—whoever you are, whatever your interests, however you make friends—there is a place (or two, or three) for you in college.  

Today, my community at Penn is a little more wide-spread and a little more virtual than usual. Nevertheless, we’re all still here for each other. My dance group has done Zoom workshops, and we even hosted our post-show Alumni Brunch virtually. This resulted in our best ever Alumni Brunch turnout, bringing the current company along with 30+ alumni reaching all the way back to 2001 together, and will now become a new tradition. I text my co-workers daily, and continually pester the administrators at work for more things to do (catch me in Instagram Live this Wednesday!). My friends from the dorm have near-nightly virtual hangouts, and we text each other constantly with plans for the road trip we’re going to take to visit each other when this is all over. I even made a new friend through one of my online courses, because I randomly messaged her a question I had about a comment she’d made in class. This situation is unsettling and scary, and has made me all the more grateful for the wonderful people I’ve met in college.  

I am confident that you, too, will find your college people, so for now—stay home, stay safe, and best of luck with finishing up high school. We’re all rooting for you! 

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