Courtyard of the Quad dormitory
Penn Admissions Blog
Building the Home Away from Home
Seung-Hyun | September 1, 2017

When I was a freshman living in Ware College House, my resident advisor (RA) was never quite there. She was a kind person, but I never felt that she was a resource to utilize nor someone to calmly talk about the struggles I faced as a freshman — whether that may be academic, identity-related, or simply anything on my mind. The RA was just a free food resource, and the College Houses were just dormitories to live in. I never called it my “home.”

Now that I’m a RA myself for a freshman dormitory as a senior, I’m recognizing that this role is more expansive than what I envisioned for my RA back when I was a freshman. A RA is a counselor, mentor, and community-builder within the College House. I also create programming for residents to participate in, which can hopefully foster group bonding and the feeling of being at home. Yet, I realize that community-building cannot be forced by just my actions; as only one individual, I cannot always be there for the 20+ residents I manage nor create events that fully match everyone’s schedules and preferences.

Yet, these limitations do not mean that I can’t be a resource for the residents. I realize that sometimes, not all residents need to consider me as a mentor/information resource. I just need to make sure that they have one or at least are aware that I can be one. One night, a resident got vulnerable with me and spoke for three hours in a study lounge talking about their LGBTQ identity and what it means to come to terms with oneself. It was a moment in which I recognized how fulfilling it is to validate students’ experiences and that the RA can be a guide to residents’ own self-discoveries.

Every RA fulfills their responsibilities differently, and not all residents have close relationships with their RAs. Yet, I hope to inform every prospective freshmen and Penn students coming in that your RA can become what you need them to be. In a way, I realize that the reason why I didn’t think my freshman RA was a good resource was also because I never reached out to her in the first place. We care about your well-being in this new place and setting. We want to be there for you. Building a home away from home is not easy, but a RA is one resource in which you can start building this new home for you at Penn.

About the author
Seung-Hyun

I'm majoring in English with minors in Asian American Studies and Theatre Arts. As an aspiring multidisciplinary scholar and artist, I love to theorize and philosophize - basically overthinking too much about anything and everything. I am strongly passionate about civil and human rights, social and environmental justice, and just about anything that involves helping people and empathizing beyond boundaries. I hope to combine my activist/scholarly interests with my artistic practice in theater, film, and storytelling! 

I was born in Busan, South Korea, but moved to the flat suburbs of Southern California when I was six. I decided to come to Penn partially because I needed public transport and hated driving. Living in Philly has been full of new discoveries and growths, and I'm so glad to have called this place my home for the past three years. I've also traveled extensively during my time at Penn, interning in Israel and India and studying abroad in London. Hoping to wander some more this year and after graduation!

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