Going into Penn, I knew there were things I wanted to try, classes I wanted to take, programs and organizations I’d heard about and wrote about in my essays. I knew I wanted to explore the Kelly Writers House, get involved with some sort of community service, and play intramural sports. What I didn’t realize was just how many possibilities there are on campus, and trying to explore all the amazing options consumed my first few weeks on campus.
The day of the student activities fair, thousands of people and hundreds of tables lined the sides of Locust Walk, stretching further than I could see. There was every organization I could have ever thought of and more. As students manning the tables called out to students walking down the long line of booths, I signed up for almost every club I thought looked interesting – and that was no small number. When I called my parents that night, they laughed at the fact that I’d signed up for ice hockey and ultimate Frisbee despite never having touched a hockey stick and being notoriously bad at throwing a Frisbee. But while I couldn’t possibly join all the clubs I’d signed up for, I was determined to explore my options.
The two to three weeks following the activities fair in early September, my inbox was flooded with emails about information meetings and application deadlines, and I was soon overwhelmed with the sheer amount of things I wanted to attend and look into but just physically couldn’t. After making a spreadsheet and realizing I had at least two to three information meetings each night those first two weeks, I went to my RA to ask for advice. He helped me pinpoint what I might be most interested in and advised me to apply to a diverse selection of clubs; many clubs are known for being selective and having a rigorous application process, and I wanted to feel secure that I could at least be involved in one thing I really loved.
While I applied, interviewed, and tried out for my share of clubs, when I dug a little deeper, I realized there were a lot more options that were open to everyone than I had initially realized. Joining club ultimate Frisbee team and the Christian Union at Penn, two of the most welcoming and open clubs out there, were two of the best decisions I’ve made so far. They are two groups of amazing people through which I’ve made some of my best friends, have always had an outlet to turn to in stressful times, and help me remember what’s important.
While the weeks of applying and interviewing were stressful as well, I don’t regret taking the chances that didn’t turn out so well. I am proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone and challenging myself. I get very nervous for interviews, but I really believe the more I interview and put myself in uncomfortable situations, the easier it gets and the more confidence I have in myself for the next time. And some amazing results came out of it: I got to join Access Engineering, a community service group that teaches high school students engineering lessons, and the Sign.al, a recently created group that aims to provide resources to students interested in nontraditional fields and career paths through interviews, projects, and events. The students I’ve met through these organizations are passionate, interesting, curious, and innovative, and they make me realize how lucky I am to be at Penn surrounded by such driven students. In fact, one of the projects I’m working on at the Sign.al is an interactive club list aimed to help freshmen and other students more easily identify student organizations that align well with their interests and needs. It’s just one example of the countless ways Penn students identify a problem or need and create a solution to it.
College is filled with opportunities both in and outside my comfort zone, but it’s in the moments when I’ve put myself in a challenging or uncomfortable situation when I’ve grown the most. Even at a place like Penn, it’s possible to stick to what feels comfortable and easy, but that isn’t the path that takes advantage of all the incredible resources and people here. It’s through initiating a conversation with someone to ask questions or learn more, even when it’s intimidating, through jumping headfirst into learning about something you know nothing about, or taking a chance with a club, job application, or class that stretches you, that makes you truly able to appreciate how special of a place Penn is. It’s a hard lesson, but one I keep reminding myself as I continue to venture into unfamiliar territory. With each nervous step, Penn begins to feel a bit more like home.