Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Experience at UPenn- Chris Tan

From the moment I stepped onto the campus of the University of Pennsylvania, the atmosphere felt calm and welcoming. I enjoyed the setting, as it actually felt how I thought a college should, somewhat removed from the intensity of the city itself, instead occupying its own space. The campus itself seemed what I would describe as refined: aged, yet still well-maintained with an air of dignity.

Before I actually went to the East Coast to experience UPenn firsthand, I hadn't quite known what to expect, and merely imagined that it was a small campus, given that it is a private university. I also expected sweltering heat and chaotic weather from various descriptions of the East Coast, as well as the purportedly "meat locker cold" dorms, a stark contrast that left me utterly perplexed when I was trying to pack for the trip. There were also conflicting accounts from the previous ILCers about the quality of the food offered at the dining commons and the condition of the housing, which merely added to my confusion. In addition, I found the prospect of assuming greater responsibility for myself and leaving a familiar environment rather daunting. However, I knew that I wouldn't be alone in this process and that, with the advent of modern technology, my family and friends were only a phone call or text message away,
Before our departure to Penn
Throughout my time at UPenn, most of my preexisting notions of what it would be like were dispelled. The weather was always warm, and only uncomfortably so on occasion, albeit somewhat humid. We also didn't see many instances of the unpredictable weather, although the storms we did encounter were sudden and somewhat more intense. Although Mr. Hillyer told us that we had gotten a pleasant summer, it was certainly nothing like what I had imagined it would be, as I had been picturing regular thunderstorms, when in actuality, I encountered about two or three in all the time I was there. The campus was also fairly large, or at least much larger than I had initially expected. In addition, I discovered that there is a temperature setting as well as a power setting on the air conditioning unit in my dorm, so I was able to control the climate in my room. As for the housing facilities, the quality varied from building to building, as some were certainly maintained better than were others. The food quality also varied from item to item, place by place, as some items were prepared better in all the food commons, and the Houston Market was better than the 1920s Commons, and breakfast was better than dinner, which nearly everyone reached a consensus on.

Prior to the social justice course, I had mostly gotten an understanding and developed an interest in social justice through reading news articles online, so my knowledge was still rather rudimentary, making me somewhat apprehensive and worried that my lack of knowledge about social justice would put me behind the other students. However, after starting the class there, I soon realized that was not the case and that most of the other students were at a similar level. Instead, we developed our understandings of social justice together, learning from the lectures, refining our positions on the various topics using each other as sounding boards in discussions, and gaining insights through our field trips. The course was not graded, so while it may be counterintuitive, I felt that it allowed me to dedicate more of my efforts to actually learning about social justice because I was able to spend more time reading and thinking about the material, as opposed to trying to complete various assignments. Of course, there are probably students that abuse that privilege and get away without having to learn or participate in anything, although that's somewhat of a waste of time and other resources, in my opinion.

I really enjoyed the sense of independence and the culture of learning I experienced during my time at UPenn. I actually liked being responsible for myself, even though I had been uncertain about it before the program started, because it gave me a greater sense of control over my own life. In addition, it gave me the opportunity to prove to myself that I was able to assume responsibility without dramatic changes to my lifestyle. I was able to have plenty of fun spending time with friends and participating in the activities offered by the Summer Discovery program while still learning from the course and attending to my responsibilities.

The culture of learning I'm referring to was the general interest among the people there to advance their knowledge and understanding, their willingness to challenge what we heard rather than accepting it without question, and open-mindedness to discuss more difficult topics rationally, although our subconscious biases affected our thinking to some extent, of course. I really enjoyed this environment, as it allowed me to present unorthodox ideas and engage in actual discussions about those ideas instead of being personally attacked in response, which I encounter in many other situations. The safety of an environment where any topic was open to discussion was something I really appreciated in my time there, and I believe that it contributed to my learning experience at UPenn.

Of course, the people I interacted with and the activities I participated in at UPenn helped make my experience there fun and shaped it into a summer to remember. Nearly everyone there was friendly, and within the first few hours of meeting my RC group, I had already gotten fairly comfortable with them and remained on good terms with them throughout my time there, even as I made other friends along the way. The RCs of the Summer Discovery program as well as the Social Justice Research Academy teaching staff were also really friendly and helpful, which only contributed further to the warm atmosphere (figuratively, although it was literally warm as well). There were plenty of activities available for us to take part in, and the ones I did join were lots of fun, including laser tag and bowling, as well as the mandatory ones to Hershey Park and Ocean City. Even though we went to UPenn for the course in social justice, I don't feel like I sacrificed having fun or enjoying my summer break at all. In fact, this trip is the highlight of my summer, which has now become one of the most fun, meaningful, and significant summers of my life as a result of this experience.
The House of Representatives
My RC group
Hershey Park
Ultimately, the Social Justice Research Academy at UPenn made me aware of all the issues facing society today, but also provided me with the contexts of each of them through lectures and the diverse perspectives of my fellow students in the discussion groups as well as exposing us to real-life exhibitions of social justice or injustice via field trips. I was also able to experience the college lifestyle there, which defied almost all of my expectations and allowed me to gain better insights into my college preferences. Finally, I was given the opportunity to be in an environment that allowed me to truly express my ideas safely. This course also gave me a greater sense of purpose, as my goals have expanded beyond simply living out my existence to wanting to make a positive influence  and perhaps even bring about change in the world. Furthermore, none of this came at the expense of fun or enjoyment, as I was able to spend plenty of time with friends and create many memories from all the activities I took part in. I'm so grateful to have been granted this opportunity to experience the entirely different environment at Penn.
After our trip to Penn

No comments:

Post a Comment