freshman experience & Summer Tips
The very first year at Penn for international students can be many things: mysterious, unfamiliar, liberating, nerve-racking, invigorating, stressful, inspiring, challenging, and, all in all, extraordinary. Each of you might
experience a very difference version of freshman year, but regardless, it will make an indelible impression. We have collected some responses from previous classes on their freshman year memories, and we hope they will give you a sneak peak of what is to come and share with you some lesson we have learned.
“The first few weeks were amazing because it was a time of constantly meeting new people every single day and getting used to not only a new educational stage but also a different culture and language.”
“Living in a dorm was a really great experience. Having a roommate was awesome for me because I got to
know new people through him, and he was also the person I would talk to when I had questions about
anything related to the US. It was also really nice to have a diverse group of peoplejust down the hall or
across my room.”
“My accent stands out, and my friends still make fun of me every single day. It's nice though, because you
get a lot of attention and they love your accent. I do find solace in hanging out with other people from home
though, because once in a while I feel like I am back home and it is refreshing.”
“Don't procrastinate. Just don't. Seriously, just do not procrastinate. Study, hang out with friends, eat, sleep,
and go to class. Do not procrastinate. You will be able to fit everything in happily if you just do not
“Coming from a high school where every student and teacher knew each other, initially I felt pretty invisible at Penn, but soon I began to appreciate this, as that feeling turned out to be pretty liberating.”
“For me, Penn is a place that provides you with numerous opportunities to explore your potentials. There are always interesting events taking place somewhere on campus. While it can be a little bit overwhelming at
first, have faith in yourself and you will find a balance point.”
“On the first couple of days, I was pretty anxious to be on the other side of the world, away from everything I had ever known. The first few weeks, however, were amazing. I experienced so many new things that I
wouldn't have at home, and it was liberating. The 'newness' of college life destroys any nerves you may
“Living in the dorm is the best of part of college. Meeting people from all different backgrounds is an
unparalleled experience. My favorite part of on-campus living is getting to hang out with friends in your hall at 12am everyday, something that I couldn't do in high school.”
“[The food I miss the most from home is] my mum’s cooking.”
“I mostly hang out with American people, so just the fact that English isn't my first language already makes me stand out. However, they are very accepting and understanding, and I also like to teach them cool stuff
about my country that the average American doesn't know about.”
“Be kind to yourself and others. Find times to enjoy the sunlight on locust walk, find time to catch up with
friends and try that course that you are "afraid of" taking. There will be no time like now in your life that the cost of trying and failure is so small and the benefit is so great. But of course, don’t overstretch yourself.
Don’t make empty promises. Don’t join a club under the pretense of "trying" when you have utterly no time for significant input. Because an effective and genuine try is based on a good effort.”
“Upperclassmen are an extremely useful resource. Get to know them, you will learn lots, and they are always so willing to help because chances are that they have been exactly where you are now.”
“Penn Holi was really fun. My favorite hang-out spot is the quad, when the weather is warm.”
“Sometimes I got frustrated when I couldn't speak English as well as my friends, but I always remember that it's normal because it's not my first language and it's ok to make mistakes and learn. However, I never have
wished I was more American because I love contributing some diversity to my group of friends and to the
university in general.”
“I personally didn't experience peer pressure at Penn. Other people might have, but I believe that once you're in college you're pretty much in control of what you want to do and what you don't want to do. If you don't
like parties you can still have a social life without them and no one is going to judge you. If you don't like
frats you can stay away from them all year with no pressure whatsoever.”
“Take more initiative at work, especially when you want to work with a professor on research projects. Get a rough idea of what research topics the professor is working on, and tell the professor that you want to work
with him/her as soon as possible.”
“I don't think there is a lot of peer pressure at Penn. Maybe it depends on who your friends are, but my
general experience has been that the Penn community is very open and welcoming to whatever you are like.”
“My suggestion is that there is always a little time for hanging out with friends no matter how much work
you think you have. Nothing will happen if you spend an hour or two in your friend's dorm watching a
movie instead of doing a really big assignment due next week. Of course, it is important to work hard and
not slack off, but you should also try to have a little bit of fun when you can, to create memories for the
“Han Dynasty has the best Szechuan Chinese food.”
“Be prepared to be homesick. Be prepared to feel like a fish out of water. But also know that this will be the best experience of your life. You will find nothing like it at home. When you feel homesick, just remember
that home will always be there waiting for you, but you only get to be at Penn once.”
“Don’t be afraid to ask for help at all times. If you have questions regarding anything, just ask your
professor, or undergrad office, or anyone somewhat relevant to your issue; they will try their best to put you
into contact with the best resource available. Especially when it comes to tuition payment/ applying for US
driving license/booking a venue for big event, etc, you could always found some school staff that are
dedicated to solving these issues.”
“I would say that the main perk of being international is that it gives you an easy point of interest that you
can use to stand out with anyone. People are always so fascinated about where you are from, especially if you have a different accent. I do sometimes wish that I were more "American" though. Sometimes I just want to be seen as a 'normal' friend, rather than an international friend, but
generally there are no problems with this.”
“Penn is great at making all sorts of resources available to students, but you don’t find what you don’t seek. While it is easy to get bogged down by the overwhelming number of things you have on hand, perhaps
taking that step to look for help or utilize those resources will make life much easier.”
“Don’t be afraid that you don’t know what to do in the future, and for that matter, what course to take next
semester, what club to join etc. The reason that Penn is a great school is that no matter how lost you are at
the time, you will always somehow figure it out in the end. Be eager to learn, and try and fail. But never be
“My best experience is auditioning for a dance team in college, something I never thought I would do. Through dance, I met my closest friends and found a new passion."
- Enjoy your time at home!
- Spend quality time with your friends and family at home! You will miss them.
- Eat a lot of home food!
- Learn something new for the summer!
- Bring a lot of winter clothes! It gets really cold here.
- Bring a travel adaptor for your appliances from home.
- Order bedding/essentials online if you’re traveling alone. It gets shipped to your dorm! Or alternatively, sign up for our target trip during NSO!
- If you are considering buying round trip flight tickets, you might want to purchase for the day after exam period in December or wait till you have the syllabus to know exactly when your last exam is
- Buy a cheap version of the textbook for your class from your home country.
- Don't buy expensive textbooks! You can probably get the from upperclassmen or your professor may not even use them (even if it says it is required).
- Don’t be too stressed about advanced registration. If you miss it, you can simply register for courses when school starts! There are people who even change all the courses they have registered through advanced registration.
- If you have questions about clubs, reach out to us! We can direct you to different groups.
- Don’t hesitate to ask any questions.
- Reach out to your mentors.
- There a lot of facebook groups for buying and selling things second hand - don't worry about buying everything you need new.