When I ask seniors what their biggest regret is, I hear one answer more than others. No, it isn’t to have gone to more professors’ office hours (though those are great to take advantage of!). It also isn’t to have started working towards OCR (On-Campus Recruiting) even earlier. Actually, it’s simply to have taken more time to enjoy and explore the city of Philadelphia.
It’s called the “Penn Bubble” – many students are not all that eager to go out of the comfortable, but less adventurous, area between Spruce and Chestnut, 40th and 34th. Even though I am originally from just outside Philadelphia, I never spent much time exploring the city as a teenager, so I came in just about as unfamiliar with the city as most others – except for maybe a slightly more positive feeling towards SEPTA. But even pretty early on into my freshman fall, I was having some fantastic experiences both inside and outside of the Bubble.
It definitely helped that I was in the Riepe Mentors residential program where we tutored elementary school students every week at the nearby Powell school. At 36th and Powelton, just past Lancaster, Powell is far outside the Bubble, and I had been there as early as the day after I moved in to the Quad. No doubt this helped me immensely when it came to becoming more comfortable in the city. But even if you are not in a residential program or college house that takes you different areas, there are still many ways to get in touch with the heart of the city.
Philadelphia is a great “starter” city, especially if you come from a smaller town, because it is a manageable size but still has a great culture and history to it. First of all, definitely take advantage of all of the Restaurant Weeks – they are a perfect chance to experience some of the great restaurants that Philadelphia offers at a little less than the usual price tag. My freshmen hall went to the Capitol Grille next to City Hall in the fall, and it was definitely one of the high points of the semester. But also try to discover some “hole-in-the-wall” places as well – my roommate and I fell in love with a small Chinese joint on 21st and Chestnut, A Mandarin, and now we even know the owner personally. As you experiment, whether you love the place or not, it will still be a refreshing change of pace.
But as you hit the restaurants, don’t forget about the historical options. In the spring, I took a friend of mine from the Middle East to see the Liberty Bell, Constitution Center, and Independence Hall. Old City is beautiful, and if you are from Philadelphia, you can forget just how important Philadelphia was to the early days of the United States. There’s also more random things to do – like go on a morning run to New Jersey! (It sounds tough but is very doable and can be a lot of fun with friends.) With so much available and probably more free time in your freshmen year than you will have for the rest of your college career, definitely take advantage of the city and expand beyond the Penn Bubble.