From Small Town to the Big Leagues

Being from small town Dover, Delaware resulted in an extremely skewed perception of “city living.” In Dover, driving is the primary means of transportation. I can’t enter any shop in town without recognizing someone, and everything closes at 8 pm (that’s not an exaggeration).

Enter Penn’s urban campus, literally a 15-minute walk from Center City Philadelphia and my gateway to life in the city. Admittedly, during my freshman year my small town roots kept me extremely close to campus; something that I now regret a little. Being in my junior year, I make a concentrated effort to travel downtown at least once a week; whether it be taking a walk as a nice study break or making dinner reservations with some friends.

My walks typically begin by heading down Walnut Street, which leads straight into Rittenhouse Square. Although known primarily for its shopping and restaurants, Rittenhouse is home to its own park that houses a Farmer’s Market on the weekends. Despite being in the center of Philadelphia, this square has the effect of taking me back to the trees and open space that were always prevalent in my life (a bit of a stretch compared to acres of land but I take what I can get). From there, Philadelphia’s smaller neighborhoods are still within an easy walk’s distance; including Old City, South Street, Avenue of the Arts, Chinatown, or Washington Square West. As a self-proclaimed “foodie,” my adventures to find the best of Philadelphia have taken me to all of these neighborhoods.

Exploration of Center City didn’t happen on its own. In fact, it was largely pushed by both the Wharton and Penn community. Being on an urban campus inevitably invites connection with the local community. My first introduction occurred as a part of my Management 100 project, a class that Jane Zhu has written a short blog about. Having been encouraged to reach out to the community, my team and I walked downtown to solicit support from prominent restaurants in Philadelphia. From that moment on, I was hooked, promising myself that I wouldn’t allow my time at Penn to pass without taking advantage of the city. This was easy to achieve as, at the cohort level, Wharton often has opportunities to sign-up for subsidized meals at restaurants downtown with fellow classmates or subsidized tickets to Philadelphia cultural and sporting events.

Penn’s close proximity to Center City brings even more huge benefits for students. Living in on-campus residencies especially provides several house-wide expeditions into the city in order to foster a deeper sense of community. During my sophomore year, with my college house Rodin, I was presented with the chance to go to a Phillies game, on a Philadelphia Chocolate Tour, and to the orchestra. In one of my best experiences made possible by Penn, my Class Board (2013) put together an amazing raffle for free dinner at some of Philadelphia’s top restaurants; I was lucky enough to win a free multiple course meal at Morimoto (as in Morimoto, the Iron Chef)!

Prior to applying to Penn, I was completely sure that I was seeking an urban campus that gave me access to a city. Having never had the chance to thoroughly explore “city living,” I figured that Penn would afford me the ability to relish a close-knit Penn community while being encouraged to explore the greater Philadelphia area. If not for the strong effort from the Penn community to truly encourage me to explore, I would still believe walking was a hassle and that everything always closes at 8pm.