A wave of thunderous chatter hits me as I enter the cozy yet crowded 11th floor lounge of Harrison. As I find a chair to sit in, I notice an air of awkwardness and anxiety amongst the multiple conversations. What else is to be expected when thirty freshmen, who don’t know each other at all, are brought together on the very first day of orientation? After a few moments, the thirty of us are then led by our residential advisor to the Heyer Sky Lounge, where we meet the other sixty or so freshmen from the 12th and 13th floors at our first house meeting. But this is no ordinary house gathering. With tons of free food and fun introductory games awaiting us, any lingering awkwardness between us all soon dissipates as we learn each others’ names and make new friends. Welcome to the Freshman Experience.
“Freshman Experience” is one of the many residential programs offered by Harrison College House that is specifically catered toward freshmen. From various house-sponsored events to an upperclassman-underclassman mentorship system to food-related outings, “FreshEx” has definitely been one of the most exciting things that I have been a part of as a freshman.
Firstly, about every week or so, Harrison hosts a variety of events for the entire house, including weekly movie showings in Heyer (we’ve seen everything from The Lion King to Titanic to Pulp Fiction), delicious Sunday brunches (which are a nice relief from dining hall food), and Saturday night Quizzo rounds (last time, our floor dominated all of the upperclassmen teams – go freshmen!). Furthermore, due to Harrison’s ability to subsidize certain event costs, they have been able to host multiple large-scale events, including taking us to the “Terror Behind the Walls” haunted house on Halloween and taking us last week to see The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. Along with Harrison’s event opportunities, FreshEx has also hosted several outings just for us freshmen, including a trip to Six Flags Great Adventure for only $10 per person and Restaurant Week, a September event in which many super-fancy, high-class restaurants significantly reduce the prices of some of their meals just for students to come taste. Thus, through these numerous events, Harrison and FreshEx have allowed me and my fellow FreshEx buddies to truly experience life outside of the Penn bubble.
FreshEx also has a mentorship system set up in which three to four freshmen are assigned to an upperclassman mentor who is then responsible for organizing group outings and providing advice and guidance for their freshmen. My mentor is a junior this year, and between the gelato trip we took at the beginning of the year and the Ramen Bar run we had in October, I have learned a lot about not only how to make the most of my freshman year but also about how he has made the most of his three years at Penn. I know many extra-curricular organizations also have their own mentorship system, but FreshEx is unique in that because all of the mentors live on the same floors as the freshmen, we are able to form a much closer and more personal bond with them. And so, this is yet another awesome way that FreshEx helps smoothly transition freshmen into college life at Penn.
I think the best part about FreshEx, however, is the community of friends that I’ve come to know and love here. Every evening, our entire floor always tries to meet in our floor lounge for a bit just to hang out and chill with everyone. From discussing the significance of Tarantino films to figuring out where everyone lies on the political spectrum to organizing a Secret Santa gift exchange for this December, these little hangout moments have definitely brought everyone closer to each other. By being a part of FreshEx, I believe that I have found some of my closest friends here at Penn, and I can’t wait to see what freshmen experiences are in store for FreshEx the rest of this semester.