Wonderful Strangers: UPenn Edition

20160413_040528000_iOSThis past Monday and Tuesday I visited the University of Pennsylvania for Quaker Days (the admitted students days).  I’m still reeling by how awesome Penn people are.

10:04 am

Me: I’m here and just registered.

Sanny: Perfect, I’m on my way!

Me: Bodek lounge?

Sanny: Okay
I’m right by the door.
Wearing a black jacket with a purple shirt and glasses.

I struggled out of the lounge with my suitcase and bags to find my overnight host for the next two days.  To my immediate left, I saw an Indian girl with shoulder-length black hair, tapping away on her phone.  I made a venture.  “Hi, are you — Sanny?”

“Yeah!  You must be Michele!”  As she offered to take some of my bags, I noticed her wide smile and eyes.

The first walk to her dorm, a ten minute walk to the High-Rises, felt like a lifetime.  On the way, she introduced herself.  “So, I’m a senior majoring in Biochemistry.  I’m a little frazzled because I just came back from a dance competition.  I’m in Penn Thillana.  That’s traditional Indian dance.  I’m also double-majored in South Asia Studies.”

“That’s so cool!  That’s kind of a relief to me, ’cause I want to major in Biology but I also like Creative Writing,” I said as we crossed the street.  I hesitated.  “Have you heard of the…Molecular…Life…Sciences program?”  I asked, barely remembering the name.

“MLS?  Yeah, I’m in it!”

“Oh, I was invited to the program after I got in.  I got a letter.”

“Really!?  Wow, then we’re a really good match!”  She opened the door to her dorm.  The sight of a spacious room with a green couch, two desks, a round dining table, and a kitchen + refrigerator tucked to the side.  There was a door to another room where I glimpsed two beds covered in flowery sheets. “I have a roommate, Lily — she’s in MLS, too, and minoring in Fine Arts.”  After I put my stuff down, she said, “Well, I’ll keep the room unlocked in case you need something while I’m not here.  Text me if you get lost or anything!”

I thanked her and set off on my own.

12:52 pm

I had planned to have lunch with Kels, a classmate who graduated last year and goes to Penn as a freshmen.  As her classmate, I never assumed she thought very highly of me, yet she reacted very enthusiastically when I told her I got into Penn. As Kels led me to the nearest dining hall, she casually said, “There’s going to be a couple of other people there at lunch with us.  Katie, Heather, and one of her friends.  I don’t remember.”

I was quickly disappointed and intimidated to be dining with strangers, but I quickly squashed those feelings with Eager To Please!Michele.  “Great!  Anyone I know on Miitomo?” I teased.

Miitomo is a silly, silly app where you make an avatar of yourself and interact with your 20160418_023952000_iOSfriends.  Kels smiled.  “Actually: Katie. She’s the one who’s always obnoxiously commenting on my stuff.”

“Oh my God, I know her!”

We arrived at English Hall, painted pale green and orange.  It offered a host of organic and vegan options.  Kels was more interested in the custom-made grilled cheese thing going on.  And Katie and Kevin, the one Kels couldn’t remember, were already in line.  Kevin was Asian and super tall, with one slightly-lazy eye and an entire bowl of plain blueberry yogurt.

“Hey guys, this is Michele.  Here for Quaker Days, as you can probably tell,” Kelsey said, gesturing to my scarlet lanyard.

“I’m Katie!” greeted a tall brunette girl.

“I recognize you from Miitomo,” I admitted.  “The resemblance is striking.” I don’t know how, but Katie’s Mii character somehow perfectly captured her neat eyebrows, bow lips, straight-and-long nose, and pixie cut cleanly swept aside by a single bobby pin.

“What’s Miitomo?” asked Kevin.

“You make an avatar that looks like you and answer questions,” I answered, opening the app on my phone.  “This is me,” I said, turning the screen towards him, “As you can see, the resemblance is uncanny.”  Thankfully, he laughed.  I don’t know exactly what flirting is, but I tried to do it to Kevin, a little.  “And here’s Kels and Katie.  Doesn’t she look just like that?”

“She does,” said Kevin.

“Do you have a major you’re thinking about?” I asked Katie.

“I’m in the Nursing School,” she said, pulling back her windbreaker to reveal her dark-blue scrubs.  Just came from the hospital.”

“Way too much work,” said Kevin.  “Just take four credits a semester, like me, and spend the rest of the time eating, working out, and sleeping when you’re not in class.”

“Do you even LIFT, bro??” Kels asked.

We all had to dash to different places, but I bid farewell to everyone warmly.  I really hope I get to see them again.

6:23 pm

I had joined a GroupMe (instant messaging platform) of prospective Molecular Life Science scholars and current MLS freshmen, who invited the prospective students to dinner.  It was an absolute bitch to navigate the crowded commons, but finally we arrived.

What a mosaic of people!  I’ll try to capture them all: there was Shelley, so peppy and social with bright smooth red hair and black-frame hipster glasses.  Michael, blond and skinny and insistently plugging his underground Shakespeare troupe.  Abby, mathematical and feminist, from an all-girls school.  There was a guy from Singapore who participated in basically all of Penn’s musical theater projects.  And then there were the people we sat with.

They introduced themselves.  “I’m Timmy.”  “I’m Greg,” said a stocky blond guy with a noticeable lawn of stubble.

“Oh, you’re Greg?” I said, in a simultaneously sardonic and deadpan voice that some people find funny.  They laughed, recalling Greg’s strange jokes from the GroupMe conversations.  Greg looked fake-embarrassed, but mostly proud.

“Why ‘oh you’re Greg?’?” asked some prospective students unaware of the group texts.

“You want in on the GroupMe?” Greg said, sliding his phone over to them as if he was dealing drugs or something.

“You act like it’s such a big deal, but it isn’t really,” I noted.  I don’t know why I was acting so loose and sarcastic–I usually never do in front of strangers, but it seemed that Eager To Please!Michele was working overtime that day.

Next we all stated where we’re from.  One guy, Timmy, attended school in a city near mine.  I kept looking at him during the dinner.  He was wearing a polo shirt.  Honestly.  How preppy can you possibly get?  He had plump red lips that looked too big for his face, but he definitely had the best hair of the group.  “I’ve heard of your school,” I said, smiling at him.  “It has really good Model UN and Science Olympiad.”

“Science Olympiad is the best thing that I’ve ever done in high school,” he stated solemnly, and I knew at that moment that we had to get married.

They slammed Wharton, gave night life insight, debated the best housing recommendations, and provided reassurances.  We talked for over two hours.  This was easily my favorite part of Quaker Days: the unorganized, serendipitous, off-script rendezvous between nerds.  The thing that really touches me is that they didn’t have to invite us to dinner and give us all this advice, but they did anyway, with a generous heap of gusto.

To be continued

-M.L.

 

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