Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Day 5: Exchange Student Orientation Part 2

We started the morning with our immigration check-in, before a brief campus tour and lunch at a food hall, Houston Hall. Hey, the food wasn't as bad as people had made it sound. I thought the options were actually pretty good. I mean, this salad I got was probably the healthiest thing I've eaten since I've gotten here:

Although, I don't get why the walnuts were "candied" - who puts sugar in their salad?!
One thing that I've definitely noticed though, with regard to food, is that healthy food is significantly more expensive than unhealthy processed fast food. For example, that salad was $6.50, while a McChicken burger is about $1.50. This must be a big contributor to why poverty and obesity go hand in hand, and it's largely due to the messed up farmer subsidy systems here.

Here are a few more photos from the tour:

College House. The architecture here is breathtaking. 
The Broken Button. Legend has it, Benjamin Franklin broke a button here? And apparently, one of Penn's "traditions" is to have sex under the broken button before you graduate. #collegeshenanigans 
The Fisher Fine Arts Library, where you get stared at if you breathe too loudly. I'm so glad there's actually somewhere to study where silence is enforced by efficient librarians (compare to "silent" sections in libraries at UniMelb).
The oldest standing building in Pennsylvania.
The "Dueling Tampons".
After lunch, we had some more orientation sessions on public safety, sexual violence, cultural adjustment, and using the library. I actually learned a few interesting and reassuring things about Penn's public safety systems and programs:
  1. Free walking escorts anywhere around campus, 24/7
  2. Free transit rides at night around campus
  3. Guardian, which you sign up for on your phone, allows Penn Police to use GPS to pinpoint your location if you call them. You can also set a timer where you call and set a reasonable amount of time for you to get to a location, and leave a voice message that describes where you're going, what you're wearing, etc. Then when you get to the location safely, you call the number and enter a pin code to deactivate the timer. If you don't deactivate it, they'll send the police out to find you.
  4. Free RAD (Rape Aggression Defense) Self-Defense courses. I'm really keen to sign up for one of these.
The exchange student orientation leaders put on a hilarious skit that encapsulated all of the possible cultural differences we might come across, in completely stereotyped form:

"Frat party"
Other memorable moments in the skit included:
  • American guys confusing the hell out of an Italian guy with frat language - "brother", "servant" (pledge), "Greek"
  • An over-enthusiastic American roommate, keen to become "BFFs"
  • American students eating in class and dying to contribute to the discussion, with no substance whatsoever in their contributions
It was really cute.

I then went on a library tour of the Van Pelt library, which is kinda the "main" library. It's got 6 floors and is incredible. It blows UniMelb's Baillieu, Law Library and Giblin Eunson completely out of the water. I can't believe I get to study there. Will take some photos next time I go. And there are about 11 libraries in total at Penn. Really excited to see all of them. I'm still in awe at how well-resourced this place is.

Bought some dinner for cheap ($4.50) at a food truck, but I will start cooking soon (a few times a week), once I schedule in a grocery run.

So in summary:

What went well?
  1. I was really impressed by all the public safety initiatives in place.
  2. The cultural adjustment skit was hilarious.
  3. Learning about some of the history and stories behind some landmarks at Penn.
  4. Being excited about the awesome libraries here.
  5. The exchange student leaders are all really friendly, nice and helpful.
What did I learn?
  • The dining halls are actually pretty good! There are plenty of options, and they are very very vegan friendly.
  • There is way too much stuff to do here, it can get overwhelming. Too many events to choose from, too many possible clubs to get involved with, too many cool people to hang out with...#decisionfatigue. I think to be strategic with this, I'll set aside maybe 30 minutes at the end of every week to research and decide on what I really want to do and go to in the following week.
  • Penn has so much more tradition, history and culture. There's a story behind everything here.
  • There's a 30 day "grace period" after the J1 visa program end date, but if you leave the US before the end of that grace period, it automatically ends, so you can't re-enter the US unless you get another visa (or a visa waiver, in the case of New Zealand). That was a really important piece of information for me to learn, since I'll be travelling to Canada during my grace period, so I'll need to apply for that waiver sometime.
Class starts tomorrow and I can't wait!! I'm also going to audition for an early music ensemble, Ancient Voices. My voice isn't exactly in peak condition at the moment with all the talking I've been doing these past few days, meeting all these new people, but hopefully it goes ok!

Also, I'll go and update my post from yesterday now, since that was a bit sparse.

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