Exchange at Penn Adapting to Life@Penn Part I

February 5, 2024
By Waseem Faheem, Sawiris Penn Scholars Exchange Program

Waseemone of the Exchange at Penn Correspondents, shares his experience abroad during the Fall 2023 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

With the second semester starting in a few days, I thought I’d reflect on my life at Penn for the past four months in all its aspects, just to remind myself of what happened in such a busy semester and prepare myself mentally for the next one. And maybe, just maybe, sharing this with other students – new international students mainly – can help them to adapt quickly to the way of life at Penn. I’ll try to be as straightforward as I can while also including hints of the events I’ve been through. I’ll also write this blogpost in two parts: the first part – focusing more on the social aspect of Penn, and the second part – focusing more on the academic aspect of Penn. So, let’s get started!

First, the social aspect. The social aspect might be a little bit intimidating at first, as you’re leaving your hometown, friends, and family, to be introduced to a completely new environment that you know nothing about, but you must adapt with – like an alien, who came from a planet very similar to ours, but meeting humans for the first time.

Of course, none of you are aliens, neither am I an alien (or am I?), however you come from a place that is very similar to Philly: you come from another city, from another country – or state –, with people who may or may not speak English. So, you can get a gist of what an alien might feel. However, you’re lucky! You can speak English (I guess, since you’re studying in the U.S. at least)! So, you can initiate communications. Step 1, Done!

As you go down from your spaceship – yes, I’ll continue with the alien analogy. What are you going to do? Sue me? I’m the author baby. Anyways, back to the important stuff – you’ll meet your first human: the Roommate (dun-dun-dun). To me, meeting my roommate was the most intimidating thing I did at Penn. Why, you may ask. Afterall, they’re someone whom you’ve never met before neither do you know anything about them, and they’ll be sleeping in the same bedroom (yes, I got a double womp-womp), 1 meter (convert it imperial nerds) across from your bed, of course they’re not going to kill you, right (nervous chuckle)? No. Your roommate will not try to kill you.


Among most of my friends, excluding minimal outliers, they had pretty chill roommates. I myself had a really good roommate; he was a guy studying economics at USyd, and he was interested in physics, and I was dumb in economics, so we ended up having a lot of chats about Quantum Mechanics, Particle Physics, and Capitalism. Of course, getting to know him wasn’t as easy as you may think. Afterall, I am someone who is used to living by myself, so I was really anxious at first, but we gradually came to know each other. And since he unfortunately left, and there is another roommate coming soon, I may go through some steps for meeting your roommate:

  • Step 1: Introduce yourself to them.
  • Step 2: Discuss your living habits so both of you respect each other’s boundaries.
  • Step 3: Try to get to know them better and see what’s common between both of you.
  • Step 4: tell them about your plans to invade Earth.

After a second thought, scratch the last step. But yeah. That concludes the roommate thingy. Trust me when I say that it’ll come off easy if you go with the flow, don’t sweat or stress it, and hopefully all will go well.

With the first human encounter going smoothly, you’re basically set. However, there are some additional humans that you may come across in your daily life like: the Classmate, Clubmates, the Professor, and the scariest the Person Sitting Next to You in the Starbucks and You Just Want to Ask them What Time It Is. Which, to me – who is definitely not a former alien, ha-ha –, isn’t that scary. Remember that, outside your room, you’re in places you want to be, exactly like all the people in that same place. You’re in class? Most of the people here are majoring in whatever you’re majoring in. In a club? All the people here are interested in whatever that club is about. So on and so forth.

Thinking of it, all my friends are either classmates or clubmates, with a few neighbors, and that’s pretty much it! It’s as easy as that, and I have a lot of fun with all of them!

With that being said, remember that if you are an exchange, or generally an international student, Penn is a very diverse community, and you’ll definitely find someone exactly like you. Mainly, your fellow international students. Try to interact and get to know people from the New Student Orientation/Welcome, they’re in your exact same situation, and trust me they’ll turn out to be fun too!

If all of that is not convincing enough, you’ll always have Netflix – though aliens don’t know about it. So, you can always chill by yourself watching some anime and eating some snacks if interacting with humans isn’t your cup of tea…



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The Exchange at Penn (EAP) program offers students from Penn's international exchange partners the opportunity to make Penn a part of their undergraduate education. Students take classes and have access to internationally renowned undergraduate-level teaching and research programs while living on a cosmopolitan university campus in the birthplace of the United States - Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.