Exchange at Penn Exchange at Penn: A Glass Half Full
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February 17, 2023
Alex Baxter, University of Edinburgh
Alex is one of the EAP Correspondents writing and sharing his experience at Penn during the Spring 2023 semester. You can also follow along with Alex and our other students on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.
Coming back to Penn for my second and final semester was weirder, in some ways, than joining for my first. I was lucky enough to get the chance to go home for Winter Break; on getting back to my parents’ in (Old) York after a 24-hour trip through New York, Boston, and London, the familiarity of being in the UK after having spent four months on this whirlwind journey across the Atlantic was jarring, to say the least. Nonetheless, it was lovely to be home again; after rediscovering both the Tesco meal deal as well as the Nando’s Sunset burger (if you know, you know), taking a trip back to Edinburgh to see my friends from university, and decking my family out in fresh Penn merch, I felt refreshed and ready to get the most out of the rest of my time here.
As I wrote in my recent article for the Daily Pennsylvanian, though, the cultural reset of returning to the Penn Bubble takes a minute to adjust to. More than anything, a lot of things were set to change in my life here: I had a new room in Gutmann College House and new roommates along with it, new classes to start and clubs to join, as well as having to readjust my social life after a lot of my closest friends either went back home having finished their exchange here, or had left Penn to go on their own adventures abroad.
However, it was super exciting to see the rest of my friends again, and getting back into the exciting business of life here never takes very long: I absolutely adore my roommates, I’ve already made so many new friends, and my new schedule is very solid, though I do seem to spend about half of my time “studying” with friends in the Williams Café. On catching up with people after a few weeks apart, one question I seem to be asked a lot is how I feel about being halfway through my exchange, with less than a semester to go. Initially, having been so preoccupied with reorientating myself on coming back, this wasn’t something I’d really given much thought to, and so wasn’t really sure how to answer.
At first, the thought of already being halfway through my time here was more than a little terrifying. I’d had the absolute time of my life in my first semester: I’d fallen in love with the enhanced sense of campus community, incredible sporting and academic facilities, and much more personal teaching style delivered at Penn. As much as I absolutely adore Edinburgh and couldn’t wait to go home next year, I didn’t want my time here to end. And while that end didn’t feel quite imminent yet, I’d be lying if I claimed that my first reminder of its distant existence didn’t shake me a bit.
Equally, though, the more I’ve thought about it, the more my perspective has changed on the time I have left, limited though it is. Thinking back to all I’ve been through since I arrived last August, I’ve already accomplished and experienced so much: from blaring my pride for my newfound community on Homecoming weekend to the chaos of running a conference for 500 people in downtown Philadelphia with the International Affairs Association, one of the clubs I’m in here, even down to the times I’ve simply smiled to myself while hurrying to class down Locust Walk, taking a second to marvel at and appreciate that I’d actually managed to make it to this beautiful and exhilarating place.
With all of that context in mind, looking forward to the end of my time here from the midway point suddenly became a lot less daunting. Yes, I do only have a few months left, but if those few were going to be anything like the ones preceding them, then I know I’ll be in for the time of my life. Rather than fearing the end, I’ve determined, I am going to make sure I enjoy and appreciate every second of my Penn journey while it lasts. That, I think, is what an exchange should be all about.
—AB, 17/02/2023 x
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.