Exchange at Penn Exchange at Penn: Your Story

March 21, 2024
By Ayaka Tamura, Doshisha University

Ayaka, one of the Exchange at Penn Correspondents, shares her experience at Penn during the Spring 2024 semester. Follow along with the group of correspondents on our blog and look out for their images on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Freshman year, you already know you want to do a study abroad program to study creative writing. You’ve always known you liked writing, so you decide to give it a shot. You open your university’s brochure on exchange programs and look into the creative writing courses taught at each of the colleges until you find the one. After months of preparation, the University of Pennsylvania becomes your destination.

You meet new people everywhere because you are an exchange student. It’s how it is when you go into a new environment. You tell them that you are an exchange student, and it’s almost guaranteed that they’ll ask you where you are from. Conversations about your country will last a while. They’ll also ask you what year you are, and you struggle, because the academic year system is different in your country. People only vaguely understand you, but that’s okay, at least you tried. This is what happens when you come from a different cultural background. Some of them will go on and ask you how you like Penn so far. You get asked this so many times that you consider having a fixed answer ready at all times. But you fail to prepare one and the semester ends. And people eventually stop asking.

AyakaYou step into the Penn Bookstore to immerse yourself in Penn merch. You call your parents to ask if they want anything. Jokingly you tell them, “They have shirts that say Penn mom and Penn dad,” in which they surprisingly respond by saying, “Ooh, can you buy us those please?” Amazed, you take the two shirts to the register and pay for them.

You decide to join the Penn Band, because you sort of missed band stuff from high school. Soon you realize that it is not at all what you are used to and there is so much to learn, but the other bandos are eager to teach you. They basically have their own culture, but then at this point you are used to adapting to new things. Because that’s what you do as an exchange student. You learn new things and you get used to it. At sports games, they scream and start chanting at the players. It takes a while for you to figure out what they are saying but once you learn them, you find yourself chanting with them. At the end of the day, you’re glad you joined the Penn Band. You’ve met the most amazing people who take extra measures to make you feel part of their community and you got the chance to visit many places for away games.


Occasionally, you post random photos on your Instagram stories with random captions about life at Penn. Your other exchange friends mock you for it, but you keep doing it anyway. You say you do it to show people back home that you are alive and doing fine.

From time to time, you call your friends back home and they never fail to remind you that your time at Penn is limited. One of them keeps asking you when you’ll be home. Another continuously tells you that nine months will go away like it never happened. You laugh at them. But only in the beginning. Because you realize in the middle of March that you only have two months left at Penn. They were right all along.

You look at the calendar every day and feel scared that the days are going by so quickly. You promise yourself that you’ll tick off everything on your to-do list at Penn in the last two months. As an exchange student, you learn that your time is limited and that you have to squeeze everything in the short time that you have.

EAP Logo

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.