Exchange at Penn Like a Jenga Tower

May 9, 2023
By Carine Mankarious, Ain Shams University

Carine is one of the EAP Correspondents writing and sharing her experience at Penn during the Spring 2023 semester. You can also follow along with Carine and our other students on the @pennabroad Instagram feed.

Life is all about balance and balance requires sacrifices, yet sacrifices always come with their own risks. Learning about life balance and how others manage to juggle a dozen things is something, but getting immersed in your own experience is a whole other thing! 

StatueFrom the moment that plane landed in Philadelphia, I took a deep breath knowing that when I came back to this airport I would not be the same, I would be a better version of myself; a more mature and self-aware one, and I proudly did! Being abroad for the first time and carrying that burden of making myself and my family proud made sorting my priorities a bit challenging; being torn between excelling academically, making friends, experiencing new things, taking care of myself, and the list goes on and on. The way I saw it was that I’ve got this once-in-a-lifetime experience that I have to make the best of, I wanted to do better in almost everything and I do admit I was narrow-sighted at times.

Throughout the whole year, the challenges took different shapes and forms. I expected the first few months to be the hardest but that was not the case at all! The excitement of being in a different environment, wandering through different places, and being surrounded by different people was thrilling, especially with the heartwarming social life at Penn! Settling in and that quick adaptation gave me a great sense of control that I misinterpreted at the time; I felt that I would always have control over everything, but little did I know how life actually works. In my quest to find the perfect balance, it felt like a game of Jenga; deciding what you can give and when, with the possibility of everything falling apart from a wrong move. For some time, my fear of regretting missed opportunities made me afraid of grasping ones, but as days moved by,  I started to widen my horizons and decided to be present and seize every moment instead of getting lost in the what-ifs; I realized that it is okay to be confused and it is okay to ask for help which was more than welcomed through Penn’s marvelous support system offered by Weingarten center and CAPS.

Penn Engineering


During those 9 months, I laughed, cried, traveled, studied, and had the best time of my life. From the random interactions in the streets to the perfectly planned events; those moments filled my heart with such unmatched warmth and excitement. Carine SelfieSeeing all the hard work payoff made the most bitter moments feel sweet; finishing off with a great GPA, an unforgettable experience, and friends who will last a lifetime is more than I could have ever asked for. 

I learned, and not the easy way, that it is never about the unrealistic superficial expectations anyone or even you set for yourself, it is rather about living every day to the fullest and being present in every moment because those are the memories that will last forever. And with my very last selfie on campus, I would like to say: Till we meet again, Penn! 


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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.