Reflections on Penn

I’ve been attending classes for nearly three weeks here at the University of Pennsylvania, and in this short month I have already experienced many aspects of college life: meeting new people, making new friends, learning new things, trying new things, seeing new places, and so on… (This post was originally drafted in September 2011 but has been revised for December 2011; the new intro follows.)

Update (January 28, 2012): I’ve decided to remove password protection from this post and open it up to the world.

Update (December 2014): I’ve updated some of the campus photos, added links, and updated the objective factual statistics.

I just completed my first semester at the University of Pennsylvania. The past three months have brought me many joys: new friends, new experiences, and new knowledge. It’s been a rollercoaster of sorts—the cycles of stress due to impending exams, strange sleeping patterns, and a litany of decisions from picking courses to prioritizing assignments. It has been, however, rewarding.

College Hall, College Green, University of Pennsylvania

For those who have not yet left the warmth and comfort of a family home, the most important thing to know is that university life is quite unlike high school life. (You probably knew that already, but I wanted to confirm it nevertheless.) Yes, there will still be classes with people you know, but lectures are much bigger, and it is entirely possible that TAs and professors will grade your papers/tests without ever meeting you face to face. Of course, university life is also different in that you will be running your own life. I’ll elaborate on this later.

For those who are experiencing university for the first time as well, it will be interesting to compare your experiences to mine. Every university has its own unique atmosphere, level of academic rigour, diversity of students, breadth of opportunities, and social climate. Of course, there are some common traits, such as students’ immense freedom, increased responsibilities (not only in time management, but in eating well, shopping for basic living needs, doing laundry, etc).

To anyone who is reading this post, I want to make it clear that anything subjective I write is only my personal opinion. My perception of Penn, or of college life, may differ significantly from that of someone else in a different social circle, program of study, or undergraduate school; it may also differ from that of someone who is living a (virtually) identical life. Even if I am experiencing something joyful at Penn, I cannot guarantee that you would make the same conclusions after the same experiences. The same goes for anything I complain about. Still, this post will contain objective information about the educational experience at the University of Pennsylvania.

Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania
Locust Walk, University of Pennsylvania

Notice of Americanism: I will use the term ‘college’ to refer to four-year institutions, like the University of Pennsylvania, interchangeably with the term ‘university.’ Don’t let this confuse you, my non-American reader.

Let’s jump right into how I feel about life at university in general.

Continue reading “Reflections on Penn”

Along Yonge Street

For various reasons, I walked down Yonge Street today from Finch Avenue right down to Lake Ontario.

Accounting for stops and detours, and the little walk I took at the lake shore, Google Maps estimates a 17.4 kilometre trip, or 3 hours and 32 minutes of walking time if I had walked continuously.


According to the audio clips I recorded in Evernote, text messages and instant messaging chats…

  • 10:00 exactly — Arrived at Finch Avenue & Yonge Street
  • 10:14 — spent almost exactly 15 minutes at Staples, bought a pack of pens
  • 10:37 — bought a 1.5 L bottle of water from Shoppers Drug Mart
  • 10:40 — reached government office and got out at 10:45
  • 10:58 — took a detour around the Yonge/401 intersection because that’s how the sidewalk works on the East side of Yonge Street
  • The next half hour-ish — walked through sparsely populated area with huge houses, hills upon hills, and large open green spaces/parks
  • 11:38 or so — arrived at Starbucks in an affluent uptown area and ordered a light ice green tea lemonade; by the way, the wifi signal is really weak at this place
Light ice green tea lemonade
Light ice green tea lemonade from a certain Starbucks
Amount of ice left after drinking a light ice green tea lemonade
Amount of ice left over -- not bad!
  • 11:57 — observed person walking by with a Harvard T-shirt
  • 12:21 — reached Elginton Avenue & Yonge Street and at last observed lots and lots of people
  • 12:27 — light drizzle; first hints of impending rain
  • 12:50 — reached St. Clair Avenue & Yonge Street; things are looking okay for a short moment
  • 12:55 — suddenly heavy rain begins; ran a distance holding umbrella before pausing under a bridge
  • 13:00 — reached another Starbucks; ordered a sweetened iced coffee with soy milk that came in this cup:
Starbucks cup with red marks
Is that blood?
Greenpeace supporters riding a huge tandem bicycle
A not unordinary sight on a Toronto street
A whole row of APA Publication Manuals at the World's Biggest Bookstore
A whole row of APA Publication Manuals!

After I left the bookstore around 14:55, I stopped keeping track of where I was at given points in time. After eating lunch, I proceeded down Yonge Street, used my receipt from a previous Starbucks purchase to buy a light ice black tea lemonade for $2 + tax…

… and walked all the way to the lake, arriving at around 15:40.

Lake shore at Queen's Quay & Yonge Street
Lake shore at Queen's Quay & Yonge Street

I walked around a little near the lakefront area before returning home. There’s a video on Google+ if you’re a friend.

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Taking this walk through Toronto allowed me to appreciate the city once more for its diversity, its liveliness and the rapidity with which things are changing. This is still a city I love and one to which I hope to return.

It was interesting to note the pockets of activity along Yonge Street: a busy block in North York from North York Centre to Sheppard; an uptown district north of Lawrence; a heavily business-oriented area around Eglinton; general shopping facilities between St. Clair & Bloor; an area of total randomness south of Bloor; huge crowds south of College; even denser population moving about the Eaton Centre; a banking/corporate region near King… Each region gradually faded into the next, with some exceptions. (It was uneventful in some of the areas—especially between the 401 and Lawrence; there aren’t a lot of buildings around in those parts.)

If you’re a Torontonian (or someone who lives North of Toronto) with a day to spare (preferably a weekday…), consider trying this walk. Make sure you bring sunglasses (I forgot them), an umbrella just in case (I had to use mine), sunscreen, water (I bought a bottle and a bunch of drinks) and probably some snacks (I brought along chips).

(By the way, this entire walk is a lot more fun when one has someone with whom to talk! So if I know you in real life, we can try doing another one of these this month!)

Toronto is a city worth exploring. This is just the beginning.