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”

How do you deal with stress?

It’s very difficult to live life entirely without stress. No matter how calm and peaceful one wishes to be, there will always be events in one’s life that test the limits of psychological endurance.

I experience stress on a daily basis, and perhaps much more so this month. As for my methods of dealing with stress, I enjoy music, knowledge, and technology.


Classical and soundtrack music are especially enjoyable for me. I find that they contribute to a calmer emotional state, especially with beautiful orchestral pieces. (See what kind of music I like at Music to Hear.) Listening to the Brandenburg Concertos by Bach, for instance, Ennio Morricone film score, Planet Earth incidental music, or Hans Zimmer’s remarkable compositions, or Karajan’s amazing interpretations, probably bring my mood from stressed out at 8/10 to 3/10. This is one of the reasons that I listen to music while I’m doing work.

Take a look at a video of one of my favourite pieces, conducted by the composer Ennio Morricone at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.


TED videos are really inspiring to watch. Whether it’s Al Gore or someone talking about the importance of bread, I find TED to be an absolutely amazing source of inspiration.

Developing knowledge helps to take my mind off pressing matters, at least temporarily. And that’s one of the reasons that I like reading news, reading design blogs and so on.


FAIL Blog, NotAlwaysRight and FMyLife are all amazing sources of humour. Laughing is probably the easiest way to enjoy oneself for a while.

Today, I got a cross-country job promotion. I decided to plan my Going-Away-Forever party, and bought a pack of 100 invitations. After mailing them out to all my friends, I have 92 left. FML (source)

This keeps me amused, but is by no means as effective as music — after all, I can listen to music while working, and this humour stuff takes away from time I could be putting towards resolving causes of stress.

Et vous?

What do you do to keep your stress at an acceptable level? (You can select multiple answers. Choose any item if it has a soothing / stress-relieving effect for you.)

Classical music is for everyone

Most of you probably do not know that classical music is a passion of mine. In February of this year, Benjamin Zander (conductor of the Boston Philharmonic) gave an inspiring, beautiful, and fascinating talk at the TED conference. Here is the video, released this month.

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I personally think that this man is a genius in his methodology. Watch this video, and you too will be convinced that classical music does what few other musical genres can — inspire, move, and motivate.