OMNIA Photo Essay: Back to Campus (For the First Time)

First- and second-year College students talk campus living and saying goodbye to virtual classes.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Interviews and photos by Alex Schein

On Monday, August 30, the College of Arts and Sciences held a special welcome event at Penn Commons for first- and second-year students—many of whom will be taking classes in-person for the first time since schools and universities shut down in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. We asked the students what they’re most excited about as they begin the fall semester, and what they will miss—or not miss—about remote learning.

Andrea Espósito, C’25 (Left) and Michał Wyrębkowski, C’25 (Right)

Andrea Espósito, C’25 - Panama

Being new to Penn, I’m really looking forward to learning about people’s backgrounds. I was surprised at how warm everyone is—everyone’s very nice. One thing I’m excited about is the Integrated Studies Program for the Benjamin Franklin Scholars. The theme for the first semester is Food in Society. I want to major in economics and political science on the pre-law track.  

Michał Wyrębkowski, C’25 - Poland

Aside from meeting new people—because that’s a natural desire as a first-year student—I’m also looking forward to the research opportunities at Penn. I’m also in the Benjamin Franklin Scholars Program, and it’s research-centered. Apart from that, I would like to do some economic history research, energy research, and environmental research. I’m also taking a seminar about the geopolitics of energy in Russia and Eurasia. Remote learning had its conveniences, but on the other hand, it was very limiting—there were no random encounters that could generate some of the coolest ideas, so I won’t miss that, certainly.

Maryam Almafrachi, C25 (Left) and Gauri Lahoti, C'25 (Right)

Maryam Almafrachi, C’25 - Syracuse, NY

I’m planning to major in psychology. I’ve been looking forward to seeing where the university is situated. I come from a suburban area, and it’s nice to be in the city and live the city life. I’m also excited about exploring my academic interests and meeting new people. I’m Middle Eastern, and it’s so cool that I can take a class called Ancient Middle Eastern History and Civilization. I’m super excited for that, because I feel like I’m going to be more connected to Iraq, where I come from. One thing I definitely will not miss about remote learning is just sitting there talking to a screen and lacking that human interaction. I’m an extrovert, so that was so difficult for me.

Gauri Lahoti, C’25 - Morganville, NJ

I want to be a biology major, and my bio class this semester seems so interesting. I’m excited about that and look forward to meeting my professors in person. I guess what I’m most looking forward to is just getting to know people. In my dorm building, everyone on my floor’s been super nice. Even small things like walking to class together with your friends and getting coffee and stuff—I think it makes a huge difference. It’s been great hanging out with my roommate, and it feels like we've known each other for a long time. And everyone here I’ve met only a few days ago, but I feel like I already have friends. I just met Maryam like 10 minutes ago!

Joey Chan, C'24 (Left) and Joyce Davis, C'24 (Right)

Joyce Davis, C’24 - Philadelphia, PA

Since school was remote last year, I’m looking forward to meeting new people. It's not the same over Zoom. Now that we're face to face, I can really get to know my classmates, see what motivates them, what they're passionate about, and then find common interests and build meaningful friendships. I’m also excited for my healthcare management course, because I want to minor in it and eventually have my own business. One thing I’ll miss about remote learning is being able to take classes from the comfort of my home.

Joey Chan, C’24 - Philadelphia, PA

I'm excited to get to know the community better and join clubs and extracurriculars at Penn, like the Pan-Asian dance troupe, which is a mix of modern and traditional dances. I don’t think virtual did the whole experience any justice at all, so, just like Joyce, I’m looking forward to meeting new people and going to in-person classes. And I’m excited to meet my professors and TAs in person. I’m taking intro to computer science this semester, which is something new that I’m exploring. I’ll miss the convenience of logging on to my classes from home when we were remote, especially if it was a rainy day outside, and I could even stay in my PJs.

Ganen Chinniah, C'24

Ganen Chinniah, C’24 - Harrisburg, PA

I’m really looking forward to in-person lectures now that we’re on campus. With online classes, it’s easy to get disconnected from the content and lose a bit of engagement. I think it will be nice to come into class again and meet my fellow classmates and have that interaction. I’m interested in majoring in neuroscience, and I’m looking forward to a lot of the labs being in person again, to be able to get hands-on and perform experiments. One good thing about remote learning was spending time with my family—and I guess having home cooking, too!