My go-to introduction at Penn usually goes something along the lines of, “My name is Julia, I’m from Taiwan, and I’m a sophomore studying English and Computer Science.” For me, the part about being from Taiwan is a natural statement--it is, after all, where I lived for eight years, and where my family currently resides. It wasn’t until recently, amid discussions about internships and voting, that several of my peers were surprised to find out that I can actually work and vote in the US.

So the long story is that I was born in Boston, but moved to Hong Kong at an early age because of my parents’ jobs, and ended up in Taiwan for the second half of my childhood. I had always attended international schools, and both English and Mandarin are my first languages. Growing up straddling multiple cultures felt natural to me.

At the same time, I don’t fit in the quintessential “Third Culture Kid” profile that sites like Buzzfeed often publish lists about. I haven’t attended ten schools in eight countries in the span of three years; I’m not mixed; I grew up considering myself Asian-American. Then I got to Penn and realized that my conception of Asian-American is completely different from what my peers, who grew up in the US, understand. The beauty of Penn’s diverse student body, though, is that mutual understanding does not depend on geographical or cultural circumstances at all.

The people closest to me at Penn seldom have the same background as I do, but there is something about the people here, an openness towards new ideas, that allows us to bond despite our perceived differences. It really comes down to personality, and that of course, knows no socially constructed limits.

-Julia W. '18

An Unexpected Friend

Over winter break I had the privilege of traveling to visit my sister who is living in Taiwan. Previously, I hadn’t been able to travel very much, but when I got this opportunity I was very excited. Experiencing Taiwan was so cool for me with different language, food, culture, and way of life. Having so many friends from school that were international and even Taiwanese made the experience especially cool. It really opened my eyes to the size of the world and how lucky I am to be at Penn where I have so many people living down the hall from me with diverse backgrounds and experiences.

After being in Taipei for three days, my sister and I decided to take a trip to Okinawa, Japan. With only an hour and a half flight, we were there very quickly. We went through customs and proceeded to find our way around the small island. Speaking no Japanese made it difficult at times, but my sister and I managed. We took tours through the island, went to local restaurants (as long as they had a picture menu), and relaxed on the beach. On the last day, we decided to take a ferry to an even smaller island, inhabited by less than seven hundred people called Tokashiki. This island was truly paradise with turquoise water and large white sandy beaches. As we got to the beach it was only my sister and me. This was paradise. Then, after about an hour, two more people came onto the beach. I looked at them and couldn’t believe it. It was one of my hall mates from freshman year at Penn. It was truly amazing to me that I could literally be around the world on a small deserted beach island in the middle of the East China Sea, yet still see a friend from Penn. It really showed me how lucky I was to be connected to a place like Penn. It’s truly an international place with amazing connections around the world. 

-Jack C. '17

Traveling Abroad Without Using Your Semester or Summer Time

As a student in the sciences, I often hear people saying, I can't travel because of my major. This is completely false. Regardless your course of study or program you are enrolled in, your ability to travel or study abroad is completely dependent on the effort you make to do so. Aside from the countless programs offered within each major to specifically accommodate students within the course of study, there are plenty of options to study abroad in subjects far beyond the major you pursue at Penn. Among these programs are a variety of summer programs (with a wide range of duration times) that all have financial aid options. If summer is not your thing and you don't want to study abroad, there are classes at Penn that you take during the fall or spring, and then travel during the break following the semester.

For example, two of my friends took the same religious studies class on South Asian Shrines last fall. One was a Operations and Management concentration in Wharton and the other was an Art History major in the college. Their class met for two hours once a week and during winter break they traveled to Thailand, Singapore, and Malaysia to visit some of the shrines they had discussed in their class. In the spring their class continued with a focus on the trip and how it intersected with the material they were taught (it had the same time commitment 2 hours per week). Both my friends absolutely loved the class; this class is just one of many many options available at Penn if you are eager to explore the lesser known options of traveling as a college student.

-Kelli L. '17