That’s the question I asked myself as we sat in a circle at our IEDP orientation last Friday and shared our backgrounds. The professors all had such distinguished resumes, and all my cohort mates had a cool story about working internationally or coming from another country or speaking multiple languages…what did I bring to the table, besides a love that borders on obsession for chocolate and a really bad singing voice? Neither of which are all that helpful in this context…

Pro-tip: this is called (as you will quickly learn if you go through any type of orientation at UPenn) “imposter syndrome.” Everyone thinks they don’t belong, that they are an “imposter.” Another pro-tip: don’t believe the voice in your head that is telling you that!

So how do you overcome imposter syndrome, and start to feel like you have a home here? That has been my goal for the past week, and this is what I’ve learned.

Step 1: Get to know people! Almost immediately, my cohort planned social events to get to know each other as people, not just as classmates. Our first big social event was the annual IEDP picnic last Saturday at Rittenhouse Square. It was potluck-style, and we ended up with a lot of hummus and a lot of sweet treats. Not that I’m complaining (see comment about chocolate above). The potluck was a great opportunity to learn more about each other’s interests outside of school, relax, and enjoy some beautiful weather. And pet Susan’s dog.

IEDP Potluck
Food, fun and friends at the IEDP potluck.

Step 2: Find activities to participate in that interest and motivate you. So far, Penn and GSE have done a great job of introducing us to some of the resources and groups here on campus. Both the GSE orientation and the graduate student reception were really helpful in learning about what’s out there, but also in encouraging us to be proactive in finding ways to get involved. The graduate student reception also had seriously good free food, drinks and dental hygiene products if you checked out the Penn Dental Center (which I did, because you can never have too much floss).

Greenfield Open House
IEDPers checking out the Greenfield Intercultural Center, another great resource on campus.

Step 3: Show up early to class. I don’t know if there’s any scientific evidence behind this, but people that are in class on time and prepared just look like they are on top of it. As opposed to showing up sweaty and panting five minutes late. Luckily, after a week of classes, I now know where they all are and no longer feel like a high school freshman.

Step 4: I don’t know – I’m still figuring this out.

So, as I sit at the Graduate Student Center to write this, surrounded by my cohort mates, other grad students doing interesting things, and free coffee, I’m realizing that I do belong here. I might not know yet what I bring to the table, or what I will end up contributing, but keep reading the blog and we’ll find out together!

So, what have I gotten myself into? I’m not quite sure yet, but I know I’m going to like it.