I am one of the youngest people in my cohort because I decided to begin my graduate school journey immediately after finishing my undergraduate degree. I got my bachelor’s degree at Boston University, where I fell deeply in love with the city of Boston; therefore, when applying to graduate programs, I knew that I wanted to continue to live in a big city. I had never been to Philadelphia before, but everyone I knew raved about this (to me) seemingly mysterious city. After spending four years in Boston, I believed I had mastered city-life. Boy, was I wrong.

I quickly realized that my fluency of the city of Boston would not necessarily fully translate to the city of Philadelphia. My biggest challenge was understanding how to get around. The public transit did not make any sense to me at first--why was everyone talking about tokens?

It took me a while to finally take the trolley into Center City. And this is not because I was nervous about public transportation itself, but because I had no idea how I was supposed to pay for it. A few of my peers that lived in Philadelphia previously explained to me Philadelphia’s transition from using tokens as public transit payment to the use of Key Cards. This made sense to me, because Boston uses an equivalent transportation card (Charlie Card), but for the life of me, I could not figure out how to get a Key Card. Therefore, I mostly walked to wherever I needed to go, which limited my explorations, as Ubers and Lyfts were getting a little too pricey for my liking (or my wallet’s liking, for that matter).

Eventually, through a ton of Google Searches, consultations with Philadelphia natives in my cohort, and a lot of walking around aimlessly, I found out how to get around.

Step 1: Go to the Penn bookstore. The first floor, near the exit on Sansom St., there is a SEPTA Key Card kiosk! Here, you can get a regular ticket, a Key Card, or refill your existing card.

Step 2: Become familiar with trolley or bus stops near you. You can do this via Google Maps or the physical maps near the kiosk.

Step 3: Explore! Honestly, the only way to get to know a new city and become comfortable with a transportation system is to use it. Choose a general area you want to go to, take a trolley line or bus route and get off and just explore!

It has been a few months and I still find myself finding new parts of the city every day, but at least now I know how to find my way back home!