Building A Home Away From Home

November 15, 2022
Kerrie Liang

 

The summer before college, I did a lot of preparing. Through dinners with family and gatherings with friends, the stinging pain of saying goodbye eventually softened to a dull ache.

As August slipped away, my suitcase began to fill while my bedroom began to empty. In my spare time, I read the pre-read. I dug through my drawers and pulled out my passport, which hadn’t seen the light of day for the past two years. When I boarded the plane to Newark, I knew that everything that was within my control had been taken care of. Yet, even with all this preparation, the most daunting question still lingered in my mind — how am I going to make friends?

Unsurprisingly, my first semester at Princeton was absolute social chaos. Between the heavy workload and extracurricular meetings, it was hard to carve out time to create community. I often had meals with people, only to never see them again. I talked to people at events, only to forget their names within a week. More than anything, nobody seemed to measure up to the friends I had at home. And of course they didn’t — I was trying to mold these strangers into best friends within days without realizing that this “ideal” friend group I was so eager to recreate had taken years of care to cultivate.

So, I did what any reasonable introvert would do — I spent the rest of the semester lonely. Oddly enough, it was during this time of loneliness that I started to find friendship. Winter break left me stranded on campus in a climate I longed to leave. And so I did. I gathered the courage to text that friend I only hung out with twice, and a week later, we were somehow in Los Angeles. For Christmas, I caught COVID, and we traded our itinerary for eating takeout on opposite ends of our hotel room. It was during this time that I really felt at peace. Stuck with nothing to do, I learned to appreciate someone’s simple company on its own. And although I spent that week lamenting our abandoned plans and pretending I didn’t have a banging headache, it was then that I finally began to see others without trying to shape them into someone I knew from home.

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Selfie of two woman and Shrek character, in front of a fantasy backdrop, with an outdoor restaurant visible on the left
Universal Studios during Winter Break 2021.

Spring found me spending my lunches in WuCox (a campus dining hall) at a table of engineering students (scary, I know). My one friend had extended into a whole group of friends. Even though we studied vastly different subjects, we found joy in doing the simple things in each others’ company. We grinded problem sets together and spent late nights rewriting our Writing Seminar papers in JRR (the Julius Romo Rabinowitz Building, which connects to the Louis A. Simpson International Building, home to the Davis International Center) — all the wonderfully chaotic first-year experiences. Outside of schoolwork, we screamed in support at each others’ performances (my friends are crazy cool dancers) and played card games over the weekends.

 

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Seven people stand on a stage, in front of blue lit backdrop
Watching the Princeton University Ballet x eXpressions collaboration show.

When Spring Break rolled around, and the seasonal depression started to ease, I found myself on another trip, but this time with six others (and no COVID!). We spent that week visiting art museums, making a mess in the kitchen of our Airbnb, and eating copious amounts of Chinese food. As we walked through the streets of Philadelphia at night, I realized that I had come a long way since the fall semester. And while Princeton isn’t quite the same as home, I’ve started to carve out a special space for it in my heart.

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Six students jump in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art
Jumpshot outside the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
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Six students stand in a kitchen with white walls, grey cabinets behind them and a white refrigerator to their right
Baking contest with friends over Spring Break 2022.