Walking into our residential college

I still remember the day my roommates and I moved into our quad our first year here, with bustling containers filled to the brim with clothes and supplies and frothy introductions in voices two octaves too high. I had already spent three nights in our room because International Orientation (IO) had started a few days before regular Orientation (a blur that was no match for jetlag).

My first weeks here were strung together by the theme of being lost but not wanting to pull out the color-coded map Princeton kindly provided for fear of appearing like (gasp) a first-year. Also memorable was the constant flux of confusion present in any audience when I told them my name in introduction.

“How do you spell that?”, they’d ask, politely.

“Zet, Ee, X-…”


It took a few weeks to extract stray weeds of Malaysian slang from my English. The International Orientation leaders had warned us of the American tendency to ask “how are you?” before walking off just as you conjure up a good summary of your day. (I’ll keep you updated on whether I ever respond to “what’s up?” with anything but “…the ceiling?”).

I’m sure there must have been a time when I doubted if I would ever feel like this campus had a place for me, too — but that time is as long gone as the color-coded map I once stole looks at when I thought no one was looking. There’s hardly room for feeling like you don’t belong when you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with an assignment partner in the trenches of a problem set, or in the cavern of bugs present in code written too late at night.

When I look back on my first year here, all I see is awkward small talk quickly dissolving into a chorus of Disney songs managed while juggling balloons, trips to New York stolen between papers, and study breaks spent arguing over what a biscuit should look like.

(A biscuit is nearly exactly like a cookie.)

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