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Fitting in at Princeton

December 15, 2014
Thomas Ray Garcia

What does it mean to “fit in” in a community where everyone is so different? When I came to Princeton, I initially felt apprehension about finding friends I would feel comfortable around. Sure, there were bound to be students who shared my interests, but I knew it wasn’t going to be like high school where everyone came from familiar backgrounds and had similar experiences. I realized the memories I spent four years creating were meaningless in a place where they weren’t shared by anyone but me, and I was intimidated.

During my first few days on campus, the biggest mistake I made was creating barriers with people who were different from me, which was basically everyone. Born on another continent? Different native tongue? I automatically assumed that no matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to connect with these people in any way, shape, or form because of our differing backgrounds. And so I didn’t bother trying in the first place. I kept waiting for the day that my clone would pop up at any moment to give me some sort of comfort.

But that never happened, and after being frustrated about the situation for a while, I wondered if other students were feeling the same way. I asked one of my hall mates how he felt about “fitting in.” He told me, “Everyone is different, but that’s cool. That’s why I wanted to come here in the first place.”

I had never thought about actively stepping outside my comfort zone just for the sake of it. But the longer I pondered his words, the more sense they made. I reflected on the fact that everyone I met had their own unique character, backstory, and purpose. No one person was so similar to another.  So why were they able to make friends and I couldn’t? The fact is they accepted that everyone was different, and rather than letting intimidation hinder them, they used their excitement of the unknown to meet new people. Rather than changing themselves to fit a social norm or waiting for familiarity to bring comfort, they took their Princeton experience into their own hands.

Based on my experience, I think it’s wrong to try to “fit in” at Princeton. Everyone’s differences make them stand out from the other 7,911 students who roam the campus, and this paradoxically creates a community that one cannot help but feel part of.  No other student shares my memories or past experiences, but when I look at things through a different perspective I realize that this is exactly what allows me to connect with my fellow Princetonians.