My first stay inside a Princeton dorm was so-so. As a recently admitted high school senior, I was on campus attending Princeton Preview, a one-and-a-half-day program that included an overnight stay for admitted students. I lodged with my host and his roommates in Little Hall, one of several beautiful, Gothic buildings that make up Mathey Residential College.
To be clear, the accommodations were not uncomfortable in any way. I only felt that the dorm did not seem quite like a home or a homey place you could happily return to after a long day of studying. The place was slightly untidy and sparsely decorated, as if its occupants had moved in only yesterday, and not eight months ago. It was not at all like what I had seen on college websites and video tours of dorms. Still, my host seemed pleased with it and I soon forgot about its deficiencies.
The experience came to mind a few months later, when I moved into my dorm as a first-year student. The place was bare except for the same basic furnishings I had found in my host’s room. Weeks later, it would still have empty walls, though textbooks, shoes and papers would spot the floor. My roommates and I did clean fairly often with our Swiffer and vacuum, and we did consider purchasing some decor, but for the most part the place resembled my host’s messy and undecorated room.
There was one difference, though. In my host’s room, I was a visitor, only there for a night. My own dorm, however, was familiar to me, and I was its resident. I knew its dimensions. I knew there was a small dent in the wall from the time I swung the closet door too quickly. I knew where one of my roommates stored his chocolate, and also that we’d have some later while laughing about something funny. I knew the missing water bottle on the mini-fridge meant my second roommate was at the gym, while my third roommate’s strident whistling meant he was working on math problems. I knew this and more about our room, which had become our home.
This past spring, my roommates and I hosted six admitted high school students for the Princeton Preview program. They probably did not think much of our room, but one day they might have a home just like it.