Dear QuestBridge Matches: Playing Life on Hard Mode


Dear Great QuestBridge Match Class of 2027,

Has it sunk in yet? The fact that you are now an invaluable member of Princeton’s newest class?

It may not fully sink in until you step foot onto Princeton’s campus for orientation and your first day of classes, but regardless, I welcome you to Princeton’s Great Class of 2027!

Not to date myself, but I am a member of the QuestBridge Match Class of 2025. Even though it’s been two years since the fateful day when I matched to Princeton, I remember the process like it was yesterday: I remember the suspicion I first felt as I googled “Is QuestBridge a scam?” I remember the feverish race to submit all of my supplements by November 1st. Most clearly of all, I remember the day I received my match letter. I remember my hands shaking as I opened the email notification and the adrenaline that coursed through my body as I realized that everything I had been doing for the past four months—heck, the past four years—was about to culminate with this. Exact. Moment. 

As a first-generation, low income student navigating Princeton for the past two years, I have grown immensely. I’ve grown, and yet I am continuously grounded my home community and the on-campus QuestBridge community. 

As I write this letter to you right now, I hope to share a core lesson I’ve learned this past semester that may serve as food for thought as you close out your high school career:

A couple weeks ago, I was participating in HackPrinceton, and I went to a team-building event to meet some of the students who had driven and flown in from all around the world.

I walked up to the first person: “Hi, my name is Aminah! What’s your name?”

“Angel,” she said, smiling.

“Angelica?” I asked, echoing back what I’d heard.

“Angel,” she clarified.

Next to me, my friend snickered, incredulous at how I could have misheard the name so badly.

But it gets worse: this happened repeatedly.

“What’s your name?”

“My name is Alayna!”

“Allison, you said?”

At this point, my friend was dying of laughter. “Wow, you’re really playing life on hard mode aren’t you?!”

This moment from the hackathon has stayed with me, and I realize that my friend was right. In almost every way, I have always approached life assuming that it would be more difficult than it sometimes actually was. I have always assumed that I would be asked to jump through more and more hoops ad infinitum.

Now, some of this is a product of my low-income upbringing: nothing has been given to me on a silver platter and so I have come to expect struggle and pain as necessary prerequisites to my moving through the world.

What I have as a response is not some grandiose solution or overarching statement, but a question: What if life (or at least some parts of it) is actually simple? What if there are areas in your life right now where you are struggling because you think you have to, not because it is actually necessary?

You’ve done it. You are on track to become a graduate from one of the top universities in the country. You are in great hands. You have an opportunity to end high school hopefully in person, as the ramifications of the global pandemic have begun to recede.

Take this win. You’ve earned it. Congratulations!

 

With infinite love, 

Aminah 

 


To Find a Home


As an international student from Haiti, I have always been aware of my national identity, especially when traveling abroad. The first time I visited the United States, I realized how my Haitianness was not just a label, but had tangible and observable consequences for how I integrated spaces, how I was perceived and what kind of learning, unlearning and resistance I would have to perform. When I decided to commit to Princeton in April 2021, this awareness was front and center in my mind. Would I find my belonging without compromising who I was at my core? I wanted college to be a space for growth, but I didn't want that growth to come at the expense of my authentic self. I wasn't averse to challenging myself and being uncomfortable, but at what cost? I knew there were many affinity groups on campus that intersected with my national identity that would help me protect and nourish what I thought to be my identity. What I didn't know whether or where I would find a home. I carried these questions and doubts with me on the plane.

In the fall of my first year, I attended an event organized by the African Students Association (PASA). It was an event of delicious food, traditional board games, music and fantastic atmosphere! There were people from diverse backgrounds: first-generation immigrants, international students from the African continent or the diaspora, black students of all backgrounds, generational African-American students, and all those beautiful and complex intersectional identities. I immediately felt at home! I understood the humor, people laughed at my jokes, the music was engaging, the energy electrifying and the food seasoned. I felt seen and welcomed as part of a larger community. At that moment, my national identity made space for my other identities to be. I became part of something greater: a cultural community.

I experienced the same feeling over and over again. It was not just happening at PASA events. It happened at the movie nights organized by the Davis International Center. It happened again at study breaks with other first-generation low-income students. And again at the weekly dinners of the Society of African Internationals (SAIP). And again at the game nights organized by the Black Student Union (BSU). Over time, I came to see community, identity and belonging as dynamic concepts that can only be spoken of in plural. So far at Princeton, I have learned to see myself as more than Haitian. I have been encouraged to recognize and explore other aspects of myself. Other identities that make me who I am. I stopped chasing this single community where I would feel at home and instead welcomed the idea of ​​belonging through multiple communities and spaces. Thanks to a variety of student groups, only some of which I have officially joined (I am now the Vice-President of PASA), I was able to feel at home. Today, my Haitianness remains an extremely important part of who I am and of what drives me. Yet, I have found peace and joy in knowing and accepting that I am much more than that, however proud I am to be Haitian.

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Two friends in front of a lake in Seattle

The Black Woman Wellness Retreat & The Necessity for Self Care


During the winter break of my first year (Winter 2021), I stayed on campus. Break gave me the time I needed to listen to my own needs and goals instead of getting caught up in the busy-ness of the semester. Most importantly, it gave me the space to be more intentional about self-care. I slept in more often, hung out with other on-campus friends regularly, started a new TV series and got back into crocheting.   

In addition to participating in a few Wintersession workshops–one on knitting, one on embroidery and one session called "Founding Your Deep Tech Startup"–I also was fortunate enough to attend the first Black Women Wellness Retreat hosted by the Our Health Matters (OHM) Club. The OHM is a club focused on the health and wellbeing of Black women on campus. In a world that expects Black women to be endlessly “strong,” this all expenses paid retreat gave me the room to be honest about how I was honestly doing and what I needed:

After tasty breakfast pastries provided by The Gingered Peach, a local Black woman-owned business, we took a chartered bus to Skytop Lodge, located in the Poconos Mountains. The Lodge itself was stunning, it had rich, velvety carpets, tall windows with lots of natural sunlight and really unique furniture. The room I stayed in had ample space, as well as its own walk-in closet, full bathroom and outdoor patio. During the retreat, our time was spent doing everything from playing ping pong to making vision boards, to talking about our experiences with dating on campus.

 

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Magazine cutouts for vision board collage

I do not share any of this to brag. As a lower-income student, I’d never stepped foot near a ski lodge before, yet this retreat afforded me that experience as a means to promote my self care. I share this experience with you, because it is important that Black women are seen engaging in self-care, indulging in high-quality experiences and supporting each other.  

At the end of the day, I am reminded of this quote from Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” As a Black person, I must remind myself of this every day. As a woman of color, I must remind myself of this every day. As all of the the things I am–lower-income, first-generation and a Black Muslim woman trying to navigate an elite institution–it is imperative that I strive closer and closer to a future where my self care is no longer negotiable in my schedule but the norm. 

What about you? How has your self-care journey been going? I’d love to know!


ASL and Deaf Studies at Princeton


Princeton has taken significant efforts to expand its American Sign Language (ASL) offerings in recent years. ASL was first offered for credit in 2018 through the Program in Linguistics. Beginning in spring 2021, ASL counts towards the fulfillment of the language requirement. I hope the expansion of the ASL program shows the importance of ASL and encourages more students to take the language.

I first learned ASL when I took LIN 205: A Survey of American Sign Language in the fall. This class is for students who do not know ASL and serves as an introduction to the language. It was really wonderful to learn ASL from faculty member Noah Buchholz, who is Deaf and a native speaker of ASL. Now, I can have basic conversations in ASL. Many students in the class had never been exposed to ASL before, but now we all can recognize introductory vocabulary and we understand more about grammar and syntax. I’m also pretty positive that LIN205 was one of the first classes for most students that directly discussed Deafness and disability, and I think students really benefited from learning about these topics.

Now, I am in LIN215: American Deaf Culture, which is being taught for the first time this semester. While Professor Buchholz teaches this class in ASL, students do not need to have any knowledge of the language. Instead, this class is about Deaf culture, as the name suggests, which encompasses history, civil rights, literature and more. It’s so exciting to have a class dedicated to Deaf studies in a way that contextualizes the Deaf experience. I’m looking forward to learning more about Deafness in the past and present.

For years, ASL has been one of the fastest-growing languages taught on college campus today. Additionally, people with disabilities are the largest minority group in the world, which makes it even more essential that Princeton students with and without disabilities learn more how disability impacts the world around them. In the future, I hope that Princeton offers even more classes about ASL, Deaf studies, and disability studies.


Being Muslim at Princeton: A First-Time Experience


Truthfully, when I came to Princeton, I was not expecting to meet people who looked like me. I expected to be the outsider, other, visually and actually different from the rest. At my high school, that was all I knew. I was the only hijab-wearing Muslim out of over 800 students, and often the only Black person or girl in my advanced math and science courses. 

At my high school, I took the initiative to co-found the Muslim Students Association, or MSA for short. Our first couple years were a struggle to stabilize the group. The MSA never had more than four or five students during any given year. My experience of founding my school’s MSA opened my eyes to the reality of being Muslim at a predominately white institution: that experience is often isolating. But it also taught me the strength provided by community. 

Coming to Princeton, though, was a different story. Yes, I met people from all over the world, from Germany to Canada, and from Kenya to China, but I also met people just like me. I met people from California, my home state, and people from the Yoruba tribe, my tribe. Most meaningfully, I met people from my faith, Islam. A. WHOLE. GROUP. OF. THEM.

Let me set the scene for you: around noon, I walked into the gorgeous Murray-Dodge Hall and was greeted by Muslim peers. There was not just one type of “Muslim.” There were hijab-wearing Muslims and non-hijab-wearing ones, there were Muslims from a wide variety of American states and various countries across the world. THERE WERE PEOPLE MY AGE! STUDENTS! Students that I could talk to about the Quran, or about being a neuroscience concentrator, about hadith or about Hoagie Haven.

This was huge for me, considering I had an inconsistent Muslim community back home that mainly consisted of older women and their young children. Performing Jummah salat, an Islamic congregational prayer held every Friday, had become an action I did on autopilot, without really connecting with those around me. Going to Jummah for the first time at Princeton, though, thoroughly altered my notion of what Muslim representation can look like on an academic campus: being Muslim at a predominately white institution did not have to feel isolating, in fact, it could feel quite enriching and enjoyable.

Though Princeton's MSA has given me a community of people who I can relate to on a religious level, I would be remiss if I did not address the concept of homogeneity. While I do not think that living and staying solely in a community that looks entirely like you is a rewarding way to go through life, I think that there is much that can be gained from finding a small group of people with shared identities inside of a larger community that is diverse. These sort of small groups provide room for relatability without the echo chambers common in complete homogeneity. They provide a respite from day-to-day experiences without becoming a place that criticizes you for differences. 

Princeton’s MSA has shown me that same strength I first discovered, multiplied. Though it is still growing and expanding, the Princeton MSA has further exemplified how tightly a community can come together, especially after sorrowful events like the passing of Imam Sohaib.  I am looking forward to continuing my experience of Religious Life at Princeton, and I encourage you to explore the various religious groups on campus.


Accommodation and Advocation


Having been recently diagnosed with a disability, ulcerative colitis, one of the main fears I had living on campus was the accommodation system. I had only gone through the process during virtual learning, so witnessing how my illness would affect me on campus was a bit scary. I feared that I would not be getting the accommodations I needed. Considering the cyclical nature of my illness, I feared that the Office of Disability Services would not see my accommodations as necessary. Although I got most of my accommodations, my need for a private bathroom was not met, yet I’ve managed without it for now. 

The fact that I didn’t have certain accommodations that I felt were necessary made me worried about how accessible the campus would be. But, I find that generally, the staff and members of the University are quite understanding of disabilities. For one, my professors have been incredibly helpful in honoring my accommodations. Additionally, the Office of Disability Services is generally very responsive and helpful to meet the varying needs of students with accommodations. Despite the fact that I moved hundreds of miles away from home, with access to my needs more limited, I still flourish. Really, accommodations is about finding out how to work within a system, even if the resources you need are all not there. 

 

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Izabela Konopka sitting on a tree trunk

One of the biggest pieces of advice I would give to incoming first-year students is to make sure your accommodations prepare for the worst case scenario, rather than your present condition. College is a large transition. You can not predict its effect on your disability. Additionally, as long as you have the proper documentation and good reasoning, you should be able to get those accommodations. Another piece of advice I would give is to not be afraid to advocate for yourself. There are many staff who help you advocate for what you need to succeed at Princeton, like our Residential College Staff. Reaching out to them can be instrumental in ensuring you get the resources you need, and knowing that persistence is key. 

Princeton has helped me advocate for myself more, intertwining with my interest in politics. Princeton gives a plethora of resources for those with varying disabilities — you just need to take advantage of those resources.


Making Connections Through the Davis International Center


As a student who had East Asian roots as well as a rich international experience, I thought I was well prepared for life at Princeton as an international student. I had lived in Utah for 10 years prior to my acceptance to Princeton. I was proved quite wrong, as my transition to Princeton was very different from what I had expected. My sophomore year was the first time I had spent a prolonged period of time away from home and family. The COVID-19 pandemic had allowed me to study remotely from home during my first year, allowing me to grow closer to my family. So, when I first set foot on campus, I was actually at a loss. The campus seemed big, I was alone and I didn’t know who I could ask for help. It felt as if I shouldn’t ask for help. I was a sophomore, after all, not a first-year.  It was the Davis International Center (Davis IC) that provided a lot of support for getting acclimated to campus and that made Princeton a ‘home’ for me. I worked with the Davis IC and organized events for the incoming international first-year students, such as managing the check-in on international first-year arrivals on campus and setting up group events to strengthen bonds between the international student groups. 

 

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Seyi Jung sitting to the left of her friend on the soccer field

Through collaborations with other IC Leaders, I planned and organized social gatherings for the International Class of 2024, deciding food and activities for international students to enjoy while getting to meet and become friends with each other. Additional events that are hosted by Davis IC are the International Orientation World Cup and socials organized by class year. By actively planning and participating in these activities, I felt like a part of the community, at a place where I belonged and where I could welcome other people in. Internationality, the very thing that made us diverse and different, also became the thing that tied us together. The friendly environment encouraged questions and cooperation, and it was clearly understood that nobody was expected to work alone.  When I found myself alone at night in my dorm, it helped that I was used to phone calls and Zoom meetings thanks to the ‘virtual’ experience during the pandemic. This aided me in communications with my family, which also lessened the homesickness that I initially felt. South Korea is still my home, and my family is still there, but I am no longer afraid to be on my own.

 

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All of the Davis IC leaders standing by golf carts

Physical distance does not lessen the love one feels for their family; sometimes, it’s actually strengthened by such experiences. At Princeton, through the Davis IC and my classes, I found new connections, new people to call friends and to depend upon. I bonded with other international students who had various backgrounds yet shared a common experience of adjusting and living in a dual culture. And I was able to meet people who shared my interests and passions in the classes that I chose to take, especially in those related to my concentration. I wish I knew this before I came to Princeton. I wish I could say to my younger self to not be afraid; to be bolder, and to be more excited. The world may be big and I may feel small, but that only means there’s more for me to explore, and to discover.


Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help


Taking difficult courses in one of the world’s most prestigious universities, topped with moving to a new and different country seemed daunting at first. Coming from Poland, I didn’t know if my academic preparation was enough to thrive in a Princeton classroom and whether I’d fit well in the American college social life. As these thoughts began to fill my mind when I entered the walls of the beautiful Princeton campus, I remembered a piece of advice that has helped me succeed throughout my life: don’t be afraid to ask for help. I never would have thought that this piece of advice could make such a difference in my transition to college. 

As I progressed through my first fall semester, I quickly realized how many resources Princeton offers when you’re seeking advice. When I was choosing courses or became worried about my progress in them, I spoke to my wonderful academic adviser, Gene Grossman, a professor in the Department of Economics and Princeton School of Public and International Affairs who always knew exactly how to put me on the right track by both challenging me with exciting course choices and encouraging me to strike a work-life balance. Although he knew I was a prospective economics concentrator, he encouraged me to take Freshman Seminars which seemed to be very loosely connected with my concentration (one of which focused on the importance of failure in life, while the other on the constitutional debate over freedom of speech). These courses allowed me to discover areas of knowledge I never explored before and provided a healthy break from learning about economic consumption patterns and supply & demand. 

 

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Antek standing in front of Blair Arch with his Class of 2024 banner.

When I found my days getting disorganized and unproductive, I scheduled mentoring sessions with the McGraw Academic Life & Learning Consultants who helped me organize my academic life. When I feared I’d never secure a summer internship after my first year I spoke to the advisers at the Center for Career Development who helped me polish my resume and land an incredible summer opportunity. With their support, I had a wonderful experience working for Magma Partners during my first-year summer: a venture capital investment fund that focused on supporting fintech and insurtech startups in Latin America. 

Finally, when I worried about adjusting to life in the United States I found a robust community at the Davis International Center. The Davis IC helped me effectively transition to living in a new culture. It allowed me to surround myself with people who found the same things about the United States to be different from their home countries and Davis IC empowered us to adapt to them together. I can certainly say that although Princeton has been a challenging experience, I was able to navigate through it well, without being afraid of failure. I proudly wear orange and black as I know that here I’m always surrounded by the right people who will help me succeed no matter what obstacle I encounter.


Coming to Princeton from Kenya


Hello! My name is Yujin Angolio and I am an international student from Nairobi, Kenya. I am a Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering concentrator in the Great Class of 2023.

 

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Yujin Angolio holding the national flag of Kenya

Coming to Princeton from Kenya was definitely both daunting and exciting. As I bade my parents farewell, I could feel my heart begin to quiver. I would miss them. I would miss my siblings and my friends. I would miss my country and its people. I would miss the food and culture. I would miss hearing people speak Swahili and their vernacular languages. I would miss more things than I could think of at the time. Even so, I was comforted by their words of encouragement: “More than we wish you could stay with us, we wish that you be brave and confident as you go out into the world. You are not alone. God is always with you.

 

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Yujin Angolio on the right side of her friend Tiffany

It was the faith I knew my loved ones had in me that would keep me going. On the countless days I felt homesick, I would reminisce about the times spent together with family and friends and smile. The phone calls, WhatsApp chats and Zoom calls with them helped me through the homesickness while also allowing me to keep connected with people at home. With all the activities and programs that Princeton brings, one may occasionally lose focus of important things like relationships and faith. It takes a great deal of intentionality to shut out all the noise and decide to take time to pursue those meaningful things. If I had the chance, I would caution my younger self that doing so is not as easy as it sounds. I would tell myself: 

“As the days roll by, and you feel like life is slowly taking a toll on you, remember to pause and do those very things you think you are ‘too busy’ for. The call with a friend from home, the dinner in the dining hall with a friend from Princeton, the prayer in the morning before you dash off to class, the stroll around campus as you watch the leaves fall around you, the quiet reflection and meditation time before you go to bed...those things. Take the time do those things because that is ultimately where you find strength, life, assurance, and comfort. 

Yes, there are things you miss, but there’s certainly much more that you will gain!”

 


Princeton’s Transfers: Small in Numbers, Big in Support


Princeton transfer students come from a range of backgrounds. Some are married with children. Others have earned badges of adulthood, like paying a mortgage or caring for elderly parents. Bodies and minds worn by military service may yield medical emergencies that conflict with final exams. These considerations exist on what are arguably transfers’ two heaviest burdens: 1) adjusting from the standards of another institution to the expectations of Princeton and 2) acclimating to Princeton’s culture as adults with life experiences. I do not intend to say that non-transfer students never face these issues. Some do. But for transfers, these are not just possibilities. They are common.

 

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Xander dressed in a U.S. Marines uniform standing next to a friend

I know this because I have witnessed these events first-hand. I also know from my own transition to Princeton—which was much more difficult than I had expected.

I transferred to Princeton in 2020, when the world was on proverbial fire. I anticipated my first year at Princeton would be intellectually challenging—and it certainly was—but I greatly underestimated the social transition. During the 2020-21 academic year Princeton classes and activities were fully remote and while Princeton’s many resources made me feel academically supported, I initially felt socially isolated. The things that helped me endure two remote semesters at Princeton—besides my partner, Jenna, and our dog, Bishop (love you both!)—were the Princeton Transfer Association and its members.

 

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Xander with his partner Jenna standing on campus behind a black and orange sign that says "Politics"

“PTA,” as it is commonly referred to, is a transfer student-run organization with two main missions: to advocate for transfer-friendly policies and to strengthen the transfer community. Since its inception in early 2020, PTA has made great achievements in policy reform (none of which would have been possible without the transfer program director, Dr. Keith Shaw, campaigning in tandem). Community building, however, has been much more challenging during the COVID-19 pandemic. This was especially the case during the University’s remote year.

Fortunately, PTA was resilient and held many virtual events that allowed transfer students to remain connected. For example, PTA conducted virtual “coffee breaks,” or informal Zoom meetings where members of my cohort could speak to transfer students who knew how to navigate Princeton efficiently and wisely. I attended plenty of these sessions,  just to connect with other transfers. At nearly every coffee break that I attended, meetings quickly turned from Q&A to transfers getting to know one another. These meetings often replicated some of my favorite memories from community college: conversations that naturally and tangentially jumped from topic to topic.

My favorite organized events were PTA’s “Transfer Trivia” nights. During these Jeopardy-style trivia matches, I mingled with members of all three transfer cohorts and appreciated focusing on something other than coursework. Coffee breaks gave me a space to chat with other transfers, whereas trivia gave me an opportunity to talk trash (as all parties competing in trivia ought to do). This allowed me to forge genuine connections with others. (And a bonus was seeing Dr. Shaw flex his vast knowledge of politics, history and basketball.)

Above all else, the best resource was the small group of on-campus transfers. I moved around a lot while serving in the United States Marine Corps, so I was well-prepared for the cross-country move from Southern California to Princeton, New Jersey. But Jenna had never moved away from home. Homesickness and the isolation of the pandemic made her relocation terribly difficult. Thankfully, a few transfer students and their families welcomed us both warmly. Made safer by biweekly COVID testing, we got together routinely for bonfires and coffee. When in-person interaction was scarce, the transfer community ensured that we were not alone.

Without PTA and its community, my transition to Princeton would have been much worse, and Jenna would have found our move much more difficult. They reminded me that I was at Princeton to do more than read and write, and that Princeton was a place for families, too.

I am grateful to now be the vice president of the Association. With the help of the PTA board, I plan to continue advocating for transfers and strengthening our community. And when President Alejandro Garcia graduates in the spring, I hope to fill his shoes, continuing his legacy of guiding PTA and ensuring that Princeton is a place for transfers because of other transfers.

If you are a prospective transfer applicant reading this, do not put weight on the fact that my transfer experience was more challenging than anticipated. If admitted, your experience will certainly be better than mine because you will not be transferring during a time like 2020. And if you do find yourself in that position, do not worry. The Princeton Transfer Association and its community will be there for you—and any family you may bring—no matter what.

 

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Xander standing in front of Nassau Hall