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Reflecting on Reading Period


The arguably busiest week for all Princeton undergraduate students is most adequately titled reading period (a time in between the end of classes and the day all written work is due, Dean’s Date). You will likely think that the campus has been completely abandoned, while New Jersey’s cold weather may add to this effect, it is mainly a result of the impending deadline that nears the end of the week. Most students will be scattered throughout all of Firestone Library’s six levels or at Frist Campus Center. Depending on my mood, you’ll either find me in a cubicle on the B-level of Firestone or grabbing a burrito bowl at late meal with friends. There is usually no in between because I’m either ranting about the latest movie I’ve watched or I’m writing a 10-page paper for my Zen Buddhism class. 

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A desk with an open book and an Apple MacBook Pro displaying an opened Google document.
One of my many study sessions at my favorite B-level cubicle reading Buddha Nature: The Mahayana Uttaratantra Shastra.

I’ve successfully completed my third reading period during my time here at Princeton and I’d like to say I’ve got a bit of a handle on it now but that would most certainly be a lie. I’d like to normalize not having everything figured out when entering a stressful time and I’m glad I’m surrounded by people who make me feel like I’m not completely insane for feeling that way. While every friend group is different, I think the community I’ve found here is truly amazing. I’ll enter a shift at work and have a long conversation about my day, even the smallest details being shared. I’ll send a long chain of texts to my friend about my worries and minute inconveniences and I’ll be met with so much motivation. I think that’s what keeps me going during a time where it feels like everything is on the line and there’s a lot of pressure. The free snacks and fidget toys handed out by our Peer Health Advisors also really help (I fell in love with a squishy stress ball). 

Most importantly, I really want to emphasize why self care is so crucial during a time like reading period. I’ve learned to not allow one week out of the 52 in the year determine my future or happiness. While future reading periods will continue to be daunting, I’ll continue to do my best and prioritize my well-being over a really difficult Neuroanatomy exam (fingers crossed that I did well).


Fall Break in Greece


During fall break, I had the opportunity to travel to Greece with the Humanities Sequence. After dedicating much time and energy during our first year at Princeton to the rigorous reading schedule and thought-provoking discussions of the HUM Sequence, my peers and I were ecstatic to pursue our individual research questions during our sequence sponsored fall break trip to Athens.

Upon arriving in Greece, I was struck by the extraordinary view of the Acropolis from my hotel room balcony. Our days were filled with guided tours, museum trips and excursions. While we spent most of the break in Athens, we were lucky enough to venture out to visit the Archeological Site of Delphi and to swim in the Aegean Sea at Nafplio.

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Two girls sitting on the shore of the Aegean Sea

During my research day in Greece, I visited the Parthenon and the Acropolis Museum. I came to Greece hoping to study the Parthenon Marbles and to get a sense of Greek opinion on the marbles’ ownership debate. I cannot fully describe the sense of awe that flooded me when I finally arrived at the Parthenon. As a Classics student studying Greek, I found myself trying to translate every ruin I saw. This trip held extreme significance for me, and I was moved by the museums, ruins, sites and the homes of the authors whom I have dedicated myself to studying at Princeton.

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Girl in a selfie in front of The Parthenon

On the flight back to campus, I remember reflecting on the entire experience. I was overwhelmed by an extreme sense of gratitude––for the opportunity to travel to Greece, for the hospitality of the Greek people and mostly for the community fostered by the HUM sequence. The HUM sequence has been a defining element of my experience at Princeton, and I highly recommend that anyone who has an interest in the humanities or literature consider it. While abroad, I grew closer to my classmates and professors. Later this week we will all come together and present our projects from the trip.


Reaching Beyond the Classroom Walls: A Course on Immigration Justice and Making An Impact


I recently had the opportunity to sit in on immigration court proceedings with one of my classes. Though the majority of that day was spent speaking with the Chief Judge of Newark Immigration Court, meeting with our consulting attorney and other lawyers working to provide universal representation in asylum cases, and enjoying a lovely lunch at a local Ethiopian restaurant, that single hour inside the court left the largest impact on the class.

My journey to this class is a testament to the supportive networks that exist among Princeton faculty and students. While writing a final paper on Mexican immigration policy for one of my first-year spring classes, my professor at the time suggested I reach out to Dr. Frank-Vitale, a postdoctoral research associate in the Program of Latin American Studies (PLAS) whose work had dealt greatly with the topic that I was researching. Dr. Frank-Vitale was immediately extremely accessible and happy to share her knowledge with me–a student who was not even taking her course that semester. 

During the process of meeting with her, I found out about her course, LAS 362 Central Americans and Asylum in the United States. My interest was instantly piqued, both as a daughter of two immigrants, and as somebody who is interested in pursuing a career in immigration law. Additionally, I had loved my previous experiences with courses in PLAS, and was excited to work towards a certificate in the program.

The class itself is a theoretical and practical exploration of the asylum seeking process in the United States. It has dealt with themes including the evolution of the U.S. immigration system, the ethics of international conventions pertaining to immigration, and the logistics associated with applying for asylum or refugee status. The class meets each week to discuss these topics in depth, getting to hear not only from an amazing professor, but also from twenty other brilliant undergraduates. Our semester-long project involves working with an attorney to create country conditions reports that will hopefully be useful in four real-life asylum cases.

Our trip to Newark was not only an opportunity to build community with the class outside of a seminar-style setting, but also a chance to engage with the community outside of Princeton and gain an insight into the sort of impact that our work may have. I believe this is something that is beautifully unique to Princeton, and I cannot describe the gratitude I feel for these sorts of opportunities to allow our classwork to reach beyond the classroom walls.

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Group photo of Princeton students inside of a restaurant

I already know that LAS 362 will be one of my most memorable and formative experiences during my time at Princeton. And although I will be sad to say goodbye to this course come December, I will leave this class feeling fueled in my passion for immigration justice, seeking the next step in immigration advocacy.


Language Tables Are Your Friend


Bonjour à Tous! (Hello All!)

In today’s blog post, I am sharing my experience with language learning at Princeton.

For some context, I studied French for all four years of high school. Because I didn’t have access to language classes in middle school, I had to start out with an intensive class, and I did not end up taking AP French. 

The summer before I came to Princeton, as I got a million emails about moving in and orientation and new clubs, I also got an email to take a language placement test. I sat down for an hour or so and took the French placement test, which placed me in FRE 103.

Since I intend to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree, I have to fulfill a language requirement. The requirement dictates that A.B. students must demonstrate proficiency in a language other than English either through standardized tests scores, a placement exam, or completion of a language course at or above the 107 level. So, I’d only need to take FRE 103 and another French course at or above FRE 107 in order to be done with my requirement!

There are so many types of language classes offered at Princeton, from Spanish and Latin to American Sign Language and Swahili. There’s definitely something for everyone!

Last semester (Spring 2022), I completed FRE 103, so here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way to help you on your language learning journey here at Princeton:

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A group of people in the Whitman Dining Hall with a sign that says "Cena Latina" (Latin Dinner)
A group of people gather in the Whitman dining hall for a Latin language table.

 

  1. Language tables are your friend. I will say it again for the people in the back: LANGUAGE. TABLES. ARE. YOUR. FRIEND. What is a language table, you may ask? A language table is an event organized (usually by each of the different residential colleges) where native/fluent speakers and people learning a given language come together (usually over dinner in a dining hall) in order to practice. I have been to two languages tables for Spanish and French so far, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed them. They are great opportunities not only to practice speaking your target language in a natural and low-stakes environment, but they’re also a great way to meet new people (read: potential FRIENDS 😍)
  2. Be proactive about addressing any vocab or grammar that isn’t sticking. This is a tip I wish I had utilized more this past semester. I’ve always struggled with the different tenses in French (passé composé, impératif, imparfait, conditionnel, etc.) and when to use them. I didn’t get around to scheduling office hours with my professor for some 1:1 practice with these verb tenses until the end of the semester, and by then it was a bit too late to fully understand and commit everything to memory. DON’T be like me: start going to office hours at the beginning of the semester and build a habit of going often and regularly! Language professors often have a set time each week that they dedicate for office hours, and if that time doesn’t work for you then they can work to coordinate a different time over email or at the end of class.
  3. Don’t be afraid to explore a new language! Princeton is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to have access to a wide variety of renowned scholars well-versed in a plethora of languages. Why not take advantage of it? I personally want to learn a language called Yoruba, which is my parents’ native tongue. Most schools don’t offer this language, but Princeton is able to through a collaboration with Yale’s Yoruba professor. After I fulfill my language requirement through French, I want to look into taking some Yoruba classes!

What language(s) do you want to study at Princeton? Are there any new languages you want to explore?

 


Why I Chose East Asian Studies


I had never taken a Korean history class before my junior year of high school. Before, I had my heart set on being an English major, but a particularly difficult sophomore year English class left me feeling lost and confused about what I wanted to do with the rest of my academic career.

I knew I liked History, but I hadn’t really thought about it as a major before because I found European history dense and uninteresting while American history felt distant and unengaging. Unfortunately for me, it just so happened that these were the two areas my history classes primarily focused on. 

So I gave Korean history a shot and fell in love. Korea is interesting in that it lies between China and Japan, two nations with their own rich histories, and that the intersection of the three nations is omnipresent in any era of history you study. This is captured at the heart of the East Asian Studies Department, where there is less of a divide between the three nations but an emphasis on where they interact with each other. 

So I applied to Princeton as an East Asian Studies concentrator, and although I had brief moments where I considered what it would be like to major in something else, I held firm and eventually declared EAS. 

The department and its small size (there are only seven people in my class!) allow me to explore the different ways I want to study East Asia, which is by expanding my language skills, taking classes in politics and public policy in addition to history and culture. 

For anyone else looking to study other regions and cultures, I would recommend going in after getting rid of all preconceived notions and stereotypes of the region you are studying. Allowing yourself to start anew gives you more room for growth, and there’s something weirdly freeing about the fact that you don’t really know a lot about this particular region.  

At this point in my academic career at Princeton, I have no idea where my interests in East Asia will take me. I originally had my heart set on studying the resonance of colonial history in modern-day South Korea, but after taking classes on Chinese history ("China's Frontiers," and "Everyday Life in Mao's China") the crossroads between Korea and China seem too interesting to ignore, and after writing a paper in one of my classes on the lives of women in the Mao Zedong era of China, I have also become more interested in studying the position of gender within East Asia.

What I do know, however, is that I love the East Asian Studies department. I love that it’s small, that I get individualized attention from my professors, and even the building where it’s housed, Jones Hall, is beautiful. I’ve felt at home here since my first-year fall, and I am excited to see what the future will bring. 


Declaration Day


On a recent Friday, as I was walking back from Cannon Green with my friend Kelvin, I was approached by a curious graduate student. "Do you know what's going on over there?" he asked, referencing the festivities on Cannon Green.

"It's Declaration Day," I replied. "The Class of '24 announced their majors, so they're taking photos in their class sweaters in front of the banners for their majors."

"Wow," he said. "That's so extra."

I laughed and chatted a bit more with him before walking away. It occurred to me that the Princeton Declaration Day tradition is peculiar and maybe a little "extra," but it was enjoyable nonetheless. In the spring of their sophomore year, students receive a black knit sweater with their class year in knitted orange block letters. On "Declaration Day," after all students have declared their concentrations, students gather on Cannon Green behind Nassau Hall to pose for photographs in front of the banner of their department. Engineering (B.S.E) students declare their concentrations midway through their second semester, but Declaration Day occurs after arts and sciences (A.B) students declare, which is midway through their third semester. 

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Department banners on Cannon Green for Dec Day

I applied to Princeton as a Civil and Environmental Engineering major, and CEE indeed ended up being the department I'm concentrating in. After taking several classes and conducting research in the department, I knew that tackling environmental engineering problems is what I'm most passionate and excited about. My experience is by no means common, though, as many students decide to concentrate in an area other than what they anticipated when they applied. The first semester and a half (for B.S.E students) or three and a half semesters (for A.B students) gives you a chance to try out classes in several departments and see what piques your interest. A friend of mine who anticipated majoring in CEE discovered she really enjoyed coding and decided to be a Computer Science major, for instance, while another friend took classes in both the Physics and CEE departments during his first several semesters to get a feel for both.

Even after you declare, though, it's somewhat surprising how many choices you have in your schedule to select classes outside of your department. I generally have about two to three required classes for my major per semester, and then I can choose two to three others to fill my humanities and social sciences requirements or work towards certificates (minors). Next semester, for instance, I'm planning to take a French conversation course (which will fulfill a social sciences requirement) and take an environmental chemistry course (which will count towards my Sustainable Energy certificate). So while I really like being a part of the CEE department and taking CEE classes (which are generally my favorite courses), it's nice that I still get to experience other departments during my time at Princeton.

"Dec Day" might have been a little extra, but it was a lovely moment where we could imagine what we'll do in the future with our CEE knowledge and training.

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author and friend in front of CEE banner


A Day In the Life of an East Asian Studies Concentrator


I thought I would share what a day in my life looks like when I have a packed schedule of extracurriculars, socializing and schoolwork! 

7:45 a.m.

I don’t normally wake up this early, but I have a lot of morning classes this semester so I take the time to get breakfast and study for my Japanese quiz!

 

8:30 a.m.

My first class of the day is “Introduction  to Digital Humanities,” which is the class I am taking for my Quantitative and Computational Reasoning distribution requirement, even though it’s an English class! We’re learning about the intersection of digital media and the humanities, and I love how I am able to take a wide range of non-conventional classes to fulfill my distribution requirements.

 

10:00 a.m.

My second class is Japanese, of which I am in my second year. Starting a new language at Princeton is undoubtedly a challenge, as classes meet every day, but each class is structured around time for grammar, speaking, and writing practice, which makes all the hours you have to put in worth it. 

 

11:00 a.m.

I then head over to do work in the eating club I’m a member of, where I am supposed to meet a friend for lunch and study together after. As a sophomore, we get two meals per week at our eating club, which is a great way to integrate ourselves into a community we will soon be fully immersed in next semester. Each eating club at Princeton has its own library, so I just did readings for my seminar later today there. 

 

1:30 p.m.

I had my final class of the day, “Everyday Life in Mao’s China.” This is my favorite class this semester, where we are taking a ground-level view of how the lives of everyday people were impacted by the various changes during the Mao era. Seminars at Princeton are usually three hours long with around fifteen people, though mine is capped at nineteen because so many people were interested in taking it. 

 

4:30 p.m.

I went to Coffee Club, a student run cafe located in Campus Club to grab coffee with a friend and work on my Japanese homework. Coffee Club has new seasonal drinks every month or so, so I got to try their lavender latte (last month they had raspberry matcha as a specialty). 

 

6:00 p.m.

Dinner time! I went to dinner at my eating club, where every Thursday night is a member’s night. I got to sit with my friends and catch up on what they did over spring break while also meeting seniors in the club I had never met before. 

 

9:00 p.m.

My a cappella group was performing at a show for Princeton’s East Asian dance company, Triple 8, so we met near the dressing room at the theater to rehearse beforehand. 

 

10:00 p.m.

After my performance, I went back to Firestone Library, my favorite library, to do work. I normally leave the library around midnight and go straight to sleep. 


Water Quality Laboratory


By the midpoint of the semester, I usually have a sense of what to expect in my courses, and I start to find which topics I'm really enjoying. This semester, my favorite course is probably CEE308: Environmental Engineering Laboratory. When I first enrolled, I wasn't sure exactly what the course would entail—environmental engineering is a broad field, after all, with many possible laboratory experiments. It turns out that we experimentally show many of the concepts I learned about last semester in CEE207: Introduction to Environmental Engineering, which is a really satisfying progression of my studies. For instance, in the first lab we measured the soil partition coefficient of a contaminant, and partition coefficients is a topic Professor Bourg covered and assigned a problem set on last semester in CEE207. I also really like the weekly workflow of this lab course. On Monday, we meet in a classroom with Professor Jaffé, where he discusses the theoretical concepts behind the lab we'll be doing on Wednesday by writing equations and diagrams on the blackboard. On Wednesday, we meet in Professor Jaffé's laboratory to carry out the lab. Sometimes the lab requires measurements on multiple days, in which case we'll also come to the lab over the following days to take readings. Each lab is building towards the final report, which is going to be an Environmental Impact Statement of a hypothetical plan to use golf course pesticides on the Princeton lawns and athletic fields. 

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author and Professor Jaffe operating the BODTrak machine for six sample bottles

I was nervous about the course at the beginning, because I had not-so-fond memories of my previous lab courses, which were remote (holding my breadboard up to a Zoom camera to try to understand why my circuit wasn't working was a bit of a challenge). But in person, I've found that I really love laboratory work, even the problem-solving and explanation-finding of experiments that don't go as planned. During our first lab, for instance, the data showed a mostly horizontal line when we were expecting a linear trend. At first, I thought that maybe my lab group had made an error in the experiment—why doesn't this look how I'm expecting it to look? I showed the results to Professor Jaffé, though, and he helped me realize an explanation for why the trend appeared as it did. We might have carried out the experiment correctly, but the concentrations used may simply have been too high to see the linear trend we expect at low concentrations. In my report, I simply showed the unexpected results and gave my best explanation for what could possibly have caused them. This skill, accepting unexpected results and working to understand them, is likely just as important as understanding the chemical and physical concepts behind the results we expect to get. 

As the weather gets nicer, Professor Jaffé is planning to assign experiments that require soil and water samples from around campus. I'm looking forward to this, as an afternoon spent outdoors in the sunshine will be a nice treat midweek as the semester gets more hectic. I have my fingers crossed for nice-weather Wednesdays during the second half of the semester.


Hola, me llamo Gil...


I have always been fascinated by languages. I grew up bilingual, speaking Haitian Creole and French. Then, at the age of twelve, I realized that it would be cool to actually understand the songs of Akon which I was a big fan of: that's how I decided to start learning English. Later, in high school (coincidentally around the time Akon had hit pause on his musical career), I decided to move on to new horizons and started studying Spanish, followed by German. I think languages are cool, especially at Princeton.

At Princeton, every A.B. student has to pass the language requirement (i.e. demonstrating proficiency in a language other than English) before they graduate. There are many ways to fulfill this requirement. I, for example, took a French Placement Test the summer before I came to Princeton, which allowed me to place out of the language requirement. That meant I did not have to take any language classes at Princeton. But I still did! Why? Because languages are cool! Rather than starting with a completely new language at Princeton (which I might still do later on), I decided to keep learning Spanish for a while. I took the Placement Test for Spanish a couple of days after the French one and got placed into Spanish 108 (for Advanced Learners). 

I took the class last semester and it was amazing! My instructor was extremely kind, supportive and knowledgeable. My experience in that class was nothing like what I had seen in language classes before. Not only did the course focus on the development of the students' oral and written expression, but it also did so by engaging with interesting and thought-provoking material that explored the cultures, histories and politics of Spanish-speaking communities in the United States as well as the larger Hispanic world. The regular writing and speaking exercises encouraged me to frequently engage with the language beyond a superficial level in order to become comfortable expressing complex ideas in Spanish. All this in an encouraging and low-stress environment. I ended up doing very well in the class thanks to the incredible support I received from my instructor and my peers.

This experience reassured me in my decision to pursue a Certificate in Spanish, so much so that I am taking another Spanish class this semester: Spanish 209. In this course, we learn to analyze films in Spanish, which is a great way to improve my writing and speaking skills. It's also a great excuse to watch TV on the weekend without feeling guilty! I am only a few weeks in and I already love it! In addition to the language courses, Princeton offers other opportunities to get better in languages such as speaker events, internships abroad, summer language courses abroad, etc…

I truly feel that Princeton is one of the best places to brush up your skills in many languages or acquire new ones. Plus, you will want to take a class in East Pyne (the building that hosts most of the language departments): it is absolutely stunning! If you don’t believe me, come see for yourself!

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East Pyne Hall

P.S.: If you have questions about any of the things mentioned above, do not hesitate to send me an email!


Challenges at Princeton


For a moment, I want to pivot away from all the great things I’ve experienced at Princeton (read about all of that here!) and share a little about some of my struggles.

My first year, academically, was a challenge. There were a lot of factors leading into this, whether it was dumb luck, adjusting to college life, or the transition from a small Midwestern public school to Princeton’s level of academic rigor. These challenges didn’t magically resolve themselves overnight. I’d feel like I solved them, only for them to resurface a few days or weeks or months later, always in different situations, but often with similar themes or trends. 

These recurrences, obviously, didn’t make me feel good. Every time I got a subpar grade, wrestled with my course load, or forced myself to go to office hours when it was cold and wintry outside, I didn’t do so with a good feeling. There’s always that question of how to juggle classes and other commitments with your other needs, whether it be physical, social or mental. 

Some lessons that I learned. Firstly, do seek out help. I tried too often, as the stubbornly independent person I am, to tough it out alone and figure things out. But Princeton itself does offer resources such as the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning, or class-specific office hours and TAs. In working on my senior thesis, I’ve recently discovered the presence of a maps specialist at the Lewis Science Library, who might be able to help me superimpose maps of New York City overtime to figure out patterns of developing land. To paraphrase Dumbledore, there’s always help at Princeton for those who ask.

Beyond these academic aids, however, sometimes you just have to zoom out and take a larger view. 

Princeton challenges everyone, constantly, and for the most part, that means we are constantly growing - as students, as friends, as people. It can be really easy to be tough on yourself (as a Princeton student, but also as a person reading this blog applying to Princeton). It can be easy to think of one setback as a door permanently closed or to shoulder an immense burden and think it still isn’t heavy enough. But I think one of the biggest lessons I’m still learning at Princeton is to be true and gentle to myself - to believe in that process and allow things to work themselves out. 

The challenges, growing pains and learning opportunities at Princeton are limitless. It’s important to afford yourself that breath of fresh air between each one.