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A Survival Guide to College Applications

As the deadline for early action applications to Princeton looms closer and closer, I’m constantly reminded of my own path to Princeton and the process it took for me to get here. I remember how stressful the college application process was, with everyone asking, “Where are you applying?” and, “What’s your first choice?” It’s easy to get overwhelmed by these questions, especially if you’re not quite sure of how to respond.

The process of making your list of schools to apply to is tough. I remember I didn’t understand why it was so hard when I was young; why couldn’t students just apply to every single school in the country? That way they’d surely get in somewhere. I didn’t realize that each application came with an application fee, not to mention the fact that the Common Application limits the number of schools you can apply to through their platform. (If the application fee is a hardship for your family – you can check with the school to see if fee waivers are available.) Upon learning this, I started to understand why so many students have a hard time crafting their list.

Princeton Lawnparties

So, how do you go about making “The List”? What should you keep in mind when looking at schools? Below is a survival guide to college applications.

  1. Location. Location is key. Many high school students can’t wait to graduate and go to a university far away from home, but here’s a pro tip: everyone gets homesick at some point or another. Maybe you miss your parents, siblings or pet. Maybe you miss sleeping in your own familiar bed. Maybe you miss that small-town feel. Whatever the reason, it’s very hard to go home for the weekend if you live far away. When I was looking at schools, my parents insisted on a “no-fly zone,” meaning the schools I chose had to be within driving distance from home. At first, I thought this was a huge limitation; then I realized that, since I lived in New York, I had so many colleges within driving distance from me!
  2. Campus feel. When I was looking at colleges, I remember that the way a campus was structured was really important to me. I wanted a campus that felt like a campus. For that reason, a lot of city schools didn’t make it to my list. One aspect of Princeton that I love is that it has a physical gate that clearly signifies where the campus is. This solid campus structure makes the school feel homier to me, which was important. If you’re a person who loves cities and being immersed in them, try adding more city schools to your list!
  3. Money. Money can be a sore subject that not a lot of people like to talk about. Nevertheless, the reality is that money is a huge factor when students apply to college. There are many different ways to go about this. In-state tuition versus out-of-state tuition can make a huge difference at some schools. At others, the financial aid program is what attracts students. When I made my list of schools to apply to, I made sure to keep all of this in mind before choosing universities. Princeton's generous financial aid program made college possible for me, as the program is need-based and is committed to meeting 100% of a family’s demonstrated need. Princeton also reevaluates your family's financial situation every year in order to account for any changes, making it extremely flexible!
  4. Academics. Of course! We can’t forget the actual reason why you go to college! The academic opportunities at a university will likely be a deciding factor during your application process. Part of what attracted me to Princeton was its academic rigor which, in turn, opens doors to countless internship and career opportunities.
  5. Alumni network. When you apply to a school, you have to also keep in mind your plans for after college. A strong alumni network goes a long way when it comes time to look for work, internships, fellowships, graduate programs, etc.  In fact, over 26,000 alumni volunteers work with the University in various capacities including providing opportunities and advice to students and young alumni interested in internships and careers.

I hope that these tips will be helpful to you during your college application process. However, you should also keep in mind that you’re going to end up where you’re supposed to be. The admission process doesn’t always work out the way you expect it to, and the stress of the “What-ifs” is exhausting and simply awful. Try not to feed into the frenzy of college applications; if you focus on keeping your own process under control, you’ll be much happier in the end!

Financial Aid Made Princeton Possible for Me

My parents always encouraged me to go to college. Not only was I encouraged, but I was expected to pursue higher education. Not in a “We’re forcing you to go to college” way, but more of a “College helps you succeed and you will be successful” way. Nevertheless, I quickly realized that my current and future situation wasn’t like that of my friends.

My path to college was a little different. My parents didn’t go to college. My dad didn’t finish high school. My parents moved to America from Spain when they were 20 years old, not knowing a word of English and without a cent in their pockets. Sure, Princeton is the number one school in the country, and it’s part of the prestigious Ivy League, but there isn’t one specific way to make it here.

Princeton University's Nassau Hall

Many students at my high school would say that they were not applying to any Ivy League schools because of how expensive they are. My parents had heard the same thing, but they still encouraged me to apply; they said that college is important, and that, somehow, they would find the money. One of my mother’s colleagues had a son who went to Princeton, and she told my mom about Princeton’s incredible financial aid program. Suddenly, Princeton seemed that much more attainable.

My family and I visited Princeton for the first time during my sophomore year of high school and attended an information session about financial aid. There, we learned that aid packages rely on grants, not loans. This means that 82% of students graduate from Princeton debt-free. We also learned that Princeton has a need-blind admission policy, which means that financial need is not taken into consideration when making admission decisions. There’s even a financial aid online estimator, which allows you to input your financial information to see an estimate of how much your family would have to pay to attend Princeton. We were so excited; I have a twin sister, which meant that my family would be paying two college tuitions at the same time. Princeton’s financial aid would help make that possible.

When I was admitted to Princeton in December of 2015, I committed that same day. Some of my friends waited a few weeks after their admission to a bunch of schools so that they could compare the financial aid package received from each school, but I knew I wouldn’t get anything better than what Princeton was offering me. The financial aid office made itself so available to my family for any questions we had during the application and matriculation processes; since my parents had never done this before, we had many questions! Princeton’s financial aid made Princeton possible for me, and I’m eternally grateful.

One Perspective on Financial Aid

For me, the question of "Why Princeton?" is always a fun one to reflect on. In many ways, my journey here can be traced to a 6 x 9-inch flyer.

From a young age my parents impressed upon my siblings and I that education is a critical resource towards self-empowerment and that college is a step in that journey. However, growing up in a low-income family, we were also pushed to apply to scholarships just as intensely as we applied to university, if not more so. Without stifling our desires or pushing us towards any one school or type of education, my parents also encouraged us to take the realities of paying for an education seriously. Therefore, my college search kept me confined to public schools or schools that offered competitive student loan financing. Few people from my town ever ventured outside of the state for higher education let alone Princeton.

To be honest, I don’t remember even hearing about Princeton beyond the yearly rankings or in books that included anecdotes on the Ivy League. Applying to Princeton was surely the furthest thing from my mind. That is, until I received a 6 x 9-inch flyer. I still remember, to this day that the flyer read, "82% of students graduate debt free." And although I was not sure the black and orange colors would look good on me, I decided to throw my name into the application pool in the hopes that I could be one of those 82% and avoid the intimidating prospect of years of student debt.

Many months later, I found myself grateful with my acceptance letter in hand and a trip to Princeton Preview, Princeton's spring program for newly admitted students. I remember being amazed by the beauty of the campus and feeling overwhelmed by the campus' activities. I was already interested in pursuing my education at Princeton, but seeing the financial aid package put it over the top for me. It was eye opening to see that not only do people in my financial position receive extremely generous aid packages, but students whose family income was as high as $160,000 also receive full tuition coverage. Even more enticing, I no longer had to configure personal loan financing as Princeton’s financial aid system works on grants, which do not need to be paid back. Even when you are unable to avoid loans, there are a variety of subsidized and unsubsidized loan options. It has been a journey to understand all these financial aid terms and the ins and outs of the financial system, but the financial aid officers are very helpful in navigating the system and addressing any concerns I have had.

Outside of direct financial aid, I have also found Princeton incredibly helpful in attempting to minimize the ways that differences in socio-economic status affects the Princeton experience. I was not sure I really believed this until I had the opportunity to study abroad my junior spring. Princeton's policy is that socio-economic position should not inhibit students from such incredible opportunities and therefore students will not pay more for these experiences (study abroad during the academic year) than they typically do for Princeton. The result of this policy is the ability to work with financial aid for generous support of international opportunities during the academic year and the summer. A more personal result was that the financial aid assistance allowed me to enjoy my semester in France without any additional tuition, room & board or insurance costs. 

It is still surreal to me that Princeton came into my life via a flyer for financial aid, but I am grateful that it did. And now that I have more years under my belt here, my skepticism has given way to evangelism for the Financial Aid Office here at Princeton. They are not exaggerating when they say it is a big reason why Princeton stands out among its peers and is what makes this place so great. 

Editor’s Note: Financial aid figures reflect 2019-20 academic year.


My Summer with the ACLU

During the summer, I was lucky enough to intern at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), in downtown Manhattan, working in their National Political Advocacy Department on the Campaign for Smart Justice. Through the Campaign, I worked on projects with the overarching theme of eliminating mass incarceration and racial injustice in the American criminal legal system. I’m incredibly grateful for the experience, as it was a summer of learning and growing for me in so many ways.

First, I was able to continue expanding my knowledge about law, politics, policy and the interaction between them. I used the skills I’ve been developing at Princeton through the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs⁠—knowledge accrued from various classes⁠—and applied them to the projects I was working on at the ACLU. Being able to see the real-world applications of the concepts I have learned in class was amazing; it made my work that much more meaningful. Additionally, knowing that I was contributing to extremely important projects was incredible. For example, I contributed to the ACLU’s work on clemency by putting together a memorandum that analyzed each state’s past and present policies on the matter. I then used the information to figure out which states the ACLU should focus on for their own clemency initiatives. I’m grateful to have contributed to such a monumental cause.

Second, I had the opportunity to compare my experience at the ACLU with my internship last summer. Last summer, I worked at the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) in their Immigrant Protection Unit (IPU). Although NYLAG and the ACLU are both non-profit organizations, I had vastly different experiences at both organizations. While I was working in direct services at NYLAG, I had my own clients and ran my own meetings; I was doing more big-picture work at the ACLU this summer. I was able to meet and talk with many influential individuals in today’s political scene. I even had the opportunity to video-conference with Edward Snowden.

Video-conferencing with Edward Snowden

Third, I received funding from Princeton for my internship at the ACLU, since the internship was unpaid. Because of Princeton’s generosity, I was able to afford rent at a beautiful apartment in Manhattan. While working at NYLAG last summer, my commute was an hour and a half to and from work each day. Living in Manhattan made my commute much more manageable, and it provided me with a community I had never had access to before. All of a sudden, I was surrounded by other college students interning in the same city and having similar experiences. I was able to participate in more after-hours work functions, which facilitated closer relationships with my coworkers. Finally, I experienced living on my own in a setting that wasn’t a college dorm. I paid rent for the first time, went on weekly grocery store runs, cooked every day and got to know a new area.

My apartment in Manhattan!

My experience at the ACLU went above and beyond anything I could have ever imagined, and it reinforced my interest in law, politics and policy. I am grateful for my time at the organization, and I’m looking forward to following the ACLU’s accomplishments in the years to come!

Why We All Love Princeton

Choosing where to go to college is a huge step, one that will affect you for the rest of your life. Although looking ahead towards your future is important, it is also crucial to understand and think about your past. I’ve taken some time to reflect on my own pre-university experience. I remember my alumni interviewer asked me why I applied to Princeton, but the real question is: why did I ultimately choose to enroll?

Since each student has a different motive for enrolling, I decided to put together a small collection of reasons why my fellow bloggers and I chose Princeton. Hopefully this will help shed some light on why we all love Princeton!

Personally, I chose to enroll at Princeton University because of the Woodrow Wilson School, the prestigious academics and the generous financial aid. Even in high school, I knew I wanted to focus on international relations in college before going to law school. Although many other schools could have helped me reach those goals, I had visited Princeton and the world renowned Woodrow Wilson School many times, and I felt at home with the students and professors. I love challenging myself, so the academics here really drew me in as well. Finally, the financial aid program at Princeton was truly a blessing; my family has two children in college at the moment, so Princeton’s willingness to help with the process was welcomed with open arms.

Michelle Greenfield '18: “I chose to come to Princeton because of the incredible opportunities students have (both research and extracurricular), the wonderful mentorship available by professors, the conversations I had with currents, and lastly the great atmosphere I felt when I visited.”

Abigail Denton '20: “Obviously, there are tons of incredible things about Princeton, but there were a few other equally good schools available to me. In the end, it came down to price. Princeton was the cheapest option for me because of its generous financial aid. Plus, it didn’t hurt that my brother - at the moment I opened the acceptance letter from Princeton - started jumping up and down, screaming that I had made it into the #1 school in the U.S. He loves lists and records, so being able to give him the joy of being connected to some sort of #1 ranking was simply the sweet icing on the delicious cake that is being accepted into a school with great academics, a welcoming student body and a generous financial aid system.”

Jordan Brown '19: “The main reason I chose Princeton was because I knew since around junior of high school that I'd want to major in economics; since Princeton is world-renowned for its economics department, I thought it would be a natural fit. I also thought that being immersed in such an intellectual group of people would certainly help me and push me to grow as well.” 

Ellie Maag '19: “Besides the incredible resources and professors, the thing that made Princeton the best fit for me was the student body. Students here are the kind of people that want to stay up all night discussing politics and philosophy. The kind of people who can move seamlessly from working on organic chemistry in a lab to starring in a dance show. Instead of ruthless, mechanical drive, I see warmth and passion in my peers. The people here are the best not because they want to beat everyone else but because their studies light up their lives.”

Teresa Irigoyen-Lopez '19: “For me, it was the Bridge Year Program that convinced me I had a lot to gain from what Princeton offers. In my high school dorm in a cold Norwegian fjord I stopped dreaming about the actual start of my University career and realized that taking a gap or 'bridge' year would be an incredible opportunity and that if Princeton was encouraging its incoming students to do such a thing it might really be a good fit for me!”

How Do You Work 3 Jobs in Addition to Class?

Just how do students make money while also attending a rigorous academic institution like Princeton?  Until I got here, I too had this question. How do you manage to take classes, do well, make money and sleep? It seems like those things just don’t fit together. Well rest assured, despite my initial reservations, I promise you that it is possible.

Having a job at Princeton is actually really easy to do. There are so many different types of jobs that if you are looking to make money, or if you have a work-study grant to pay back, there will be something of interest to you. Therefore, here is a list of the top 10 jobs I have found while on campus.

  1. Working in a library – sometimes you guide people to where books are, but oftentimes, you just make sure people stay quiet and get paid to do homework.    
  2. Tutoring – for local elementary and high school students.
  3. Working in the Dining Hall  – cleaning dishes and making sure the Dining Hall is properly stocked. This job has specific shifts, so it's very good for people who want a set time in their schedule for a job.
  4. Babysitting – for local families and professors' children.
  5. Baking cookies at Murray Dodge – Murray Dodge, home to the Office of Religious Life, offers free cookies and tea every day from 3 p.m. - midnight.
  6. Assisting a professor with his or her research or working in a lab – gives you research experience and you get money, so a win-win.
  7. Orange Key Campus Tours – Tours of campus for prospective students and their families. Learn more. 
  8. Taking pictures for the Yearbook - everyone takes photos, so why not get paid to do so.
  9. Writing Center Fellow – provide editing and brainstorming assistance to other students on their writing assignments (while fellows get paid by the University, this amazing service is 100% free for students.)
  10. Residential College Adviser – serve as a mentor and adviser for a group of first-year students.

When I first arrived at Princeton, I started signing up for different clubs and organizations. Soon enough, I had secured three jobs for myself and didn’t even realize it. I found things that interested me and that would help pay for my shopping trips and my love of coffee. I am the editor-in-chief of the Nassau Herald Yearbook, an Orange Key tour guide and I am a writer for this blog. I love all of my jobs, and the best thing, at least for me, is that for the most part, they are not time dependent. I do have a specific tour slot every week, but I can work on the Yearbook and the blog whenever and from wherever. This fit my academic schedule really well, and I’m still able to have an income while studying for my classes. In contrast, some of my friends like having a job in their weekly schedule and have specific days for their dining hall shifts or other jobs.

There is an online resource with all of the available on-campus and nearby off-campus jobs available for students. I often find myself sorting through the availabilities to see if anything piques my interest. In short, with all the opportunities, something will pique your interest and, most importantly, fit within your schedule. 

I Decided to Study Abroad!

Hello and Happy New Year!

I hope you are all excited for 2016! I'm certainly looking forward to the new year –  I'll be spending the first 5 months studying abroad!

Why, might you ask, would I want to leave Princeton and my beloved friends for an entire semester? 

Well, let me explain, as I have to many questioning family and friends over winter break:

Whenever I talk to alumni or graduating seniors, they always speak fondly of their time at Princeton, and I, seeking advice on how to make the most of the Princeton experience, will ask: “Do you have any regrets?”

Overwhelmingly, almost all of them list not studying abroad among their missed opportunities.

Their regrets are certainly not unfounded, for Princeton offers incredible opportunities for students to go abroad and, even more impressively, supports them financially. Princeton extends full coverage of financial aid for semester study abroad, provides fully-funded opportunities like class field trips and the Bridge Year program, and offers all kinds of grants, fellowships, and special funds for language courses, global seminars, internships and research abroad.

I’ve always wanted to take advantage of these Princeton-funded opportunities to travel abroad, but never got around to doing so. However, this fall, I realized that it had to be now or never; I was more than halfway through my time at Princeton and needed to start taking advantage of these opportunities before they soon disappeared! Not wanting to be regretful, seeking adventure, and mostly longing to escape the stresses and workload of junior year within the Orange Bubble, I decided to apply to study abroad for the spring semester.

My process to choose a study abroad destination was simple: Since I wanted to make sure that I could get credit for COS classes, I googled “top computer science universities” and went down the list to check 1) if I could speak the language of the school and 2) if the application deadline had passed. Voila! The University of Edinburgh was my top choice.

Thankfully, Edinburgh also matched my additional criteria for an ideal location; the university is located in the center of a beautiful, vibrant, international city with plenty of outdoor exploration opportunities in the surrounding area. It’s also a huge school with many departments and a much wider range of classes than Princeton; in many ways, it offers everything that Princeton doesn’t.

I went ahead and applied, and the whole application process was quite straightforward. The Princeton study abroad advisers recommend that you only apply to one school – isn’t that crazy compared to the college admissions process!?

Now, I find myself across the pond, starting a new semester at the University of Edinburgh, where I’ll be a visiting student until the end of May. However, much like my fellow Princeton students, who are returning to campus for Reading Period, I’m still working on projects and studying for Princeton exams. Yep, that means I’m working on two semesters of classes simultaneously – what a way to escape stress, eh?

Nonetheless, I’m so extremely grateful for this opportunity to study abroad, and, once these two weeks of finals are over, I’m excited to live and learn in a different educational environment and have an adventure abroad!

Five of the Coolest On-Campus Jobs

About half of Princeton’s undergraduates work part-time jobs for a variety of reasons: to help contribute to their financial aid package, to save up for personal/future expenditures, or simply to do something they enjoy outside of their schoolwork.

Saying "Yes"

Two years ago, I received one of the most life-changing messages of my life: Congratulations! I had been accepted to Princeton.

The adrenaline kept me excited for days. I scoured Princeton’s website as I imagined my future life as a tiger, and I pinched myself to see if I was dreaming! After a week or so, it started to sink it. But at that point, I also started to feel some nerves.

Coming from a small town in northern Idaho where I had attended a public school, I had to question if I was really prepared for Princeton. Did they really mean to accept me? Not many of my relatives had even gone to college, and my excitement about Princeton was coupled with uncertainty. I was definitely no legacy student, and I had not been groomed since childhood to attend an Ivy League school. In fact, I didn’t know they even offered financial aid, which would have been a huge concern for me coming from a low-income family, until I attended the Princeton University Summer Journalism Program the summer before my senior year of high school.

Furthermore, I felt more questioned than congratulated by my community about why I wanted to study at Princeton. I had not anticipated having to justify why I wanted to attend an Ivy League school, and it got to me after a while. Not only was this new for my family, it was different for my community. Was this right for me? During the month of April, several questions kept fluttering through my mind: Should I say “yes”? Could I actually do the work? And could I afford it?

If you are wondering or worried about any of these questions as well, let me try to offer some answers. First of all, you can, in fact, do the work. The fact that you were accepted without having had access to all of the resources that other students might have had is a testament to your hard work and drive. In fact, the resilience that you bring is an advantage. What came as a surprising relief to me was the plethora of resources that are available to help freshmen adjust to the academic workload at Princeton. Between the special Writing Seminars tailored to help freshmen learn how to write at college level, the workshops and one-on-one tutoring sessions provided by the McGraw Center, and the enthusiastic willingness of my professors to meet with me outside of class, I felt that I adjusted rather quickly to Princeton’s expectations.

With respect to financial aid, I cannot emphasize Princeton’s generosity enough. By the time I graduate, Princeton will have invested well over $250,000 in my education, and this is truly empowering. I am so thankful. To know that the University and alumni care and believe in me as a student is incredible, and it has made me feel like I do indeed belong here. To be honest, there have been times when I have been stunned at the wealth of some of my peers. But I’ve also been surprised by how many friends I have met who come from low-income backgrounds similar to mine.

In sum, my take is that you should most certainly say “yes.” I’ve realized that the question is not so much if you fit the perceived profile of Princeton students, but rather how you can use a Princeton education in your life to achieve your goals. The question is how you will use Princeton as a way to make a difference, and the University indeed empowers you to do just that. Finally, to those readers who have recently been accepted: A huge congratulations to you!

Primera generación

Hace dos semanas, tuve la oportunidad de ser invitada a la First Generation Freshman Dinner, organizada por el Hidden Minority Council, Dean Valerie Smith y Vice President Cynthia Cherrey. Mi papel en esta cena fue el de juntarme con un grupo de freshmen y un miembro de la facultad, escuchar su conversación y notar comentarios interesantes sobre la experiencia de estudiantes de primera generación en Princeton y sugerencias que tenían para la universidad y cómo Princeton puede apoyar mejor a los que son de primera generación o de bajos ingresos.

Fue una experiencia poderosa escuchar las historias de estos nueve freshmen. Fueron súper intuitivos e inquisitivos, y su conversación me animó a reflejar sobre mi propia experiencia como una estudiante de primera generación y de bajos ingresos.

Ser de primera generación trae sus propios retos y preguntas. ¿Dónde me quedo durante las vacaciones cuando no puedo pagar el vuelo a casa? ¿Voy a encajar con personas que son más ricas? Cuando mi familia pregunta por qué la universidad es importante, ¿cómo les explico por qué estudio las artes liberales?

(Respuestas: 1. Los dormitorios quedan abiertos para estudiantes durante todas las vacaciones. Además, una cafetería queda abierta durante cada receso salvo el del invierno. 2. Te va a sorprender que es casi imposible determinar la clase social de estudiantes en Princeton. Cuando asistí a un evento de Princeton Quest Scholars por la primera vez, fue una gran sorpresa que unos compañeros que yo había conocido por años fueran de primera generación o de bajos ingresos. Si no le dices a nadie que eres de primera generación, nadie lo va a saber ni suponerlo. 3. Explicar una educación de artes liberales es más difícil y te lo dejo a ti. ¡Conoces mejor a tu familia!)

Sin embargo, hay una pregunta que quizás es la más difícil: ¿Pertenezco yo aquí?

Vengo de un pueblo pequeño en Wisconsin, donde crecí en una comunidad muy unida que enfatizó los buenos valores del Medio Oeste de trabajo duro, honestidad y familia. Desde kindergarten, yo estaba en clases con los mismos 35 compañeros. Íbamos a la misma iglesia todos los domingos. Hacíamos deportes juntos. Cada tantos años, algún amigo se fue, y otro estudiante llegó. Éramos todos de orígenes modestos. Mi padre era soldador. Mi madre es cajera. No asistieron a la universidad. Hay muy poco que me distingue de los otros de Rio, Wisconsin, y esto es un pensamiento que me ha perseguido por muchos años. Me pregunté ¿Por qué yo? cuando vine a Princeton mi primer año. No merezco esto.

Pienso que es natural para cada estudiante que entra por las puertas de Princeton preguntarse si él o ella pertenece en esta escuela. Pienso que es particularmente fácil para un estudiante de bajos ingresos o de primera generación creer que él o ella no debe estar aquí. Pero la verdad es que sí debes estar aquí. No importa tu pasado o tu origen, no eres un error. Para estar cómoda en Princeton, yo tenía que reconocer que ni estaba aquí a pesar de mi origen, ni por mi origen. Mi pasado es simplemente una parte de mí.

Claro que hay momentos cuando es difícil ser de bajos ingresos o primera generación en Princeton. Como ya dije, es posible que haya momentos cuando no puedes comprar un ticket para volver a casa durante las vacaciones, o cuando tu familia te pregunta por qué vas a la universidad. Sin embargo, hay mucha gente aquí en Princeton que te aceptarán y te ayudarán en esos momentos. Princeton ayuda a asegurar que no pierdas opciones ni sufras discriminación por ser de primera generación o de bajos ingresos (¡mira los programas de ayuda financiera e internos fundados por Princeton!), y eso es algo por lo cual estoy muy agradecida.

Traducido por PULP, Princeton University Language Project. 

View the post in English.