Personal Growth While Finding Community and a Sense of Belonging

It is easy to say Princeton is beautiful, but real beauty goes beyond appearance and reputation. The heart of a school is the people and the people at Princeton are some of the best you’ll ever meet–they make this school beautiful. Is it easy to make friends? Will I fit in? These are the most common questions first-years ask before entering Princeton’s campus and I think at the root of these questions, it boils down to: will I find a community? Students from around the country and even the world enter Princeton’s orange bubble and hope they’ll find belonging. What does it mean to belong?

In my first year, I didn’t know what to expect. I wish I could say that I worried about the common concerns many other students had coming in. Instead, I was just excited to have a normal college experience, see people face to face, and create connections. My lack of expectations made it easier for me to settle. I didn’t engage in all the opportunities available and never stepped outside my comfort zone. My first year was a learning experience, it was filled with trials and errors and sometimes isolation. While it may not have been the most ideal experience, it highlighted how important it was for me to push myself and seek connections–to find my community. 

Two girls standing in front of Blair Arch.
This is my first year roommate Megan, we would always go on little food trips to Nassau Street trying to find our favorite place to eat. She's someone I can always depend on!

One of the ways I find belonging is in the classroom. My Latino Literature and Film seminar is a class full of Latine students who share similar lived experiences. I resonate so quickly with their feelings and I learn of different cultures and upbringings that influence perception on representation, all within an hour and a half. One of the reasons I love the Latino Studies program is because of Professor Rivera-Lopez. She constantly finds ways to make us question how Latine individuals are represented in film and what authentic stories look like. I previously took a seminar with her in the fall semester called "Introduction to Latino/a/x Studies" and this is where I learned a history that is so often overlooked and forgotten. Many people from the fall seminar decided to continue into the spring semester taking Professor Rivera-Lopez’s classes, these people began forming my community here. 

One of the other ways I find belonging is by demonstrating my support to the organizations that bring joy to my Princeton experience. Más Flow is Princeton’s premier Latine dance company which recently celebrated its 10th anniversary. A couple of friends and I went to their spring production “La Fiesta del Año”. I loved seeing my friends and people I had classes with perform on stage, dancing to music that reminded me a bit of home. I tend to look for community with what feels familiar to me, but I also just love catching up with people I work with or friends via quick trips to late meal and USG movie nights.

Pairs of dancers in white attire.
One of the many dances performed by Más Flow. This was one of my favorites because of the lighting design and the effortlessness in their moves. 

I can’t say I am the same person I was when I walked through FitzRandolph Gates during pre-rade but I like that I am still finding out who I am. Belonging does not have to be definite, our identities are complex and growing. The friendships you make your freshman year won’t always last but that doesn’t mean they weren’t meaningful. I love being able to interact with so many people who have interesting and different perspectives. Princeton's campus is a space where you are both challenged and embraced, that is one of the reasons I love it so much.

To the Class of 2027, I can’t ensure that your journey will be easy or perfect by any means but it will be memorable. Worries and excitement are all normal feelings but I hope you won’t allow your nerves to dictate your time here. Make that first step and try something new because if there’s a time or space to do anything, it’s at Princeton. Embrace the new atmosphere and don’t settle for what is within reach, community is most often found in places you’ll least expect it to be. Congratulations on your acceptance and I hope to see you next fall!

March Madness at Princeton

Of the many loveable aspects of Princeton, the excellence of our athletic programs is likely not the first thing to come to mind. That said, Princeton is an amazing place for college sports, having won the most ivy titles by a large margin. Recently, Princeton has found itself on the national stage this March Madness.

I have always been a huge Princeton basketball fan! During the regular season, I go to as many home games as I can. Last year, I flew to Boston for our Ivy Madness playoffs, and this year I was able to attend the Ivy playoffs in Princeton during the first weekend of spring break! Basketball has been a huge component of my experience at Princeton, so you can probably imagine my excitement when both our men’s and women’s teams punched their tickets for March Madness this year.

Two girls standing in front of a basketball court
Watching Ivy Madness 2022 in Cambridge

Having watched so many of our men's games, I had faith in our matchup against Arizona in the first round. I'm a native Arizonan, and was home in Arizona for spring break during our game against University of Arizona. My mother and I watched the first game in an Arizona sports bar, all decked out in our Princeton gear. We got many dirty looks from the Arizona fans and encountered some trash talk from neighboring tables––I'm sure we were the only Princeton fans in the entire building. That first win felt incredible, and I remember jumping up and down and screaming! People would tell me that "we got lucky," but I was confident there was something special about this Princeton team.

I watched our second game against Mizzou at a hotel near the Taylor Swift concert I was attending that night. As chance would have it, I met up with Princeton alumni who had reserved the big screen for the game. It was incredible to experience that game with alumni and to be immersed in Princeton's community, even off campus.

Princeton alumni gather by the tv after Princeton basketball wins
Posing by the television with Princeton alumni after our basketball beats Mizzou in the second round

I was on campus for our final game against Creighton. The energy was electric. Students crammed into Whig to watch the game. Local news stations lined up along the sides of the building to interview students. We screamed together, we cheered together, and we celebrated this amazing team together.

Two students outside of an orange illuminated Whig
Whig illuminated orange for the basketball watch party

When I chose to attend Princeton, I never imagined an experience quite like this. Seeing our campus come together to support our basketball teams during such a historic run only reaffirmed that this truly is the best old place of all.

A Thousand Paths to Princeton

It goes without saying that every student currently enrolled at Princeton has a unique journey that led them here, but when I was still a prospective student, this is something that was especially important for me to remember. So allow me to say it again: there is no “normal” path to Princeton, and there is no “normal” Princeton student.

Like many other nervous prospective applicants, I spent countless hours during my senior year of high school searching the Internet for answers–for anything that would tell me whether or not Princeton was even remotely attainable for me. Sure, I’d always gotten good grades, but what if that wasn’t enough? I’d been a public school student all my life, and although I greatly valued that education, I knew there would be other applicants that would have gone to different schools that had likely better prepared and exposed them to the rigor of ideas and extracurriculars that Princeton was looking for. In the weeks leading up to the January 1st deadline, my head swarmed with self-doubt.

I almost didn’t apply, but on December 31st, I submitted my application. To avoid getting my hopes up, I told myself that even if I got in, I probably wouldn’t go because it was more than a thousand miles away, and it’d be too hard, and I didn’t want to live in New Jersey anyway, and… 

I believe my first words were, “Oh my God I got in,” and I believe after that (as well as after refreshing the page dozens of times to make sure it hadn’t been a mistake) they were, “What am I going to do?”

Up until that point, I had been ready to submit my acceptance to one of the state schools near my hometown. Maybe the fact I hadn’t yet was a testament in itself that I was hoping for my admission at Princeton, but that didn’t change the fact that I was scared of leaving Florida: all of my friends would be staying close to home; I had never gone so far on my own; and my family–my sister and my parents–and I were all extremely close since my parents had immigrated from Mexico and raised us far from any true support system. Princeton, with its Gothic architecture and ivy-covered walls, did not feel like the place for me–I did not think it was a space made for people like me, even after being accepted.

I won’t lie to you that Princeton was immediately, or even now, all sunshine and rainbows. As I look forward to declaring Politics as my major, as well as applying to law school in the future, I still struggle with these sorts of thoughts. But this is home now, and I’ve learned to embrace the rigor and explore the endless opportunities at my disposal here. If I had given in to the fear and the uncertainty, there is so much that I would have missed out on:

  • Every beautiful seasonal transition on campus, including experiencing my first snowfall;
  • Amazing friends, including my roommate of two years that I genuinely could not live without;
  • Meeting Nobel Prize winners in the middle of class or watching movies get filmed on campus;
  • My upcoming internship with an amazing organization in Trenton through the Princeton Internships in Civic Service (PICS) program;
  • Engaging in all of Princeton’s quirky traditions;
  • And above all, tremendous self-growth.

Maybe this is a letter to my past self, or maybe it’s a love letter to Princeton. But to you, future applicant, or to you, future student–if there is anything that you get out of this one of thousands of stories, it is this:

You belong here, and sometimes the scariest choice turns out to be the right choice after all.

Photo of Blair Arch with a pink and blue sky in the background.

For the Love of ReCal, One of Many Student-created Apps

It’s that time of year again! That’s right, course selection – when Princeton students pick out their classes and build their schedules for the upcoming semester. In the spring, this happens around mid-April (with the exception of incoming first-years), while in the fall it takes place at the beginning of December. 

Personally, I’m one of those people that eagerly awaits the day that they post the new course options because I absolutely LOVE course selection! Coming up with the perfect schedule satisfies my over-organizational tendencies, and it’s always fun to peruse the interesting classes and see what courses your favorite professors are teaching next semester. But with the hundreds and hundreds of classes to pick from, it can definitely be overwhelming to sort through your options. You’ll probably wish that there was a way to visualize your course schedules. Fortunately, there is a TigerApp just for that! 

TigerApps are a series of apps/websites created and run by our very own Princeton students, and they’re “designed to improve your campus experience.” If you can name it, they probably have an app for it! There’s TigerDraw for looking at dorm reviews in preparation for the infamous room draw, TigerStudy if you're trying to find a study group for a certain class, and my favorite one, by far: ReCal

On ReCal, students can plan that perfect course schedule based on the updated list of classes for each semester. It automatically color-codes everything for you, and it’s super easy to add and remove courses. You can also select multiple classes for a certain time slot to see all your options side-by-side, and hovering over each class also lets you see the number of people currently enrolled in the course. It’ll even sync with your Google calendar!

What I love about ReCal is that it really encourages students to play around with their schedules and make sure they’re finding a balance for themselves. One semester, my first attempt at trying out a course combination on the website immediately made it obvious to me that my schedule was looking really “chunky” and blocked out. There wasn’t even a space for lunch! I knew that would be really overwhelming for myself, so I hit the remove button on ReCal, did some more searching, and found an alternative. Now, I always make sure that my ReCal schedule is looking spaced out with enough time to get to my classes without a rush, as few early mornings as possible, and, of course most importantly, some time carved out for lunch!

Check out ReCal now, and the many other wonderful TigerApps used by Princeton students!

My Identities and My Idol: Cheering for Messi and World-champion Argentina With Princeton’s Jewish-latino Community

Forget about George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King or Rosa Parks. Argentina’s only, true national hero is soccer player Lionel Messi. A legend admired by citizens of all generations, it’s every Argentinian’s dream to see him play live. That dream became a reality for me when Princeton’s Jewish-Latino community, J-Lats, invited me to an Argentina vs. Jamaica game in New Jersey last September. 

J-Lats had always been, and continues to be, an important community for me on campus. My experience as a Latino is fundamentally interwoven with my experience as a Jewish person, and my experience as a Jewish person is impossible to detach from the Latino context where it flourished. J-Lats gives me a group where that intersection of identities is celebrated— we host “Shabbat Picante!” at the Center for Jewish Life, we bring speakers, and we host world-cup-themed study breaks and food-filled meetings. 

When Argentina’s Fútbol Association announced a game in New Jersey, I thought to myself: "c’mon… New Jersey out of all places? This has to be a sign from the universe." I contacted J-Lats’s president, Alex Egol, and plans went into the works. Less than 2 weeks later, on September 27th, 2022, we were all on a train bound for the Red Bull Arena. We were welcomed by tens of thousands of fans wearing la albiceleste and passionately chanting on the team that just a few months later would crown itself FIFA World Cup champions.

5 people smiling to a selfie in a stadium
Alex, Vanessa, Helena, Vicky and I hyping up the best team of all times.

Only 13 minutes into the game and suddenly GOOOOOOOOOOOOOOL!!! We skyrocketed out of our seats and screamed like there was no tomorrow; we hugged and vámos-carajoed. We watched the rest of the game attentively, and then he was released onto the playing field: Lionel Messi! Seeing him in real life was difficult to define. It was strange to see that he’s not a fictional legend that landed from the heavens: he’s a human with two legs, and mamma mia can those legs do stuff! Messi authored the 2nd and 3rd goals, which made the arena shake in what can only be described as South American spirit.

A girl and a boy smiling in front of a soccer field
Vicky and I are the only undergraduate students from Argentina. Hopefully we'll be more next time!

Coming back to campus, I felt grateful and lucky. Who would have guessed that the first time I’d see Argentina play live wouldn’t be in my homeland, but in New Jersey instead? The possibilities Princeton gives its students are endless, and they go from doing research with Nobel laureates, to designing computational universes, to fulfilling your dream of seeing your nation’s hero play fútbol.

I can say today, as I’m sure I’ll tell my grandchildren one day, that I saw Argentina’s World Cup champion team play live in the field, with 2 goals from the “GOAT” Messi. Vamos, carajo!

Working Princeton's 65th Reunion

Last summer, I was fortunate to receive a highly coveted spot as student crew member for Princeton reunions. My crew worked Princeton’s 65th reunion, setting up headquarters in Forbes next to the Old Guard Crew. As a crew member, I had several jobs and responsibilities, including check-in, table set-up, bartending, and transporting alumni around campus. As student employees, we had permission to engage with certain reunion events such as talks from famous alumni, group meetings, and fun activities.

Reunions crew sitting together at the bar
The 65th Reunion Crew and our Bar

Over the course of reunions, I grew close with my alumni group, greeting them with a smile every day as they showed up for activities. Transporting alumni across campus in golf carts was my favorite part of the job. Golf cart drives were great opportunities to get to know alumni through deep conversation. I learned about what it was like to attend Princeton in the 1950s. I thoroughly enjoyed conversing with the 87-year-old alumni, and was fascinated to learn about their experiences and memories from Princeton.

As a first-year student, it was incredibly rewarding to experience Princeton reunions. Witnessing Princeton’s close-knit alumni community has endowed me with a strong sense of belonging at Princeton. It was moving to see that so many people hold such a love for this school and still return to visit, sporting their finest orange and black attire, many years after graduation. Reunions quite literally ending with a bang, as we all gathered in the football stadium to watch a grand fireworks display. Looking up into the brightly-colored sky, I reflected on my work over the weekend, the alumni I had met, and the friends I had made. I take these experiences with me, knowing that one day, I too hope to return for the festivities of reunions as an alumna myself.

A group gathers to watch the fireworks
Alumni Gathering to Watch the Fireworks

A Glimpse Inside a Res College Office

This past September, I started working at the front desk of the New College West Office — the one-stop shop where you can get answers to any of your “Westie” questions. It’s also home to many of the valuable people and resources that are available to help students throughout their Princeton journeys. Besides getting to earn a little extra money, this job has given me unique insight into the behind-the-scenes operations of my residential college and how one office helps keep the whole community running.

If you’re not a Westie, don’t fear! Each residential college at Princeton has an office just like ours. This is where you can find your college’s specific leaders, such as your Director of Student Life (or DSL for short), Dean of Studies, Residential Life Coordinator, and the Head of College. They all serve different purposes, but ultimately are there to support your needs, both academically and otherwise.

To find out more about your college’s team of awesome staff, click one of the links below! :

Over the past few months, I’ve gotten to see people come into the office for a variety of reasons. For example, at certain times during the week, the deans will have Drop-In Advising Hours, where any students can walk-in and meet with their respective dean to discuss academic concerns, like picking classes or managing workloads. I’ve also experienced students coming in to propose a community-building or club event that they want to see happen. And more often than not, we have students simply pop in the office just to grab some free chocolate or say hi!

My favorite part of working at the NCW office has to be our weekly res college tradition: Coffee in the Commons! Every Friday, as a study break, we help organize an event where students can gather and enjoy free coffee, tea, and some sort of treat or pastry. Most of the residential colleges do some variation of this event (like Yeh College’s “FriYEH” or the weekly “Teahive” for Butler College Bees), but Coffee in the Commons will always hold a special place in my heart. Most recently, we did a Mardi Gras-themed Coffee in the Commons, complete with king cake and donuts!

Three Mardi Gras king cakes on counter top
King Cakes at Coffee in the Commons, Mardi-Gras Themed!
Boxes of donuts on counter top
Donuts at Coffee in the Commons!

The colleges and their offices are truly another community within the Princeton community. I would highly recommend stopping by to meet the friendly staff members and mentors that will guide and support you throughout your four years here (and, while you’re at it, maybe consider applying for a job there, too!).

A Spontaneous Galentine's Day Tour of Library Square

While it is fair to say every Princeton student has toured Palmer Square at least once in their time here, far less have toured its next door neighbor Library Square. I had to look at it on a map to ensure I was naming the right area. While Nassau Street does have all my favorite restaurants and stores, I rarely find myself venturing there. The world beyond the FitzRandolph Gate always feels like a mystery to me, unless I’m grabbing a slice at Proof Pizza or buying the occasional mango green tea at Kung Fu Tea. This weekend though, my friend and I decided to skip our biweekly cycling session and explore Library Square. We had set our plans to grab a bite at my favorite restaurant in Princeton–Lan Ramen. (If you find yourself around here, I would definitely recommend getting their vegetable potstickers and Lanzhou braised beef noodle.) I’m getting ahead of myself here so bear with me. 

One lovely thing about Princeton (the town) and the University is the amount of construction that will most definitely detour your normal commute. The optimist in me remembers one of my life mottos: everything happens for a reason. I think one of the reasons that the left sidewalk was blocked was so I could find one of the best croissants I’ve ever eaten. This might be a bit of an exaggeration because I have been to Paris and eaten some of the best croissants ever, but the buttery-flaking missing hole in my life says that Bread Boutique is a close second. My friend and I walked past the store and immediately turned our heads back to the warm atmosphere and all of the amazing options available. The croissants were calling out my name so I knew I had to enter and buy some. They were absolutely delicious and I’ve officially marked it as my go-to place when I’m missing a flaky buttery pastry that used to be available at late meal. 

Outside a bread boutique store looking into a warm and yellow lighting atmosphere.
Just look how warm and inviting this place looks, I would say to definitely give it a try for a good morning breakfast or afternoon snack. 

I should also add that the weather in Princeton has been on the colder side. While my west coast friends almost always find some reason to complain about New Jersey weather, today was unlike the cold week we’ve been having. The sun was shining brightly and the air was positively cool–a perfect day to be outside. So, we took our croissants to go and sat outside at one of the many tables available. This was definitely an opportunity for a good photo session so we did take a lot of pictures but we also took in our surroundings. We noticed this cute little store hidden behind a huge tree and saw that there were sweaters hanging outside. This brings us to stop number two, Shop the World, a fair trade store. We entered the store and were amazed by how much they could fit into this tiny store. The person working told us that the owner travels the world to fill the store and with every object we picked up was able to tell us where it came from. My friend found a Mexican Baja jacket and instantly knew she had to buy it. We also found these cute animal figurines that were painted on with such intricate designs–we had to grab a few. If you’re looking to explore the world in one place, I recommend checking out the shop and supporting the workers who make everything there!

Outside a fair trade store with open windows.
The store seems to be tucked away but I hope this sign helps someone find it. 

Finally, we ended our expedition with a delicious meal at Lan Ramen. I’ll allow the food and atmosphere to speak for themselves but I’m truly glad that I decided to take a break from my highly organized Google Calendar schedule. Sometimes it's hard to find a moment of spontaneity when you feel like you have to schedule every minute of your life to feel productive, but a day like this is important. Something everyone says around here is that you have to make time for things that matter to you and that’s true, a day of relaxation is equally as important as a three-hour problem set cram session or a full day stuck in Firestone Library. This Galentine’s Day, make time to be spontaneous and have fun, I promise it’ll be worth it.

A bowl of ramen in a restaurant.
Just remember: your meal is healthy as long as it has some green in it (also very delicious).

Service Focus 101

Princeton offers students many ways to get involved outside of the classroom with its 500+ different student-run organizations and activities. For those interested in service and social impact, I have just the group for you! Housed within our Pace Center for Civic Engagement, the Service Focus program is intended for rising sophomores looking to make a difference and learn a little in the process. It runs from the spring of your first-year to the spring of your sophomore year and is made up of 3 major components:

  1. Summer Service Experience/Internship

During the summer between their first and second years, all Service Focus students engage in some sort of funded service experience or project that aligns with their interests. For instance, I got to intern with award-winning documentary specialist and Princeton professor Purcell Carson. With her organization, The Trenton Project, we recently released a new documentary titled “What’s in a Name?”, which centers around the history of desegregation at Trenton’s Hedgepeth-Williams Middle School. Our team of six interns was involved in all aspects of the film’s creation including: storyboarding, conducting interviews, editing, etc. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and I learned so much.

And if you don’t know where or how to find a summer service internship, no worries! The Service Focus program is there to help guide you in finding one, whether that be through a Princeton program, like mine, or one with an outside organization.

  1. Service Cohort

When you sign up for Service Focus, you can indicate what area(s) of service interest you most, with options ranging from Sustainability to Health & Care to Race, Migration and Belonging. (Note: it doesn’t necessarily have to relate to your summer service experience!) This helps you eventually be placed into a cohort, where you’ll meet other students that share your passion. Given my personal experience with educational opportunity, I opted for the Education & Access Cohort.

Over the past few months, my cohort has met weekly to discuss some of the most pressing educational issues today and how we might alleviate them. We’ve also engaged in fun activities like watching episodes of ABC’s "Abbott Elementary" and listening to podcasts. Not to mention we get free food each meeting from a local restaurant! Our group really offers an informal way to discuss service ideas, while engaging with other members of the Princeton community with similar passions who we might not have met on-campus otherwise!

  1. ProCES Course

The last element of the program ties in the academic curriculum to our commitment to service. Service Focus members are required to take at least one ProCES-designated course sometime during their sophomore year. ProCES is the nickname for Princeton’s Program for Community-Engaged Scholarship. On their website, you can not only find a list of these ProCES classes, but other service-oriented projects and opportunities that students can partake in.

Service Focus students also have the option to petition a course that isn’t officially indicated as a ProCES course, but that they feel presents opportunities for community engagement and service learning. What’s great about this is that it both encourages student advocacy and allows us to identify other creative ways that classes may connect to service. And, once again, the course you take doesn’t even necessarily have to be related to your summer experience or your cohort topic. For example, for my ProCES course, I’m currently thinking about taking SPI387: Education Policy in the United States, or I may branch out and try DAN306: Introduction to Radical Access: Disability Justice in the Arts. Who knows? Maybe I’ll even take both! 

Overall, Service Focus truly offers a unique chance to infuse your service interests with your academic experience, and I highly encourage any student even slightly interested to apply. Visit the Service Focus website to learn more!

Building Community in the Residential Colleges

One of the topics that incoming students most frequently have questions about is residential life at Princeton. While Princeton prides itself on its superior academic program, residential life is an important component of the student experience here.

I am a Residential College Adviser, or RCA, at Butler College, one of seven residential colleges. My role is to foster and build community among students, as part of a team of Butler College staff, RCAs and other peer leaders within the residential college. One of the ways we do this is by putting on a variety of events for all students in the Butler community, to connect, have fun and take a break from studying. 


A tree with green, yellow, and red leaves against a backdrop of brick buildings and blue sky.
Outside Butler College

My favorite event is the Butler Teahive, a weekly study break that the Butler College staff organizes for all students. At 3:00 p.m. every Friday, one of the rooms in the Butler basement is transformed into a social hub where students connect with each other over a cup of tea and a selection of delicious desserts and berries from a rotating cast of local bakeries and restaurants. I’ve gotten excellent academic advice from the Butler college staff in a low-pressure environment, I get to see some friends and even make new ones, and there’s always plenty of delicious treats for everyone. 

In addition to the weekly events put on by Butler College staff, the student-run Butler College Council, and RCAs like me, there are also one-time events held regularly. Resident Graduate Students (RGS) or Butler College Council often plan these fun, community building events that try their best to include every type of student. If you’re itching to burst out of the so-called ‘Orange Bubble’ you can join your residential college for a Broadway show or a Six Flags trip. Those with an artistic bent might enjoy the many arts and crafts nights, from paint and sip (with boba) to karaoke night. Or if you prefer a laid-back kind of vibe, there’s always game nights and watch parties (most recently for the World Cup). 


A colorful poster advertising "Community Wall Night" at Butler College.
One of the many RGS-organized community events.

I’ve spoken about my experience at Butler College, the residence college I work for and have lived in for all of my time at Princeton. But all seven operate in the same way and offer the same amount of programming and community building that we at Butler do. No matter which college you end up in, you’ll have plenty to do and many friends to meet!