An International Student's Guide for Arrival


When I was an incoming international first-year student, I remember being super excited about Princeton but also having lots of burning questions about arrival. I wondered to myself, will I need to open a bank account? Where should I buy school supplies? What type of phone plans exist in the United States? I decided to create this four-step guide of my experience in order to help incoming international students with their transition.

Step One: Open a Bank Account

Getting a debit card is crucial to help you pay for expenses and having a U.S. bank account will make it easier to receive money from international currencies. While you will have to build up credit in order to apply for credit cards, it is always good to start by opening a bank account and build a relationship with that bank so that you can later secure a credit card. PNC Bank has a branch located just in front of the University, I highly recommend going there first!

Step Two: Get a SIM Card

It is important to have a U.S. phone number and some type of data plan. While on campus, you won’t need cellular data because you can use the University’s wifi. However, when you go off campus or to New York City, it is always a good idea to have internet access. Verizon, AT&T and Mint are all good options. During International Orientation, phone companies come to campus to help open up accounts, so be sure to be on the lookout for that!

Step Three: Find Dorm Furnishings

While many domestic students are able to bring basic living supplies from their home, international students basically start from scratch. You won’t have to buy any big furniture such as bed frames and closets, as those will already be in your dorm room. However, you will want to get pillows, bed sheets, a mirror, writing supplies, etc… I recommend the U-Store which is located on campus if you prefer convenience and Target if you want more variety in options. 

Step Four: Prepare for Classes

With a phone, debit card and a furnished dorm room, you are all set to start your Princeton undergraduate career! In terms of preparing for classes, you will want to check what textbooks are required so you can get them at the local bookstore, Labyrinth. You can always borrow books at Firestone library if they are available, or sometimes professors will upload digital versions of the reading material. 

These are just a few steps that helped me as an international student at Princeton. I understand how daunting it could be to move to another country, but with these steps and the assistance you’ll receive during International Orientation, you will be well on your way to making Princeton your second home!


The Process of Choosing Classes


Towards the end of every semester, students must answer the age-old question: what classes do I want to take next semester? While course selection seems like an impossible task when you haven’t even finished the current semester’s courses yet, this is a delicate art that all Princeton students come to master. So, I’d like to present you with a guide on how to select your courses.

Choose Classes Based on Your Concentration

This is a great way to get started on filling up your four- or five-course semester. Every concentration has its own set of course requirements tailored to students declaring that area of study. In fact, most departments even provide a sample curriculum or a general path to graduation to help students decide how to split up course loads. Granted, not every first-year student is certain of their concentration upon arriving on campus, but you should take the first two semesters as an opportunity to explore concentrations you might have not considered. Remember that Princeton allows a lot of leeway when it comes to choosing a concentration, so don’t feel like you’re wasting your time if you end up taking a class that’s not the best fit for you. Instead, you are one step closer to discovering your field of interest!

Choose Classes that Sound Exciting to You

I cannot stress this enough! While many of your classes will be taken for your concentration, do not miss out on the unique courses offered here! From “Princeton University Steel Band” to “Yaass Queen: Gay Men, Straight Women, and the Literature, Art, and Film of Hagdom,” there is always some course that attracts the attention of each student. Don’t worry if the class seems out of your comfort zone or intellectually demanding -- first of all, most courses at Princeton are, but more importantly, if you are motivated by your fascination, you will naturally excel in the course. Also, since not every course boasts a catchy title, I encourage you to read all the course descriptions as well to give each course a chance. 

Be Aware of Your Distribution Requirements

Students pursuing a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) must fulfill general education requirements in addition to taking classes for their concentration. This includes one semester of a writing seminar, demonstrated proficiency in one foreign language, and an assortment of distribution requirements that will broaden a student’s level of knowledge. Overall, these courses may take up a significant amount of space in your schedule, so be sure to spread them out over your four years.

For most students intending on pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E), you will have to take certain math, science and computing courses to prepare you for advanced engineering courses. Your adviser will recommend that you tackle introductory courses first so that you can fulfill most of the prerequisites early on in your Princeton career. And, you will still have room for humanities and social science electives!

Use Online Resources

Princeton’s registrar website has a lot of information and it may feel overwhelming to figure out how to create a balanced schedule for the semester. I recommend that you take advantage of these online resources carefully crafted by Princeton alumni who have faced the same challenges:

  • Princeton Courses: This website allows you to explore course information, ratings and evaluations of courses and professors across different semesters. You can even look up courses by concentration and distribution requirement.
  • Principedia: Once you have found some classes you might be interested in, you could head over to Principedia to read course analyses written by students who have taken these courses before to get a better idea of what to expect.
  • ReCal: This course-selection tool helps you visualize your course schedule in a weekly calendar format. It is incredibly useful to ensure that none of your courses conflict with each other and that you have allocated sufficient time to eat lunch between classes.
  • TigerPath: Finally, this is a tool for planning out your four-year course schedules. Especially if you are ambitiously pursuing multiple certificates or simply want to be well-organized, TigerPath can keep track of all courses you plan to take to ensure that you fulfill all of your concentration requirements.

That’s all I have! If you have any other questions about course selection, please feel free to reach out to me.


Revisiting WWII: My Senior Thesis


One of the most important milestones of the Princeton undergraduate experience is the senior thesis. Almost all departments require a thesis or some type of independent work. Writing a total of 28,000 words and 110 pages was definitely challenging, but extremely rewarding. I was able to embark on my own research project, choose a topic I was passionate about and put into practice all of the historical methods I had learned in class.

My senior thesis, ““Americanos Todos”: Redefining U.S. Latino and Latina Identity during the Second World War”, investigates the wartime experiences of Latinos who served in both the homefront and battlefront during World War II. Despite posing significant contributions to the war, Latinos remain neglected in dominant narratives of WWII. My work attempts to address this historical silencing and uncover the Latino wartime experience. I ultimately argue that the war influenced the emergence of new forms of identity by confounding what it meant to be “Latino” and “American” and catalyzed movements for inclusion that formed a Latino civil rights consciousness.

My research was based primarily on 47 interviews of Latinos and Latinas who participated in the war. Listening to their wartime experiences and how they championed sacrifice and patriotism despite encountering discrimination was extremely inspiring. They were constantly treated as second-class citizens and had to fight for their own inclusion and future in the country, motifs that resonate in modern discussions over Latino immigration. 

The overall process of crafting my own arguments and contributing to the historiography really helped strengthen my writing and critical thinking skills. Moreover, turning in this thesis, the longest research project I have worked on, demonstrated that I could do anything I set my mind to. There were many times that I was stuck with my topic or didn’t know how to approach the primary source, but my adviser was always extremely supportive. Everyone is paired with an adviser for the thesis and my adviser was extremely generous with her time and provided instrumental feedback.

Image
Rob standing with his bound senior thesis

For prospective students, don't be afraid of the senior thesis! I know it seems daunting but Princeton prepares you and provides you with all of the resources and support you need to succeed. All of the papers I had written in other classes and previous independent work played a huge role in helping me navigate and complete my senior thesis. Looking back on my undergraduate career, writing my senior thesis is probably my proudest accomplishment.


Reflect, Rest and Write


It is quite easy to get overwhelmed and honestly swallowed by deadlines, due dates and syllabi at any institution. Making time to reflect or time to breathe is such an important part of my Princeton journey. Journaling is a part of my Princeton process and I would say that it's just as gratifying as turning in an assignment. Through journaling, I’ve been able to grow not just as a person but also as an academic!

Personal Growth

My journal entries sometimes follow a prompt that, for example, asks how many cups of water I’ve had or if I’ve complimented someone or myself today. Other times I can write freely and just tackle different parts of my day or week. This time of reflection allows me to decompress after a week full of good times, material and growth. I find that when I make time to journal at the end of a week, I am more mentally able to take on the next week because I've reflected on some challenges from the prior week. This reflection can sometimes lead to more confusion, resolution or even something to focus on as the weeks progress. But nonetheless I continue to grow and develop!

Academic Advantage

Journaling has even helped me in my junior paper process. An adviser recommended I journal through my reactions to texts or relevant social events that relate to my junior paper but aren’t necessarily important enough to include. These reflections allow me the space to just write without the pressure to tailor my words to sound more academic. With my ideas fleshed out and in conversation with current events, I can then approach my academic writing with a clearer path. 

Journaling, to me, is a way that I clear my head or make room for other thoughts. What ways do you see yourself decompressing after an eventful week?  I encourage you to find something that allows you to express yourself freely and authentically. I recommend doing something that you can do with others, by yourself, everyday or every week!


 


Independent Work in Its Full Glory


You might’ve heard of this thing called independent work. At Princeton, most students will experience at least one year of independent work: Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) students will write at least one junior paper (JP) and a full senior thesis, while Bachelor of Science in Engineering (B.S.E.) students typically have a senior thesis and the opportunity to conduct junior independent work as well. 

I’m in the Economics department, so I write one paper over two semesters. It’ll clock in around 30 pages. (If that seems long to you, wait ‘till you hear about our thesis!) In some concentrations, students write two, shorter length papers, one each semester. 

I spent the fall semester working on what we call a prospectus, which is basically a proposal for the JP. In an economics prospectus, once you’ve decided on a topic, you review existing relevant literature (studies and experiments), introduce the data sources you’ll be analyzing, and provide an overview of your methodology (econometrics, regressions, etc). 

I’m writing my paper about the impact of work from home policies on energy consumption, so I’m looking at government data on state monthly energy numbers combined with Google mobility data on time spent in the workplace.

Right now I’m working on refining my methodology and performing data analysis. I’m doing that work in STATA, but you can also use other software like R and Python.   

The Economics department, and Princeton overall, offer a lot of resources for doing independent work. Each semester, we have multiple workshops for data analysis and conducting research. Each student also works with a professor and grad student advising team, so if you ever feel lost about how to do a difference-in-difference regression or linear discontinuity like me, you can just hit them up! The University also has data consultants who anyone can schedule an advising session with.

So - not only have I learned a lot about economics and research this year, but I also got the chance to apply my classroom knowledge to an environmental topic I’m passionate about. I’m excited to finally see my paper finished in its full glory - and looking forward to a full-fledged senior thesis next year.


Contributing to the Conversation


One defining component of Princeton’s academic curriculum is its preceptorial system. While classes are already small, precepts offer students the opportunity to engage with course materials in small discussion groups. The precept is like an open forum in which the preceptor or professor guides students in an invigorating intellectual discussion.

Precepts provide you with the tools and framework necessary to fully grasp and understand the course material. You get to utilize what you learn in lectures to critically analyze texts. Often, while humanities precepts revolve around readings, for quantitative courses, precepts allow you to go over practice problems or tough concepts as a class.

One of my favorite precepts has been in “Approaches to American History.” In this course, the class was divided into two small precepts of twelve students and the professor. The course consisted of only primary sources related to 3 major historical events. While many of the readings were lengthy and at times difficult to understand, being able to deconstruct their meaning with my peers proved indispensable. I also noticed that at the beginning I was scared to voice my opinion or participate, but by the end of the class, I was more comfortable contributing to the conversation and crafting my own arguments. 

Another precept I really enjoyed was in the class “Technology and Society.” What made this precept really special is that this course was interdisciplinary, so there were students from a variety of concentrations, all the way from sociology to mechanical aerospace engineering, so we all had different perspectives on the readings. When we were discussing misinformation in the media, computer science concentrators shared potential technical solutions that could spot tweets with false information, while humanities concentrators shared the implications behind “fake news” and the role of social media companies. There were many times when my opinion changed on certain technological issues because of what a student shared. This is what precept is all about!

Before coming to Princeton, I was apprehensive at the prospect of participating in a precept, but I have gained so much from them in regards to crafting my own arguments and challenging my own thinking. I have also been able to form bonds with the professors and my peers because of the meaningful interactions that small precept sizes naturally facilitate. My academic experience at Princeton wouldn’t be the same without the preceptorial system!


Advisers, Independent Work and Beyond


This year, I have faced the scary reality of being a senior, and more significant still, a senior in my final semester of Princeton. In addition to all the more sentimental considerations attached to the reality of an imminent graduation, I have also had another topic on my mind — my senior thesis.

Independent research or “independent work” in Princeton slang, is one of the defining elements of the Princeton experience. Most Princeton students complete a research assignment or essay their junior year (the Junior Paper or “JP”) and then all Princeton students, with the exception of B.S.E. computer science concentrators, write a senior thesis.

The thesis requires each student to develop a unique research idea, pushing us to crystalize four years of learning into an ambitious project. Yet, the very ambitious nature of the work means that it’s not a solitary enterprise. A strong support network is a must and your thesis adviser is an essential part of that network.

I had my own fears about thesis advisers. What if mine was too busy to respond to my emails, didn't hold me to deadlines or even had rigid, unrealistic expectations? 

Yet, I know from personal experience that a good relationship with your adviser can really make the experience. While naturally shy and not typically assertive, during my time at Princeton I have learned how lucky I am to be surrounded by the world’s greatest scholars, almost all of whom are easily accessible. If such scholars are willing to meet regularly and help me make my own small contribution to an academic field, I would be remiss to ignore the opportunity to engage fully.

In the end, my experience with independent work and with professors at Princeton has shown that it pays to speak up, to ask questions, to be assertive about your needs and to admit when things are not going well. Positive relations forged with my advisers have allowed me to learn so much more via the process of my independent work and develop important skills that will prove relevant in my life after Princeton. While I have hit plenty of frustrating road blocks in my own independent work journey (and my thesis is not finished yet!!), I have learned so much from my adviser and the countless other professors and graduate students who were willing, even happy, to take the time to read over a difficult document with me or ponder an interesting historical question. 

As such, independent work, and working with advisers, is not something to fear or dread. Rather, if approached right, it has the potential to be one of the most meaningful parts of your Princeton experience.


Reflections from a Graduating Transfer Student


When I decided to transfer to Princeton, there was an air of mystery about what the next three years of my life would look like. Since Princeton’s last transfer class graduated around the early 1990s, I wasn’t sure what to expect. It honestly terrified me that there was no previous transfer student to ask about their experience, but from the moment I saw that orange tiger with the words "Congratulations" appear on my computer screen, my initial reservations subsided. I was so excited to realize that I would become a part of Princeton’s first transfer cohort since the early 1990s! Now in my final year, I am thankful for my experience as the transfer program has gone above and beyond to make sure that I felt supported.

At first, I was concerned about transferring in as a sophomore as I had already completed two years at Miami Dade College. However, without that "extra year," I wouldn't have had the opportunity to explore my academic and extracurricular interests to the extent that I've been able to. Looking back, I wish someone would have told me that I would want to spend more time at Princeton, not less. 

 

Image
Daniela with three friends

Starting at Princeton as a sophomore gave me more time to explore myself and venture into new spaces. Although I came in with a strong sense of who I was and what my aspirations and academic strengths were, Princeton has taught me to never stop exploring and to pursue every opportunity that intrigues me. Though I had originally planned on pursuing a different concentration, I switched to Spanish and Portuguese when I learned I would have more flexibility to pursue coursework and independent research on immigration. Now, I am writing my senior thesis on how Mexico has become this “big jail” for migrants seeking asylum. Switching concentrations was the best decision I’ve made at Princeton as it has given me so many skills and new perspectives that have even informed my post-graduation plans. You never know where or when you might discover a new passion.

 

Image
Daniela with a friend holding a sign that reads "42 YMCA of the pines, refugee & forced migration"

Every semester pushed me out of my comfort zone in different ways, but there was always a professor or resource to turn to for guidance. I would be remiss to not say that there were challenging moments, tough assignments and plenty of second-guessing, but I never felt alone. I knew I could always turn to our transfer adviser, Dr. Shaw, or a fellow transfer student for advice. The intellectual and personal growth that I've experienced is indescribable, and it's propelled me to become even more determined and energized to achieve my goals. I no longer doubt myself or question if I belong; Princeton helped me realize that I can pursue my biggest dreams. As I move on to the next chapter of my life, I'm so humbled to have been a member of this first transfer cohort, and nothing makes me happier than being a part of this unique community and seeing it grow.


Managing My Reading-Intense Concentration


As an African American Studies (AAS) concentrator, I often find myself diving into a bunch of rich literature I adore. My concentration is reading intensive. That means, unlike some STEM courses that may be centered around labs or problem sets, AAS is more about reading many sources or chapters to make connections and discuss! Nonetheless, seeing those 30-50 pages of reading for Monday doesn’t get any less daunting. Here are the ways that I approach my reading load. 

  1. List them by due date, class and quantity: Being organized helps me know which readings I need to get ahead of and how much I am anticipating per day. 
  2. Pick the readings I find most interesting: Although the assignment is more than expected or may have a later due date, I find that I can knock out the readings I think are most interesting quickly and then focus my attention on assignments with the most immediate due dates. 
  3. Split up 50 pages into 25 and 25: I would read the first half one day and the second half another or I would read in the morning and then the evening. This gives me the feeling of reading less and not just staring into the sea of words for hours and hours. 
  4. Read the assignments with fewer pages earlier: Tackling my readings with less pages first helps to get them out the way. 
  5. Multitask: I like to save videos or podcasts for dinner or while I'm doing something passive like cleaning around the house. 
  6. Start reading a few pages sooner rather than later: The thing about reading heavy classes is that you spend a lot of time outside of the classroom, you guessed it, reading. So just starting when you have a few free minutes can make a world of a difference.
  7. Don’t worry about getting to everything: A common myth about reading heavy classes is that you need to read and understand everything. In my opinion, reading 30 out of the 50 pages while making connections and getting a clear understanding can be more fruitful during class discussions than reading all 50 pages and not understanding anything.

I prefer my reading-intensive concentration because I find myself very attuned to the power that books hold and the ways that they are essential to my knowledge! With reading, you’re not really looking for a particular answer. Your responses are shaped by your personal perspective and the same text can be read in so many different ways. When picking a concentration, I would suggest looking into what the workload would look like and ask questions such as “How much time would you spend a week reading for class or preparing the material?” Understanding if you’re not a big reader, like me, or need time to wrap your head around readings can be helpful to gauge your interest in a department. 


Summer Planning at Princeton: Virtual Resources & More


It’s around that time of year when we all start thinking about the summer. The snow was nice at first, but let’s be real-- it’s time for the winter wonderland to go. But it’s not just the warm weather that we all have on our minds (although you will catch me daydreaming about sipping my Iced Guava Passionfruit Drink from Starbucks in 80 degree weather on my way to class): it’s also our summer plans. What are we going to do for June, July and August?

From internships and independent research to community service and summer classes, there are always a ton of options open to Princeton students. But you may be wondering what’s changed with the global pandemic. Obviously international travel may not be possible (at least for now), but not to worry, because Princeton has turned their Global Seminars into e-Global Seminars for 2021. Typically, 12 to 15 students and faculty travel to a country where courses are taught for 6 weeks. Each seminar has uniquely shifted to include remote visits to museums, walking tours, interviews with scholars and more. Princeton's International Internship Program is also offering remote options, some even with the possibility of an in-country experience.

Programs certainly look different this year across the board, whether Princeton-affiliated or not. This summer, I’ll be returning to Facebook as a Content Design Intern. The internship program is fully remote, which means lots of poolside time at home (can’t complain there!). While I would have loved the opportunity to be in the office, there is still so much to be gained from virtual internship experiences. I had the opportunity to do a virtual internship with the same department at Facebook last summer, and I connected with amazing people, learned a ton about collaboration, leadership, and creativity, and discovered that I LOVE content strategy, which Facebook now calls Content Design

And the oh-so-many resources available to Princeton students when we were fully in-person pre-pandemic are still there for us now (with some extras!). Not only can we search networking portals that are uniquely available to us, but we can book virtual appointments with Career Advisers, attend virtual Career Fairs and browse alumni-sponsored opportunities. The Center for Career Development even put together a “How to Make the Most of a Virtual Internship” guide—get you a campus career center that does that! Professors are also one of my go-to resources on campus for summer plans, because they are always more than happy to chat about career paths and open up new opportunities that I hadn't considered.

Before I know it, I’ll actually be sipping my Iced Guava Passionfruit fave from Starbucks, which means summer will be here. In the meantime, I’ll definitely be paying a virtual visit or two to the Center for Career Development. Whether your summer plans are locked down or not, Princeton is always there to support you along the way, from brainstorming to interview prep to creating an approach for your upcoming internship. 

If you have any questions about summer planning resources on campus (or just simply want to chat about seasonal Starbucks drinks), feel free to reach out!