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Finding Community and Confidence on Bridge Year

When I graduated from high school, I was burnt out and needed a change in my life. The decision to take a gap year was never really a question in my mind––my parents were always strong proponents, and I needed a break from academics.  When I first read about the Novogratz Bridge Year Program, I knew that the opportunity to spend nine months abroad (for free) was too good to pass up.  

However, after I applied and received my acceptance letter to the Indonesia program, I felt less sure about my choice.  My anxiety and self-doubts began to emerge, making me second guess whether the Bridge Year Program would be a mistake or not. I would graduate later than my friends, go many months without my family, and live alone in a totally unfamiliar city.  Would it be a waste of time? Would I learn anything? Would I make friends? These questions and doubts filled my mind as the departure date neared. I still remember how scared and unsure I felt during the nights leading up to the trip, and the queasy feeling in my stomach as we drove to campus for the pre-departure orientation.  

I started Bridge Year with full-on imposter syndrome and anxiety. Like many incoming first-years, I felt inadequate compared to my incredibly accomplished peers and worried about insignificant things that I had no control over. I was insecure, and the other students in my cohort seemed much more mature, intelligent, and well-spoken. In those first few weeks, I kept quiet during group discussions, journaled a lot, and over-thought nearly every word that came out of my mouth.  

The first month of Bridge Year Indonesia was reserved for orientation and short-term travel. We spent this initial month traveling through Sumatra. Everything was still new and exciting, but as this month began to wind down and our move-in day to Jogja grew nearer, I felt incredibly anxious about meeting my long-term homestay family.  I remember confiding in Umi, one of our on-site staff members, the morning before we were introduced to our families. As we sat on the porch of our hotel–sipping tea and listening to the adzan (call to prayer) in the background–I nervously listed off my fears and hesitations about meeting my homestay family.  I was worried about communicating with them with my limited Indonesian, making a good first impression, and whether I could live up to their relationship with the previous student. I was told that my homestay family was especially religious–the father was an Imam–and I worried about what they would think of my Jewish beliefs and identity. Umi reassured me that they were a perfect match for me, and not to worry. This didn’t do much to reassure me at the time, and I spent the rest of the morning pacing and stressing.  

Group of students pose in front of a fence at a scenic overlook
Here I am (second from left) with the Bridge Year Indonesia group on the island of Flores in Indonesia.
Oscar pictured outside his homestay with four members of his homestay family
Here I am pictured (second from right) with my homestay family on Eid al-Fitr.

I won't lie, that first week in the homestay was quite an adjustment. My family did not speak any English, so we struggled to communicate, and I was exhausted from feeling the need to constantly ‘perform’ around them. But after just a month or two, I felt infinitely more relaxed. As I continued to grapple with anxiety and imposter syndrome, my homestay family became a true source of comfort and relaxation. We found ways to communicate with my still-limited Indonesian skills, and I began to prioritize spending more time at home with them. 

Reflecting on it now, four years out of Bridge Year, my homestay family was the best part of my experience. They each taught me so much, and I am so grateful for the generosity and unconditional love that they showed me. There are so many moments that I wouldn’t trade for the world: watching movies on the porch with my homestay brothers, karaoke Bon Jovi with Ibu and Ayah (my homestay parents), visiting my homestay sister in the hospital after she gave birth, Ibu’s disapproving looks when I bleached my hair, and learning Arabic at the Mosque with Ayah. They had an incredibly influential impact on me during this transitional moment in my life when I was just beginning to define my values, relationships, and career trajectory.  

While re-reading my journals and reflecting upon Bridge Year, I realized that the community I found in my homestay enabled the growth I experienced that year. While I was feeling anxious, inadequate, and inexperienced compared to my Princeton peers, my homestay showed me acceptance, self-love, and compassion. I never thought that I would call Indonesia home, or consider non-relatives part of my family, but over the course of nine months, that is exactly what ended up happening.  

Today, more than four years after the program, I am endlessly grateful for Bridge Year. The personal growth that I underwent shaped who I am today in countless ways. Bridge Year taught me many skills and lessons, but above all, it helped me develop more self-confidence. I know it sounds cliche, but I gained so much confidence in myself and my abilities. Continuously getting pushed outside of my comfort zone forced me to grow in ways that I still struggle to verbalize. I am of course still in contact with my family today, and I am returning to Yogyakarta this summer as part of the Streicker International Fellows Program to intern at an architecture firm. Although I am still unsure about what my future post-grad will be, I am hoping to move to Indonesia again and start my career there. If I had the chance to speak to the pre-Bridge Year version of myself, or anyone considering the program, I would say: absolutely take the leap; the lessons you will learn about yourself, the world, and your place within it will be invaluable and unforgettable. 

Oscar poses with host family, locals and Bridge Year friends
Here I am in the center with my host family and Bridge Year comrad Alex (left). This was my goodbye photo!
Oscar turns to lookback at the camera, posed with three coworkers, his shirt reads "best volunteer 2018-2019"
Here I am on my last day at the NGO. 
Selfie of a long crowded dinner table at a goodbye dinner
This photo was taken at the goodbye dinner hosted by the NGO I served at.

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!

It's That Time of Year Again: Welcoming the Class of 2027

It’s that time of year again. My team and I are making last minute tweaks to the incoming first-year class.

We’ve spent the past several months reading, re-reading and discussing the applications that many of you reading this blog put hours of preparation into. We have appreciated learning about your academic pursuits, the activities that intrigue you outside of the classroom and the factors that led you to apply to Princeton. We have laughed at your funny anecdotes, cried (yes, cried) over some of the situations you have trusted us enough to share and thought about how you might add to this vibrant community. And now it comes down to your receiving a decision.

You might not believe it, but this is not my favorite part of my job. Don’t get me wrong, I think I have one of the best jobs on this campus – being able to serve my alma mater in a way that introduces her to prospective students around the world. But in this moment, providing decisions that will exhilarate some and devastate others is not my idea of fun.

So, each year, I try to remind ALL applicants that receiving a decision from a college (whether it’s Princeton or some other amazing institution of higher learning) should not make or break you. If you receive positive news, that’s excellent! Celebrate, decide if it’s the place you can see yourself learning and growing inside and outside of the classroom and base your decision on whether or not to enroll on whether or not the school is a fit for you academically, socially and financially.

If you receive not-so positive news, know that one school’s decision does not indicate anything about your ability to be successful in college. I can only speak for Princeton, but each year we receive applications from many more highly qualified students than we could possibly admit. And, each year we have to say no to many of those same students. I realize that doesn’t take the sting out of receiving anything other than an admit. Still, I hope that you will not let the received decision keep you down. Rather, take a minute to absorb it, and then regroup and put your efforts into your senior year activities. Importantly, remember to enjoy the remainder of your high school senior year, as making those memories are as important as figuring out the next phase of your life.

Whatever decision you receive from Princeton or any other college or university you have applied to, please know that we have enjoyed getting to know you. Your story is unique to you and important. And whatever campus community is allowed to benefit from your presence will be all the better for it.

Good luck with this next adventure!

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.

A Week in DiningPoints

Like most other college students, I am always appreciative of (and searching for) opportunities to eat for free.

This is where Princeton DiningPoints come in.

The DiningPoints initiative was launched in September of 2022 as a way to encourage community among Princeton students, as well as between campus and the surrounding community, without having to worry about spending money out of pocket. The initiative grants all students on the unlimited dining plan 150 DiningPoints at the start of each semester (the equivalent of $150), and any points that are not used during the fall semester roll over into the spring semester.

These points can be used at a wide variety of dining locations both on and off campus, and they are the reason that I made it through some of the busiest times of the fall semester. During reading period, the promise of a hot chocolate from Small World Coffee at the end of each day was all the fuel I needed.

As a love letter and thank you note to this initiative, I present to you, dear reader, a week in my life told through DiningPoints.


Photo of Small World hot chocolate with Blair Arch in background.

Since I try to structure my schedule so that I have no classes on Fridays, I normally use this day of the week to get ahead on a lot of my work to have a more relaxed rest of the weekend. After spending a few hours in Firestone Library, I decided to get myself a cup of Small World hot chocolate to warm up and relax for a bit before meeting up with my roommate for dinner.


Photo of Junbi coffee on a library table alongside student work.

On Sunday after eating brunch, my friend and I decided to treat ourselves to drinks from Junbi during our work session. Since Junbi is so close to the Princeton Public Library, we chose to do some work there for a change of scenery. 


Photo of Tico's juice and sushi roll with SPIA building in background.

Thursdays are my busiest day of the week, with four back-to-back classes leaving me a very short window available for lunch. I decided to grab a bottle of Tico's juice and a sushi roll to-go from Frist Food Gallery. Although I had to eat somewhat quickly, I took the time to eat outside of my next class and call a friend from back home. 

Although I normally try to space out my use of DiningPoints a bit more, I felt fine using them in this way this week since I had some left over from last semester. There is a lot of freedom in the way you distribute your use of points: some of my friends had used them all up within the first month of the fall semester, while one of my friends still had 120 left by December. No matter how you use them, DiningPoints offer opportunities to connect with friends, take breaks, and treat yourself for all the hard work you accomplish.

What do Molecular Biology, Poetry, and the Sociology of War Have in Common?

What do molecular biology, poetry and the sociology of war have in common?

Frankly, not much, though they are all classes that I have taken in the last two years.

At Princeton, you are expected to take courses which enable you to explore departments and topics different from your own chosen field of study. In addition to taking a writing seminar during my first-year and fulfilling a language requirement, students completing a Bachelor of Arts (A.B.) degree must take courses across eight different distributions, including Ethical Thought and Moral Values (EM) and Quantitative and Computational Reasoning (QCR). 

This system of Distribution Requirements, also known as general education requirements, is meant to give students a large degree of academic freedom as opposed to requiring very specific courses such as is common at other institutions. Additionally, the encouragement to pursue a variety of courses leads to a degree of well-roundedness which gives students both a greater respect for other fields and a greater understanding of the limitations of their own field. I believe this is something that is unique to the Princeton experience, and something that enables tremendous growth as a scholar.

As someone pursuing an A.B. degree in Politics, I have never felt limited by my primary department’s requirements. Like many of my classmates, I am someone who has more than one academic interest, and I am thankful that I have been able to explore such a wide range of subjects in a way that does not make these distribution requirements feel burdensome. Rather, the exposure to many disciplines and forms of thinking has allowed me to approach all of my courses with a fresh perspective that draws from this broadened pool of knowledge.

Last semester, my schedule included a class from the molecular biology department, From DNA to Human Complexity, and another in the sociology department, The Western Way of War. This meant that on Wednesdays, I spent the morning discussing the sociology of how war is waged by the Western Hemisphere, and in the afternoon, I got to perform lab experiments highlighting key ideas regarding genetics. This was a fun experience alongside the classes I was taking towards my major and certificate. By now, I have taken classes in departments that I never would have thought to explore otherwise, such as linguistics. Even in a field so different from my own, I was able to explore questions of cultural identity that still deepened my understanding of the world around me.

As I prepare to begin the spring semester of my sophomore year and approach the date to officially declare my concentration, I am excited to continue taking advantage of the unique intellectual playground at my disposal.

Getting Oriented on Campus: Community Action as a First-Year to Community Action as a Leader

CA, OA, DDA. These are acronyms that all incoming first-years come to know as they embark on their college journey at Princeton. Community Action, Outdoor Action, and Dialogue & Difference in Action, respectively, are three of the main orientation programs that new students are assigned to upon arrival to campus. While all three programs have their unique merits and focuses, I’d like to talk about my amazing Community Action experiences, both as a first-year student and later as a leader. 

I remember arriving at Princeton and, like many incoming students, wondering how, when, and where I’d make friends. Surely, you’ll meet peers through your classes, your advisee “zee” group (AKA the people that live on/around your floor), and through clubs. However, CA, and orientation in general, presents a special opportunity to meet a random assortment of fellow first-years that you may otherwise never have met anywhere else. It also is an opportunity to connect with communities nearby and engage in service.

My first year, I absolutely loved my CA group. Even though we were still in our COVID-era and could not do the typical overnight orientation trips, our group bonded quickly. One of my favorite memories was going to the Princeton-Blairstown Center (PBC) and getting to do team-building games and go canoeing together. Another would be doing a gardening service project at the local Grounds for Sculpture. These activities really brought our group together and, to this day, I’m still good friends with many members of my CA group. And even with those I’m not, it’s nice to have a familiar face around campus to say hi to. Coincidentally, my CA trip is also where I met one of my best friends (shoutout Kelsey!). Though she was in a different group than me, we were both at the same service site and got to talking. We found out we shared a lot of similarities, like being from New Jersey, living in what was then First College, and also enjoying our CA experiences so much.

Group of students posing around statue
My 2021 CA Group, as a first-year student!

That is partially what inspired that very friend and I to become CA leaders together this year for the Class of 2026. Our CA group (shoutout Group 17~38!) quickly became like a family, and the energy and positivity our first-years brought was absolutely palpable throughout our entire trip. Now many weeks past the end of this year’s orientation program, we still find ourselves sending jokes in our Group 17 chat, grabbing dinner together on Nassau St., and studying with them on our floor. I can safely say that becoming a CA leader was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made and our CA trip this year was one of, if not the, best 4 days of my Princeton experience thus far. 

All this to say, orientation and Community Action is one of the many ways Princeton helps foster community amongst the incoming class. From the start of your Princeton career, you’re able to build strong connections with your peers — connections that will hopefully end up lasting a lifetime!

Students and man posing for group picture in front of tree
My 2022 CA group, as a sophomore and leader!

Giving a Tour of Princeton

On a recent Sunday, my friend Hannah took the train from New York City to visit me in Princeton. In planning our itinerary, I considered what sites would be essential to give her the complete Princeton experience. I wanted to show her the traditional Princeton sites and give her a feel for what a typical day of traversing campus for classes, meetings, and activities is like for me. These are the locations I decided to include on the tour, and we had a lovely time exploring them throughout the afternoon.

1. The Dinky

Silver train stopped at the Dinky train station in Princeton, NJ

The first stop was meeting Hannah at the Dinky train station. The Dinky is a short rail line connecting campus to Princeton Junction, which is a major train station hub with connections to cities like Philadelphia and New York. Once off the Dinky, Hannah entered the Wawa there to grab a coffee while she waited for me to arrive (who was caught off guard by how fast the Dinky was, and consequently late!)

2. My residential college

white hotel exterior of Forbes College

After leaving the Dinky station, our first tour site was naturally Forbes college. Forbes, my residential college, is located just across Alexander Street from the Dinky. I explained that the building was formerly the Princeton Inn, and I showed her where my dorm was.

3. Nassau Hall, Firestone Plaza, and Blair Arch

Author standing with camera and arms outstretched in welcoming pose in Firestone plaza

Next up on the tour were several historic sites without which no Princeton tour would be complete. We walked up to Nassau Hall, the iconic ivy-covered building just past the front gates, passed through Firestone Plaza, and posed for a photo in front of Blair Arch (cover image of this blog), the famous steps of which used to welcome visitors off the train (the train station was moved a quarter mile south, to its current location near Forbes, in 1918). With my camera and map in hand, I think I looked much more like a tourist than a student here!

4. Fountain of Freedom

Children and adults wading in reflecting pool of the Fountain of Freedom

It was a very hot day, so we decided to cool off by the Fountain of Freedom. The breeze blows a spray of water as you pass by, which was cooling and much appreciated that afternoon. There's also a reflecting pool in which children play and swim, and it was so hot that I took off my shoes and decided to wade in too! It was a much-needed refresher.

5. Eating Clubs

The cannon and lawn in front of the historic mansion that is the Cannon Dial Elm eating club

I'm not a member of an eating club, but I still felt a Princeton tour would not be complete without a stroll down Prospect Avenue to see the eleven historic buildings. We appreciated the architecture and peeked through the windows to see inside the (summer-emptied) clubs.

6. Palmer Square

Brick and wood façades of storefronts in Palmer Square

After exploring campus, I took Hannah down Nassau Street to see the town. We window shopped in Palmer Square (a high end shopping and dining square in the heart of town), and we actually shopped at my favorite thrift store, Nearly New. I'm pleased to report I found some Princeton socks for $3.

After exploring campus and town, we walked back to the Dinky and Hannah departed suburbia to return to the big city. There are certainly more sites to see, but I think my tour provided a nice overview of the campus and town.

Traversing the Orange Bubble

Navigating your way around campus can be intimidating during a visit or just after move-in, but after several weeks, you'll likely find yourself realizing that the campus is actually quite compact. Traversing the Orange Bubble for your various classes throughout the day is quite doable on foot or on bike, which is why very few students have cars on campus (that, combined with the lack of practically any place to park one). Additionally, Princeton's buildings are becoming increasingly accessible. For instance, Naomi Hess '22 has a wonderful blog on the recent renovations to Nassau Hall that allowed her to be the first person using a wheelchair to enter the building without assistance. In short, getting around campus without a car or shuttle is easy, and the impromptu conversations that occur while entering, leaving and traveling between campus buildings are an unsung but vital part of the Princeton experience. 

For example, after working on a paper or problem set for several hours, I might summarize verbally what I've been doing to a friend I pass on my way out of the E-Quad or library. The simple act of condensing the main points of my work can be very helpful in synthesizing and organizing the material in my mind. Other times, the walks between classes provide an opportunity to catch up with friends when we don't have the time to organize a formal meet-up or get-together. Even though we might not have the time for a concert or event together, we can always chat as we walk from class to class. I really appreciate the moments with friends as I get around campus, as they've been the start of both great ideas and friendships.

Campus is very self-contained, but there may be times when you need something from a destination farther away. For those moments, you can take the Tiger Transit shuttle bus. This bus is free and drives around campus daily, and on the weekends it follows the Weekend Shopper route. This route proceeds down Route 1 to stop at the various shopping centers that include a Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, Staples, Home Depot and other stores. I've taken the Weekend Shopper to buy groceries, and my friends have taken it to buy supplies for their art classes. 

Weekend shopper bus approaching in parking lot of shopping center

Weather permitting, it's also possible to increase your mobility on a bike. Many students have bikes on campus, because they make it possible to get from New South to the E-Quad, for instance, when you only have a 10-minute change-over between classes. There is also a biking route down Alexander Street and Canal Pointe Boulevard that you can take to reach the shopping centers previously mentioned. When it's nice outside, I like taking a bike ride along that route to get to the Whole Foods to buy groceries. Most students store their bikes outside on the numerous bike racks outside the dorms. I cover mine with a plastic tarp when it rains. It looks a little ridiculous, but it does help prevent rusting!


bicycle under gray plastic tarp

Getting around campus and town is one of the most enjoyable parts of my daily routine, and I never fail to appreciate both the buildings and the friends around me as I get from place to place. Furthermore, campus is becoming increasingly accessible to everyone, which you can find out more about from the AccessAbility Center. Additionally Parking and Transportation Services also provides information on accessible pathways and entrances on campus.  In summary, traversing the Orange Bubble is a simple everyday treat.

To Find a Home

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

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

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

Two friends in front of a lake in Seattle