All About Reading Period

This past semester, the last day of class was Friday, April 22nd, but my last final exam was on Sunday, May 8th. What happens in the nearly three weeks between the end of classes and the last final exam?

The answer is reading period and finals period, a time for students to write their final papers and prepare for exams. Compared to other universities, which often have reading periods of only several days, Princeton has a lengthy stretch of time between the last class and final exam. I've found, though, that I really like having this extended reading and finals period. It allows me to carefully review all the material, and I can master concepts that I didn't fully grasp on the first pass during the hectic semester.

Reading period spans the week from the day after the last class through "Dean's Date," when all final papers and final projects are due at 5 p.m. Most students spend the reading period completing these assignments, and there are a number of amusing Princeton traditions that occur just before the deadline. One tradition, for instance, is the late-night "breakfast" in the residential colleges occuring at around 10 to 11 p.m. on the night before Dean's Date, in which all the dining halls open and offer a full breakfast buffet to hungry students struggling to debug their code or flesh out their concluding arguments. This is followed by a rather unusual event: at midnight, students will gather outside their dorms and collectively scream for a full minute, from 12:00 to 12:01, to let off steam and pent-up frustration. The scream has different titles at the different dormitories; Whitmanites gather in the courtyard for the "Whitman Wail," while outside of Holder Hall you'll hear the "Holder Howl." While somewhat dramatic, the scream shows you that you're not alone in feeling a little strained at the end of the semester. Everyone is feeling the stress of putting their best effort into their final assignments, but everyone also takes comfort in knowing that soon their work will be complete and submitted.

At 5 p.m. on Dean's Date, the Princeton Band plays celebratory music and food trucks arrive to feed hungry, exhausted students outside McCosh Hall. Your assignments are complete!

Around 20 members of the Princeton Band playing outside Princeton chapel

Then it's time for final exams. The day following Dean's Date is the beginning of finals period, which lasts about two weeks. Each class is assigned a specific exam window during the finals period so that no two classes will have conflicting exams. The lengthy finals period means that you'll likely have several days between exams, which is useful in allowing you to fully prepare and feel ready for each one. Many classes continue to offer office hours and review sessions during reading period and finals period, which allows you to get help studying topics that you don't remember or never quite fully understood. Then, after taking your last exam, the semester is officially over! You then have a generously long winter or summer break to rest and rejuvenate before starting your next set of courses.

Did You Say Free Food?

The other day, I was writing my Spanish homework in my room when my roommate, Jose, who was taking a nap, woke up suddenly. He then looked at the screen of his phone and quickly got up from his bed, letting out a sigh that denoted his distress:

Late meal is almost over, he said nervously as he rushed out of the room.

Confused, I stared at him from over my computer. I never understood his obsession with late meal. Late meal is a term used to describe an option offered by Campus Dining to students enrolled in the meal plan. Essentially, each student has access to two $8 credits: one for late lunch and another for late dinner. Technically, it’s meant for students who miss regular dining hours in the cafeterias because of classes or meetings. Late meal prevents them from starving. However, the way my roommate religiously got late meal seemed unusual (or so I thought) and left me deeply puzzled. For some context, Frist (where late meal is served) is located around 12 minutes away from Forbes (our Res College). Yet, he would sometimes purposely skip dining hall meals to go to Frist, braving the cold winter night. Worse: sometimes he would first eat at Forbes, and later, go for doubles at late meal! Seriously, why so much dedication? That day, I decided to elucidate that mystery and ask him point-blank what was up with him after he had gotten his meal.

Jose came back one hour later. I didn't even let him unwrap his chicken quesadilla and fries: I instantly bombarded him with the question that had been tormenting me to the point that I had been unable to focus on my assignment.

Why do you go through so much trouble for late meal? I asked.

He stared back at me, deeply offended by my question. "How dare you?" his face flushed with indignation. He asked as though he was too obfuscated to even utter a word.  My question seemed to have troubled him to his core. It was 50 degrees inside yet he was sweating profusely. He stared at me a little longer, trying to figure out if I was serious and whether I deserved an answer. He took off his coat while I stood still, waiting impatiently for his answer. Finally, he enlightened me on the foundation of his obsession.

That night, he unraveled the mystery of his love for late meal. At that time, everything seemed to come together. It all made sense. 

Jose first confided in me that he was often not hungry during the usual opening hours of the cafeterias so he preferred to wait until late meal, when he was sure he would be starving. Additionally, the consistency of Frist's menu assured him he would like what he ordered. He also had more choices. Whether he got a quesadilla, a burger, sushi, chicken tenders, fries or onion rings… he knew he would never be disappointed. He would sometimes be pleasantly surprised with a new addition to the menu: spring rolls, dumplings or pizza. Some days, when he just wanted to snack or grab something to take home for the night to help him push through his intense two o'clock reading sessions, he would only grab a bag of chips, chocolate chip cookies and a muffin. If that day he felt like eating healthily, he would grab a box of green grapes and one fresh banana. As long as the total was under 8 dollars: he could have them all. For free! Finally, and perhaps the main reason for his obsession, was that late meal was a unique opportunity to socialize.  Frist is already the center of student life at Princeton.  On a normal day, you find student groups promoting their dance shows, aspiring engineers working on P-sets together, Philosophy majors conversing about the meaning of life or Econ majors playing table tennis or billiards... etc. Add food to the combo and you have the exciting, vibrant and engaging environment of late meal. For Jose, late meal is one of the best things about Princeton!


Students hanging out in Frist South Lawn after lunch late meal.

After that conversation, I never again saw late meal the same way. My life truly changed. Forever. And my eating schedule as well!

A Day In the Life of an East Asian Studies Concentrator

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

7:45 a.m.

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


8:30 a.m.

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


10:00 a.m.

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


11:00 a.m.

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


1:30 p.m.

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


4:30 p.m.

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


6:00 p.m.

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


9:00 p.m.

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


10:00 p.m.

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

What You Have to Gain Is Wonderful

By the time I submitted my final college application, I was exhausted. I was excited about  college (and excited about Princeton, once I was admitted and later enrolled), but the thought of  another four years of physics equations and research papers made me apprehensive. I started spending a lot of time on the Novogratz Bridge Year website, looking at photos of smiling participants and reading about a year of trekking and service and living abroad.  

When deciding whether or not I wanted to apply to Princeton’s Novogratz Bridge Year program, one of my major hang-ups was about my high school friends. I adored them, and they were all about to go to college — to choose a major, attend dorm parties and bond with roommates— and I wasn’t sure if I could do something so different from them. It would mean that I graduated a year later from them and that I wouldn’t be able to come home for breaks. At some level, it meant that I wouldn’t be able to relate to them and they wouldn’t be able to relate to me.  

I was so worried about this that I almost didn’t apply to the program in Senegal. When I did, and I was accepted, my excitement was tempered slightly by these fears. I spent the summer before I left buying a bug hut, googling Senegalese music, and trying not to feel left out as my friends picked out their classes. I don’t know if my 18-year-old self would be surprised by this or not, but those fears pretty much all came true. I kept missing the group FaceTimes because I was in a different time zone; I cried when I saw photos of all my friends together at Thanksgiving; I had a hard time connecting with them when I came home the following summer.  


A beach in Senegal

I don’t mean to say that I lost my high school friends — I am still incredibly close with many of  them, and I love now being able to trade stories about our professors and our college friends. In  some ways, my friendships with them are stronger than they ever were. Maybe if I hadn’t gone away, we wouldn’t be friends at all now. But choosing to take a gap year separated me from them  in ways that I still haven’t fully moved past. This separation very likely might have happened  anyway, as we all went to different schools and studied different things. But it felt unique to me,  as perhaps it does to everyone. At the very least, I was the first one to separate, and I didn’t get to  ease into it over the course of the semester or the year. Once I left, I was gone.  

Despite this loss — and it does still feel in many ways like a loss, as grateful as I am for my  continued friendships — I wouldn’t change my decision for the world. Before I left for Senegal I was so focused on what I stood to lose that I had a hard time picturing what I had to gain. That makes sense: what you might lose is real and tangible, while what you might gain is abstract and largely unknown. It wasn’t until I was there that I realized that the choice I had made was worth it.

Now, I wouldn’t trade any of it: picking up my little homestay brother from school, or making  pancakes on top of a mountain for my friend’s birthday, or running along the beach and through  the waves, or drinking cold bissap after finishing some hot ceebujen, or reading in the backseat of long and dusty bus rides, or carving watermelons for Halloween with my homestay family, or  eating beignets and oranges on the side of the road with my friends, or hiking past baobab trees, or returning to hold my godchildren for the first time. I wouldn’t trade a single one of those things.  


Kate making faces with 4 children and adult

I spent that year living a life very different than the one I had grown used to. I worked at an  organization called Empire des Enfants, a shelter for boys who had been living and begging on  the streets, and learned how I could live a life of service even when I wasn’t “doing service.” I  spent my days taking the bus to work and then coming home for lunch before heading off to  language class. On the weekends, I swam to beautiful islands with my group and watched tv with  my little brothers. Slowly, I was able to make new friends and form new communities. They  looked different than the ones I had before, but I began to feel at home in a new place. I promise  you, what you have to gain is wonderful.


The Black Woman Wellness Retreat & The Necessity for Self Care

During the winter break of my first year (Winter 2021), I stayed on campus. Break gave me the time I needed to listen to my own needs and goals instead of getting caught up in the busy-ness of the semester. Most importantly, it gave me the space to be more intentional about self-care. I slept in more often, hung out with other on-campus friends regularly, started a new TV series and got back into crocheting.   

In addition to participating in a few Wintersession workshops–one on knitting, one on embroidery and one session called "Founding Your Deep Tech Startup"–I also was fortunate enough to attend the first Black Women Wellness Retreat hosted by the Our Health Matters (OHM) Club. The OHM is a club focused on the health and wellbeing of Black women on campus. In a world that expects Black women to be endlessly “strong,” this all expenses paid retreat gave me the room to be honest about how I was honestly doing and what I needed:

After tasty breakfast pastries provided by The Gingered Peach, a local Black woman-owned business, we took a chartered bus to Skytop Lodge, located in the Poconos Mountains. The Lodge itself was stunning, it had rich, velvety carpets, tall windows with lots of natural sunlight and really unique furniture. The room I stayed in had ample space, as well as its own walk-in closet, full bathroom and outdoor patio. During the retreat, our time was spent doing everything from playing ping pong to making vision boards, to talking about our experiences with dating on campus.


Magazine cutouts for vision board collage

I do not share any of this to brag. As a lower-income student, I’d never stepped foot near a ski lodge before, yet this retreat afforded me that experience as a means to promote my self care. I share this experience with you, because it is important that Black women are seen engaging in self-care, indulging in high-quality experiences and supporting each other.  

At the end of the day, I am reminded of this quote from Audre Lorde, “Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” As a Black person, I must remind myself of this every day. As a woman of color, I must remind myself of this every day. As all of the the things I am–lower-income, first-generation and a Black Muslim woman trying to navigate an elite institution–it is imperative that I strive closer and closer to a future where my self care is no longer negotiable in my schedule but the norm. 

What about you? How has your self-care journey been going? I’d love to know!

The Art of Trying New Things

One of the first things I promised myself before going to college was that I was going to try new things and step out of my comfort zone. What better time than now to explore all the things I had never had the opportunity to in high school? 

Thus, first-year fall, despite my many reservations about doing so, I tried out for the Princeton Debate Panel. While it was one of the most terrifying things I had ever done, I am grateful to have found some of my closest friends and a tight-knit community that single handedly helped me through my first semester at Princeton. 

I kept (and am keeping) my promise to myself as I entered the second half of my sophomore year. I ended up auditioning for an a cappella group, a decision I made a day before auditions were to take place. My reservations for doing so stemmed from the fact that as much as I enjoyed singing in my free time, I never thought I was good enough to sing in a more structured setting. 

I was saved from making one of the worst mistakes of my Princeton career when one of my friends, after hearing my plight on whether or not I should audition, told me just what I needed to hear. “What’s the worst that could happen? You’re nervous for 15 minutes, maybe embarrass yourself in front of a few people. But the best case scenario? You get ten new friends, and get to do something you enjoy.” The answer then became pretty clear in my head. 

I went, sang in front of a group of people I didn’t know, and left shaking from nerves, but relieved I had gone through with it. That night, I found out that I had been asked back for callbacks, and went to callbacks the day after, where I (still extremely nervous) mingled with members and got to experience what it would be like to sing as part of a group. I left callbacks daydreaming about what it would be like to perform with these amazing collection of singers, and once again, thoroughly glad I had gone. 

Now, I’m a proud member of the Princeton Tigressions, one of the many a cappella groups Princeton has to offer. Each group is unique in their sound, their members and their personalities. The Tigressions are known for a bold sound, and our repertoire ranges from classics such as Moon River and more contemporary arrangements such as When We Were Young. We also go on an international tour during fall break, though a cappella groups on campus mainly sing in one of the many arches on campus. Also unexpectedly, my first performance happened to be at McCarter Theatre in front of a crowd of more than six hundred people. As terrifying as that was, it was one of the most fun (and memorable) moments at Princeton so far. 

So go for it. Try something new. 

Hola, me llamo Gil...

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

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

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

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

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

East Pyne Hall

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

Challenges at Princeton

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Poets Should Come Ready to Move/Yell/Play/Discover

"...Writing and performing our way towards a deeper understanding of ourselves as spoken word poets, we will collaboratively work our way towards a final public performance and, hopefully, the tools to better move the crowds we face, which are the tools to change the world one poem at a time."

When I saw the description for this course, Spoken Word Poetics taught by award-winning poet Danez Smith, I just had to apply!

In December 2021, the last month of fall semester, I participated in course selection, a process where students of each grade level take turns signing up for the classes they want to take the following semester. There are lots of classes to choose from, everything from an Introduction to Entrepreneurship to Songwriting; some classes require an application or permission to register, but many (if not most) classes don’t. 

Course selection naturally tends to be more of an emotionally turbulent time for everyone, as people scramble to explore all of Princeton’s courses, narrow down their course lists, and resolve any scheduling conflicts. I try to make the process as fun as possible, though, by exploring my academic curiosities and looking for classes that sounded exciting and engaging. 

One of the topics I wanted to explore academically was creative writing. Princeton’s Program in Creative Writing provides a wide range of classes taught by well-respected writers. Many of these classes require applications. While the Program currently seeks to become more inclusive and supportive of writers of all skill levels, I’d encourage you not to begin hyperventilating because of the word “application,” because the application for most of the intro classes does not ask for any writing samples. 

For some background on my interest in creative writing, I’ve been writing poetry since middle school. I began writing, hilariously enough, because my best friend started playing club volleyball and I could no longer hang out with her as much afterschool. Fun fact: I wrote one of my college essays about the first open mic I performed at! How meta, writing about writing!

That being said, I believe any student can submit a compelling application, especially with the help of resources like the Writing Center. If I didn’t at least try to apply, I wouldn’t be here today telling you about how excited I am to take this course! 

At the end of the day, if you’re interested in creative writing classes at Princeton, don’t let applications scare you! I applied to Spoken Word Poetics because, ironically, I am terrified of performing my poetry in front of other people and actually have them *listen* and *hear* me. 

Regardless, I hope that this class can provide me with the space to begin facing some of that fear, and become more confident in my words. Are there any academic curiosities you’ve always wanted to explore, or fears you’re ready to face? I’d love to know!

This Post Is Not Sponsored By The Writing Center

I still don't know exactly what my concentration will be. When I applied to Princeton, I thought I was going to concentrate in the School of Public and International Affairs (SPIA). However, in the middle of my first semester, I started to have doubts. I began to seriously wonder if SPIA was the right path for me. A semester later and I am more unsure about my concentration than I have ever been. What contributes to my uncertainty is the fact that Princeton offers so many interesting opportunities that I am torn between so many departments, research and funding options. While I am still unsure about what my concentration will be, one thing is certain, I will write. A LOT!

I remember reading somewhere that Princeton is one of the universities that places emphasis on writing. This is one of the reasons why all students are required to produce a senior thesis before they graduate. This is also why all undergraduates are required to take a Writing Seminar, either in the fall or spring semester of their first year. Writing seminars are intended to introduce first-year students to academic writing. There are several seminars that students can rank before they are officially assigned to one. I attended mine, WRI 167/168: Justice Beyond Borders, in the fall. I remember one day, as we were discussing Kant's main claims in "Towards Perpetual Peace", a staff member walked into the room and introduced us to a wonderful resource: The Writing Center.

Lounge of the Writing Center

Essentially, the Writing Center offers free 50-minute and sometimes 80-minute one-on-one appoinments to students in which consultants help them work on writing assignments, ranging from 3-page essays to 20-page research papers. Consultants are undergraduate students who are trained to provide guidance on writing assignments. Personally, I see the Writing Center as an accountability checker. I schedule my appointments days (even weeks) before the deadline for my essays. My thinking is this: if I have a writing consultation scheduled, then I need to have something written. There are even times when I don't have an essay to receive feedback on. Sometimes I only have rough outlines or just broad ideas. However, scheduling a consultation forces me to set time aside to at least think about my writing assignment and to get someone else’s perspective on my initial ideas.

The consultants that I work with always listen to me and ask questions that help refine my ideas and push them further. When there is really nothing to think about, they propose exercises that encourage reflection on specific parts of my essay. Wherever you are in the writing process, they've got you! That's the beauty of the Writing Center. In fact, the consultations I found most useful were the ones where I didn't even have a draft. It is important to note that while no two consultants are the same, at the end of every appointment, I always feel ready to embark on my next step in the writing process.

I see the Writing Center as a group of students who not only listen to me talk about my ideas, but also help to formulate them into words, and ultimately in a "coherent, sensitively argued and well-written essay" (by the way, these are the comments that one of my teachers made on an essay workshopped by the Writing Center. It really works guys!)

This is just my experince with The Writing Center and while others may have a different take, I can say that it has been a helpful tool for me and it may be helpful to you as well. And who knows, maybe I will be a Writing Consultant by the time you come to Princeton and I will consult your essay!