Seasons at Princeton

My first week at Princeton was humid and hot. On Convocation day, 1400 of us sat under the shade of lush, green trees in front of Nassau Hall, buzzing with nerves and excitement along with the crickets chirping. An almost feverish energy hung in the air, as we erupted into applause after each speaker welcoming “the Great class of 2027.” I could not wait to begin this new chapter. With only Orientation events scheduled, I would stroll for hours around campus with my new friends, getting lost in the gothic architecture and enjoying the nice weather outside. Princeton felt so big then. as a brand new first-year. 


an audience of chairs faces the front of Nassau Hall, a table with water jugs is in the foreground


After a few months, I gradually fell into a pattern for my first semester. New people, new classes, and new things to learn about every day transformed into a familiar routine. The changes in the season paralleled my sentiment: it started slowly, eventually increasing into a blur. As I walked along the pathway from East Pyne between classes, I suddenly noticed the green in the trees had faded into a brilliant gradient of the changing leaves, from tangerine orange to light hazel. The lawns were filled with readers lounging around, bathed in the warm sunlight as a slight breeze rustled the leaves. I was constantly reminding myself to slow down and look around at the beautiful scenery. 


Richardson Hall and Oval with Points are visible with fall foliage


In the middle of December, darkness descended every day at 4 pm, draping the campus in a cold hush. Overwhelmed with exams and assignments, Firestone Library was littered with late-night goers and frantic typing of keyboards. One tiring night, I was trudging back from a study session when I noticed a flurry in the air. The next morning, the campus was covered with a fluffy snow blanket. Snowmen were scattered around campus, with one being taller than me! I could almost hear the Oppenheimer music playing when I walked under the East Pyne arch. Unfortunately, the snow day did not happen and classes went on as scheduled. Despite the cold, I felt strengthened by the beauty that continuously fell from the sky. Fortunately, I was surrounded by friends and even strangers who were all supportive of one another, serving as reminders that I was not alone even in moments of stress. 


Gray skies and snow covered ground surrounding East Pyne Hall. Large snow flakes are falling.


Last week, the persistent cold finally thawed, replaced by a gentle ray with 50-degree weather. Readers on the lawns returned, the sun lingered past 6 pm, and I took out my sundress. The new semester now felt more exhilarating than scary. I no longer felt as nervous when meeting new people. I walked into my new classes with a spring in my step. Familiar faces popped up and smiled around campus. I looked forward to the new possibilities that each week brought. I was metamorphizing, slowly but surely. I believe this cycle will never end during my time at Princeton. And like my anticipation of the changing seasons, I can’t wait. 


Sunset overlooking older part of Princeton University campus

Soaking Up the Summer Before College

Now that school is starting to wrap up for many high school students, I wanted to share some tips for enjoying your summer which are especially relevant to incoming first years, who we also refer to as pre-frosh.


If I had to summarize my first year at Princeton in one phrase, it would be, time flies! It can be hard to enjoy the stage of life you’re currently in, especially as you anticipate the next step in your life, but remember that you will never be exactly where you are right now again. Whether you are in the summer before Grade 12, the summer before a gap year or the summer before college, try to soak it all in for what it is. I remember feeling a mix of nervousness and anticipation about heading to Princeton in the fall and most of all, not knowing what to expect. If you have any questions, I encourage you to reach out to admissions bloggers (I am always an email away!), your summer engagement coordinator, who you will hear from in June, or any friends, alumni from your high school, or students from your hometown who attended Princeton. I know I had many questions about travel, logistics and packing, but I also found it exciting to wait and find out for myself what Princeton was like academically and socially.


The sun setting over a field of yellow canola flowers with grass in the foreground and trees in the distance
Dusk by a canola field, taken during a bonfire with young adults from my home church


Enjoy your time at home without the pressure of school. It may be a long time before most of your friends and potentially all your siblings are in the same place again, so hang out with your friends at your favorite places, take fun pictures to put on your dorm wall, and enjoy some quality time and your favorite home-cooked meals with your family. It’s hard to maintain regular contact with more than a few people once everyone goes separate ways, so I always enjoy spending time with friends from junior high and high school when I go home.


Myself, my dad and my sister standing on rocks at the edge of a lake with snowy mountains in the background
(From left to right) Myself, my dad and my sister in front of the always-stunning Lake Louise in my home province of Alberta, Canada


Photos and postcards on two white walls
The photos in my first year dorm. If you look at the top right hand corner, you’ll see the previous photo!


It can be very exciting to begin preparing for college by buying a lot of new things, but speaking from experience, you will accumulate a lot more than you would expect over the course of one year here! I arrived with two suitcases and a backpack, and I now have an additional six bags and eight boxes of varying sizes as well as some loose ends like a fan and drying rack in my possession (in my defense, a lot of it is bedding, textbooks and cooking utensils). It is stressful and time-consuming to pack and store all of your belongings for the summer, and you would be surprised how much you can buy from students and sales once you get here. Do your best to limit how many new things you buy and bring with you—your future self will thank you!

Consider writing a letter to your future self! This is something I wanted but forgot to do the summer before starting college and now it’s a little difficult to remember exactly how I was feeling (see #1). I wrote a letter to myself as part of the orientation activities at my United World College, a two-year international boarding school, and it was interesting to see how my experience differed from my expectations and realize how much I had learned and grown over the course of just one year. You could open the letter after your first year or at graduation by having someone hold onto it for you, putting it in a specific place and putting a reminder in your calendar to open it at a certain time, or having it emailed to you using a website like FutureMe.

Read for pleasure. The summer is a great time to get a lot of reading in, especially if there are books you have been wanting to read for a long time or if you just want to expand your horizons. I love reading, so it was something I missed once I began college and it was much harder to find the time. Thankfully, I read at least one book a month during my first year as a member of the Asian American Student Association’s book club. My favorite out of the books we read was Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner. Hannah Lee, one of my Community Action leaders and my PUMP mentor, recommended that I read Free Food for Millionaires by Min Jin Lee, and I read it in one day when I came back to Princeton at the end of winter break. I highly recommend reading it after spending some time in Princeton because you will recognize the buildings and some of the traditions mentioned!


Covers of five books: Crying in H Mart, A Place for Us, Minor Feelings, Afterparties, Skinship
The books we read in the Asian American Student Association Book Club during my first year


On a similar note, do the things you love! Whether that is running, dancing, crocheting, cooking, playing an instrument, or something else entirely, it might be difficult to engage in your hobbies as frequently at college. That said, I have managed to do all of those activities and more through Princeton’s over 400 student groups, my co-op2D, and awesome Wintersession offerings.


Me, a girl wearing a black sweater and black pants, standing on a mountain looking out at a lake and mountain range
Enjoying one of my favorite activities, hiking, at Lake Louise


Me, a girl wearing a black tank top and black leggings, doing a split jump in a sunroom
Dancing on a summer evening


I hope your school year ends on a good note, and congratulations to graduating high school students! We cannot wait to see you in the fall, and in the meantime, I hope you have a restful summer. I am always available at the email in my blogger bio to answer questions or if you have any blog topic requests.

Preparing for Princeton: A Comprehensive Guide for International Students

Congratulations on your acceptance to Princeton University! As an international student, you’re about to embark on an incredible journey filled with new experiences and opportunities. Knowing how overwhelming and confusing the transition can be, here’s a detailed guide on the essential steps to take before you arrive on campus.


1. Connect with Future Peers on Social Media

Looking back, one of the best things I did to start my Princeton journey was connect with future classmates online. Social media platforms like Instagram and WhatsApp are great tools for this. While I didn’t join the Facebook group for incoming Princeton students, I did participate in discussions with my Summer Cohort group, and I also reached out to people I saw on the Princeton 2026 Instagram profile as well as current students. These connections provided me support, answered my questions, and overall helped me transition to college life.  


2. Arrange Your Visa Appointment

Securing your visa is a top priority. I applied and scheduled my visa appointment with the U.S. embassy (or consulate) as soon as I received my I-20 form from Princeton. Visa processing times can vary, so it’s important to act quickly. Ensure you have all the required documents, including proof of financial support and any other paperwork specified by the embassy or consulate.

Steps for a Successful Visa Application:

  • Gather Documents: I checked a thousand times that I had my I-20, passport, financial documents, visa pictures, and any other required paperwork before going to the embassy.
  • Schedule the Appointment: Book your appointment as early as possible to avoid delays. I checked every day and yet it took me 2 weeks until I got an appointment in which I would get my visa on time before leaving. Ideally, you would get the visa before buying flights, but that can be very expensive, so just be on the lookout for appointments daily. Even if it seems as if there are none, the website is updated every day. 
  • Prepare for the Interview: Before going to the embassy, I also prepared myself to explain my study plans and how I was going to finance your education (just in case.)

For more information, the Davis International Center is a really good resource to understand the different types of visas and the application requirements. 


3. Register for International Orientation

International Orientation is a program (the best program) designed to help you acclimate to life at Princeton and in the U.S. This orientation introduced me to campus resources, provided important information about visa regulations, and helped me meet other international students. We did awesome activities and even went to Target to buy anything we needed! I also got paired with two IO leaders, who were older international Princeton students that were great resources. This was truly an invaluable resource for a smooth transition.

IO group


4. Complete Matriculation Documents

Princeton provided a list of matriculation documents that had to be completed before my arrival to the US. This included health forms, financial documents, housing applications, and other administrative paperwork. It was a bit much to handle, but completing these documents promptly was essential to ensure a smooth start.


5. Pack Smart: Essentials vs. Non-Essentials

Packing for a move across the globe was stressful, as I had to find the right balance between taking what I needed but not overpacking. It may be difficult at first, but I ended up getting used to it. After two years here, I have realized that overpacking can make both move-in and move-out a lot more difficult, so focus on essentials. The following is the prioritization that worked for me:

Essentials to bring:

  • Personal Documents: Passport, visa, admission letter, I-20 form (for F-1 visa) or DS-2019 form (for J-1 visa), and any other important papers.
  • Clothing: I made sure to pack for all seasons, as Princeton experiences a full range of weather. However, for certain stuff that takes up a lot of space, like a winter coat, I bought them in American outlets for reasonable prices. 
  • Electronics: It was essential for me to bring my laptop, phone, chargers, and any necessary adapters or converters for U.S. outlets. I wish I had brought a portable power bank for convenience.
  • Personal Care Items: I only brought basic toiletries for the first few days and then bought the rest in nearby stores.

Items to Buy in Princeton:

  • Comforter, Pillows, and Bedsheets: After having gone through the struggle of packing all my stuff after the year is done here in Princeton, I have learned that these can take up a lot of space. I personally bought them locally to save space.
  • Furniture and Room Decor: One of the things I enjoyed most about move-in was decorating and personalizing my dorm with pictures, lights, and posters. Other items that I have seen other students buy are lamps, rugs, and storage solutions. These are best bought locally.
  • School Supplies: I bought cheap notebooks, pens, and other school essentials at Target, so don’t worry about them. Also, despite being very old school, after a few lectures I realized that it was easier and very convenient to take notes on my computer.


6. Figure out Mobile Phone and Bank

I personally came to the US with a bank already and had a good idea of what mobile company I wanted to use, as it was much easier and less stressful. However, International Orientation also had a "fair" with different companies that could provide services. But in all honesty, I was able to get through the first semester without an American number at all because Princeton had Wifi everywhere and I didn’t really go off campus very frequently. Some of the most popular phone companies and banks among internationals are Mint and Chase. 


7. Final Preparations: Get on a Flight and Enjoy

As the departure date approached, I made sure to confirm my flight details and check that I had all the documentation needed. I also made sure to know how to get from the airport to campus with public transport. The Davis IC has a really good guide as to how to arrive. This guide also contains useful information about different topics mentioned above (weather, banks, phone number…) that I found particularly useful. 


Final Thoughts

Preparing for Princeton as an international student involved careful planning and a sense of readiness to embrace new experiences. Connecting with peers, packing strategically, completing necessary documents, and participating in orientation and meetings, really prepared me for a successful and enjoyable start to your Princeton journey. Safe travels, and see you on campus!




PTON Cribs: A Look into Different Princeton Rooms


One of the biggest questions I remember asking myself after I got into Princeton was: what is my room going to look like? I think it's a valid question especially since you may spend a lot of time in your room, and potentially with roommates. While first years are placed into their rooms by their Residential College’s Dean of Student Life (DSL), the rest of Princetonians have the option to select their roommates and room in a process called Room Draw. A small caveat worth mentioning is that rising sophomores must draw into their residential college again, and rising juniors and seniors have some more options. For some context, I am a member of Butler College and have been in a single, quad, and next year a quingle. 

Singles: As the name suggests, a single is a room where only one person occupies it. Each building’s singles differ in the size and layout but generally are similar. Some buildings have two singles that share a bathroom (called Jack & Jill), which is pretty cool. Singles are highly coveted by all class years. I was placed in a single freshman year in Bloomberg, so feel free to reach out and ask more questions! 

Thomas Danz's freshman year single in Bulter's Bloomberg Hall. On the left, there is a desk setup immediately followed by a shelving unit with a TV on top. The right side has his bed and a Princeton flag. There is also a couch and carpet in the background.

Doubles: Doubles are where two roommates share a single room, which is larger than a single. Depending on the building some doubles come with a common room and a bedroom, which a lot of students convert into two singles. 

Triples: Triples are similar to doubles but the room also varies by building. I believe most triples consist of a common room and two bedrooms. Think of a double and a single that have a common room in between them. Like doubles, most students convert the common room into a bedroom so all three roommates effectively get a single. 

Quads: Quads consist of two doubles with a common room in between them. A lot of quads also have a bathroom, which is really nice. I am in a quad this year in Butler’s 1967 Hall and it's a blast. I would recommend trying to get a quad your freshman year so that you can have some built in roommate friends! 

Quingles: Perhaps the most unique rooms at Princeton, a quingle is the child of a quad and a single (get it, quad + single = quingle). Quingles are four singles connected together via a private hallway, which usually also has a bathroom. Some quingles have a common room on top of that. These are the biggest rooms at Princeton and are also highly sought after. Next year my roommates and I will be in a quingle in Bloomberg, which I’m super excited about. 

Independent/ Co-op: Rising Sophomores and Juniors have the options to draw into independent rooms. This just means that they will not be on the dining hall meal plan. One of the most desired independent buildings is called Spelman. Spelman rooms are like a quingle but also have a kitchen so that students can cook their own meals. There are also some students who opt to room in a Co-op where students take turns cooking dinner. I'm not very knowledgeable about these rooms so that's all I can say on them. 

Other: Outside of these rooms, there are some unique rooms that have different layouts/ number of students living in the room. To my knowledge these deviations are primarily in Upperclassmen buildings, so it’s nothing to worry about for first years. 

Overall, Princeton has a lot of housing options and a lot of different buildings. No matter where you end up as a first year, your room will be amazing. Starting from scratch and designing your own room is a lot of fun. If you have any questions please reach out to me and I’ll answer your questions to the best of my ability. You can also look at the housing website linked here.

Advice from a Nostalgic Senior

As the first semester of my final year at Princeton draws to a close, I find myself thinking more about what I would have done differently throughout my four years, and what I would tell myself in freshman year if I had the chance. Most of it is related to academics, such as getting distribution requirements out of the way as soon as possible, or that the best study spot on campus will be the Firestone B floor (though I have heard it is an acquired taste). However, my ‘words of wisdom’ would also expand beyond my academic pursuits, and I wanted to take the time and space to do that here.

1. Don’t pigeonhole yourself into one career path from the get-go. 

I told myself all throughout high school that I wanted to be a journalist or diplomat, determined that a career traveling all over the world reporting on the most pressing issues was the path for me. I didn’t really consider the other options I would have, convinced that the dreams I had when I was eighteen would hold when I was twenty-two. Though I do not want to discount the experiences of those who know exactly what they want to do with their lives, and thus pursue the classes and activities that allow them to do so, I think it's worth taking the time as an underclassman to explore what various career options you have, and who knows, you may find your new passion!

2. Not every extracurricular activity has to be academic.

This may be something that was more specific to me, but I felt guilty finding clubs that were purely ‘fun’ when the people around me were building career skills or attending national competitions that I did not attempt any till my sophomore spring. Admittedly, I ended up in an a cappella group I love and have become some of my closest friends, but one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t audition earlier because I felt pressured to continue ‘working’ outside of my class hours. Take the leap. Have fun. You deserve it. 

3. Do not stress so much about your interpersonal relationships.  

One of the greatest things about college is the sheer number of people you meet and interact with on a daily basis. In classes with over a hundred students, in the different (or same) dining halls you eat at every day, and the people you live near every year, to name a few. Coming from a close-knit friend group in high school, I set the unrealistic expectation for myself that I would find a similar group of friends within my first few weeks at Princeton. Inevitably, this caused me to stress out and hindered me from interacting with more people. My current group of friends, whom I cherish very much, didn’t really solidify until my junior fall. I wish I could tell my freshman year self that. 

Ultimately, there is so much more advice that I could give (maybe I’ll write another blog post about academic advice for incoming freshmen). However, I remember being incredibly nervous and excited about the non-academic aspects of Princeton, and hope that this blog post helps assuage those concerns.

McGraw's Best Kept Secret: The Study Partners Program

As a humanities/social sciences student, readings dominate my life at Princeton. It’s why in my first semester, I left large gaps in between my classes. This way, I could spread my assignments throughout the day, and spend time with my friends at night.

I also mostly worked alone in my first semester. I thought doing homework with my friends would be too distracting. I love to join in on conversations, but sometimes we’d get so deep in discussion that my plans to read that next page, write that next paragraph, outline that next paper went out the window. Additionally, I was surrounded by STEM students in my Zee Group. They were not interested in, nor did they ask about, my readings, and likewise, I was not interested in, nor did I ask about, their problem sets. Yet the more I worked alone last September, the more I missed having somebody to parallel play with while still socializing.

Enter the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning. Beyond the peer tutoring sessions, academic strategies workshops, and learning consultations, there is also the fairly new Study Partners Program. You first fill out an interest form, after which McGraw matches you with your study partner via email. From there, you and your study partner exchange contact information and decide where/when you want to study.

White background with words in Black, Times New Roman font letting the student know that they were matched with a study partner through the McGraw Center for Teaching and Learning.
This is the email I received when I was matched with my study partner!

All of the selections are random, which I appreciated when I was a freshman. While it is important to befriend students in your home residential college, often by way of your zee group, it’s equally important to branch out and meet students in other residential colleges. Who knows? They could have the same academic interests as you! 

I lucked out with my study partner, who I now consider one of my closest friends at Princeton. He lives up north at Rockefeller “Rocky” College, and I down south at Forbes College. But despite being on opposite ends of campus, he, too, loves the humanities and social sciences. During our study sessions at Firestone Library, he would annotate his Politics readings and I would annotate my Philosophy readings. We also took turns discussing what we were learning. It’s not unusual for us, even now, to exchange book recommendations from our classes (with dashes of us sharing our extracurricular activities).

Having a study partner has also not been as distracting as I previously thought. We hold each other accountable by setting personal goals, as well as offering help to each other. For instance, he helped me brainstorm for my papers when I took my writing seminar last spring, and I offered encouraging words while he studied for finals. It’s because of this reciprocity that more often than not, we achieved our goals. 

Don’t get me wrong. Some students work better aloneI do if I’m under a major deadlinebut regardless, I highly recommend the McGraw Study Partners Program to all incoming students. Not only will you be building yourself a support system and finding someone to parallel play with, but you might also make a friend in the process.

Three Important Lessons I Learned Freshman Year (That Have Nothing to Do With Academics)

It’s hard to believe that I will officially be a “sophomore” in a few weeks. It feels like yesterday that I moved into Forbes College, and sat through day long orientation programming. Now that I’m somewhat settled into my new home – that is, the Second Floor of the Forbes Annex – I want to share with you the three most important lessons I learned freshman year. Who knows? Maybe they can help you become your authentic self at Princeton.

1. Don't forget to laugh!

While it’s very easy to make me laugh, I sometimes feel so stressed from school that I forget to. So rather than seek out instances that make me laugh, I let them come to me.

For instance, I went to Princetoween (our post Fall break Halloween celebration) with one of my friends. While at Colonial Eating Club, I ran into a Forbesian dressed like a teenage Michael Jackson. I asked him where his five brothers were. At first, he was confused. But once he understood what I was talking about, he agreed he looked like Michael Jackson with his afro and tall, slender appearance. Back at Forbes, I cried laughing while telling the story to my Zee Group. As the saying goes, “laughter is the best medicine.” Yes, even in an environment where students seem to be working nonstop.

Avery is standing in front of the Princeton Builds Pathways construction post, wearing yellow and green shirts and a navy blue Princeton University cap.
Me dressed as Quincy from "Little Einsteins."

2. Your special interests are valued.

I have several special interests including Sesame Street (among other children's cartoons), writing, and most recently my new major: Cultural Anthropology. I could go on for days! But from elementary to middle school, it wasn’t unusual for my interests to be dismissed as, well, unusual.

Now, I am incredibly grateful to have friends who share my special interests, if not have their own. Some powerlift. Others love Procreate. Some fight to divest Princeton. Others passionately believe Oppenheimer is better than Barbie. I firmly believe that by sharing my interests with my friends (and vice versa), I have learned so much more about their life experiences. 

3. The people here keep you going.

Coming into Princeton, I envisioned it would be a cutthroat environment where nobody wanted to help each other. This assumption couldn’t have been more wrong. My friends keep me going even on my toughest days. Examples include texting me to ask about my day and offering to read my papers. Mind you, these relationships are not one sided. I do the same for them because I care about them. 

These friendships have also made it easier for us to be vulnerable about our life experiences. Our conversations occasionally include crying and hugging. But no matter what we discuss, we always reaffirm to each other that we belong here. Princeton is a major life change academically, emotionally, and socially. So please make it a point to make friends who always push you to be your authentic self.

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.

Good Days and Bad Days

As a campus blogger I find myself often highlighting my favorite parts about campus. I have enjoyed my experience as a student and an individual within this community, and am always excited to share more about all of the amazing things that have happened during my time here. Surely there are a million things to love about Princeton, but there are things that are difficult, too.

Admittedly, I chose Princeton because I wanted to be surrounded by courses and classmates that would challenge me every day, but there are days where everything is just outright overwhelming. In the past, I have had to read well over 500 cumulative pages in a week; there have been weeks where I have had two papers due in addition to having to prepare a presentation and study for an exam the following week; and there have been countless lectures where I leave feeling clueless about what was discussed. Also, sometimes life is just life, and things happen in my personal life that I have to balance on top of my constant schoolwork.

It can be a lot.

I know this may sound like a somewhat of a grim portrayal of life on campus, but transparency is an important part of getting to know a school. Princeton is hard, but there is always room for a bad day to turn into a good one (or, at least a slightly less bad one?).

Maybe one of the biggest lessons I’ve learned during my time here has been finding peace in the simplest of moments and gestures. Last week was especially hard for me, but there were many things that occurred alongside the difficult bits that helped make my workload feel more bearable. 

After a long day of classes and extracurriculars, seeing my lit-up dorm window is always a welcoming sign that my roommate is home, as I always look forward to unwinding and catching up with her. The comforting reality is that we are all struggling together, and sometimes getting things off my chest is all it takes to make them feel more manageable.

Two women sit on a radiator in front on windows with blinds down, one smiles while the other laughs

I try to be very intentional about taking breaks, sometimes on my own, or sometimes with some of my friends. My favorite place to go when I want a small snack is The Bread Boutique on Witherspoon Street to pick up a delicious pistachio croissant. When I want a drink to power me through the rest of a paper-writing session, I love using my DiningPoints to buy something from Junbi, also on Witherspoon. Of course, calling home when things feel too overwhelming always helps me feel more grounded, too.

On campus, there are also a plethora of supportive resources specifically set in place to help students navigate the difficulty of campus life. There are more academic resources like the Writing Center and the McGraw Center, which can help manage the stress associated with academic tasks and routines. But there are other resources, too. Residential College Advisors (RCAs) and Peer Academic Advisors (PAAs) are some of the first two points of contact that any incoming Princeton student is introduced to. A resource that I, along with some of my friends, have found useful has been Princeton’s Counseling and Psychological Services (CPS). Located in McCosh Health Center, students can consult with campus psychologists. These can be scattered visits, or CPS can connect you with a more long-term alternative off campus. As a student on the school’s health insurance plan, this has been extremely helpful in making mental health care accessible to me.

Finally, there is community everywhere, whether that looks like reaching out to close friends, sitting in a crowded library while everyone struggles to write essays and code together, or looking forward to your favorite extracurricular meeting at the end of the week. No matter how hard things may feel sometimes, I know that I will get through it eventually and that an ice cold matcha will be waiting for me on the other end of it, as well as a wonderful community happy to support each other through it all.

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!