The last time I was in Haiti was in August 2019, before I moved to Germany to attend boarding school. Since then, either the health situation in the world or the socio-political situation in Haiti has prevented me from visiting my native land. This winter break was no exception. Following the surge of the Omicron variant around the world, which came in addition to the worrying political instability plaguing my country, I had to make the difficult decision to indefinitely postpone my trip to Haiti. After moping for a few days and complaining to my family, I had to take on the arduous but necessary mission of figuring out how I was going to spend my winter vacation in the United States.
One thing was sure, I was going to find someone, somewhere, to host me for the duration of the vacation. For one, Haitians are everywhere! For two, I know people… I think? Anyway, I was going to be fine! Asking family and friends to host me remained the last option on my list. After all, no one wants to be a visitor who abuses their host's hospitality. Four weeks is a lot of hellos, good nights, have you eaten already, when are you going back to Princeton again? Four weeks is a long time under the care of barely known strangers or distant relatives. For the most part, no one will tell you it's time to leave, but there is always an underlying discomfort that intensifies over time. Even when the host's hospitality doesn't seem to waver, after some time, one always ends up feeling uncomfortable. Out of place. Like a burden.
Fortunately, I did not have to burn my brain cells overthinking or interpreting the over-enthusiastic hellos or the not-genuine-enough smiles from any host. Sometime after Thanksgiving, Professor Hakim of the SIFP Office (Scholars Institute Fellows Program) shared an email from Dean Dolan regarding a request for continuous accommodation over the winter break. Essentially, students who could not return home during the holidays had the option of applying for continuous housing in order to be allowed on campus over the break. That was a breakthrough in my mission!
A few days after submitting a request in which I explained my situation, I received a confirmation from Princeton: I had qualified for continuous housing. Yay! After the immediate relief wore off, I felt bittersweet. I was grateful that I had a place to stay where I would be looked after. The testing program would continue throughout the break and food would be provided to me. Yet, despite having everything I needed to make it through, I was also very aware of the needs of the heart. The end of the year is a time most people spend with family and friends; I was staying on my college campus. I did not know how I would feel on Christmas Eve. Alone in my room. Or on New Year's Eve. Part of me was incredibly anxious.
The truth is, I really enjoyed my time on campus over the break. Don't get me wrong, there were some difficult times when I thought about where I could have been and what I could have been doing. However, I was constantly reminded that I had what I needed. I used the time away from distractions to reflect on my semester and my year in general. I realized that caught in the frenetic rhythm of my first semester, I did not spend enough time thinking about how I was doing, my goals or about the ways in which I was reconnecting with friends and family from back home. This downtime was incredibly helpful and rejuvenating.
I also explored the campus and the surrounding areas on my bike. I spent time with the many other international students (and a few domestic students) who were also staying on campus. We had a lot to think about, a lot to share and a lot to laugh about. On January 7th, we had our first snow! The campus was magnificent, shining beneath this thick immaculate white sheet which, when it fell upon the old buildings and the remaining greenery created a magnificent contrast. I fell asleep that day with the windows open, lulled by the sight of the flakes that landed majestically on the grass in the Forbes backyard, on the other side of my room. The next day, the intensified sunlight reflected on the snow woke me up. I got ready right away for a full tour of campus, as I did on my first day at Princeton back in July 2021. Indeed, it was as if I was discovering the campus for the first time.
After the first snowfall, the campus slowly came back to life. Student-athletes, staff and faculty eased back to work. I started feeling the excitement about the Wintersessions I had signed up for and the winter internship I had secured through Princeton. I will probably write a blog post about them: Designing a Photo Exhibit (documenting the experience of black students attending the first-ever residential summer program at Princeton in 1964) and a discussion on forced migration. I am also very excited for the Spring semester!
P.S.: The Spiderman reference in the title was involuntary!