Princeton Before Princeton


"Sheesh, it's hot!"

That was my first comment when I stepped foot on Princeton's campus during the summer. I was told multiple times that the winters here were extremely cold. Yet, no one had warned me about the heat or the humidity here. I guess they just assumed that I was used to the hot and humid weather coming from the Caribbean. Truth is, I was not. Or maybe I was. Maybe I used to be. Maybe I forgot how to feel comfortable in 30-degree weather (or should I say 90-degree weather, since we are using Fahrenheit now!) after living abroad for close to two years. In any case, my first day at Princeton, I made the mistake of wearing a large 100% cotton dark blue sweater. It did not take me long to start the mistakometer: mistake number one!

This past summer, I was fortunate enough to be part of a cohort of ten students invited to attend the Freshman Scholars Institute (FSI) on campus. Considering the issues my country, Haiti, was facing, this was the best option to ensure I had access to the resources I needed to take advantage of this opportunity to explore Princeton before the official start of the semester. To get a taste of Princeton before Princeton.

 

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Gil and a friend in front of Blair arch on campus

Yet, I was insecure at first. I doubted that I would be able to succeed with online classes. Until then, my high school experience had been mostly negative. I remember my teachers and classmates being overwhelmed and inaccessible. The material was barely engaging. Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of this dark epoch was the significant lack of interaction which for me represented a major issue. My favorite part about being a student has always been the ability to directly interact with and learn from both my peers and my instructors. Online learning seriously hampered this process. I was apprehensive about going through it all again. Besides, I was now going to Princeton. I anticipated the material to be comparatively more difficult with the teachers to expecting even more from me. 

The first thing I noticed when FSI started was the enthusiasm of the staff. They had this inspiring way of drawing everyone in and keeping us engaged. They were well imbued with the challenges that coordinating this online program entailed and instead of using the circumstances to justify their shortcomings, they were determined to brave all obstacles to make the experience just as enjoyable as if everything was happening in person, although in a distinct and special way.

I had the impression that everyone wanted me to feel at ease. I progressively started to feel more comfortable interacting and asking questions.  My professors made sure that I had access to all the resources and assistance necessary to succeed in their courses. On the one hand, there were office hours, learning consultations, writing center appointments… etc. On the other hand, I received support from departments and offices at Princeton that targeted my individual identities and were able to address the specific challenges that I was likely to face because of them. This included support for international students, ESL and multilingual students, students of color, first-generation and lower-income students. I suddenly felt excited about learning, meeting new people and trying out new things that seemed appealing to me now that I was in this space. 

These six weeks at FSI mainly taught me two things. First, I learned that while things can (and will) be tough at Princeton, I will always find the resources to support me in whatever I am going through and that I can count on the help of passionate people who genuinely care about my success. Second, I learned that it gets very hot here during the summer! 

I look forward to many more mistakes and even more learning opportunities!


 


An International Student's Guide for Arrival


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

Step One: Open a Bank Account

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

Step Two: Get a SIM Card

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

Step Three: Find Dorm Furnishings

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

Step Four: Prepare for Classes

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

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


A Day in the Life of a Remote Princeton Student


Although all Princeton students were invited back to campus for the Spring 2021 semester, students also had the option to continue learning remotely.  I’m one of those students who chose to continue remotely — but I also was looking for a change of pace from the Fall 2020 semester.  Instead of staying at home in Colorado, I’m currently living in the Czech Republic with my grandparents.

I decided to make the move in order to spend more time with my extended family and to sharpen up my Czech language skills.  I study Slavic Languages & Literatures at Princeton, but there’s nothing quite like an in-person immersion to really ramp up the pace of learning.  Here’s what my typical school day looks like: 

8:30 a.m. - I usually wake up around this time.  Because of the time difference, all my classes are in the evening, so I don’t need to set alarms to wake up.  One of the perks of living off campus!  After I wake up, I get ready for the day and make myself tea and bread with jam for breakfast.  

9:30 a.m. - Time for work.  I check my email and then start working on assignments.  Today, I’m working on a problem set for my linguistics course.  Later, I’ll read a poem for my Russian course, so I’m prepared to ask questions and comment on the material during class.  If I finish early, I might get a head start on my readings for my history seminar — I do about 150 pages of reading a week for all of my courses.  

12:00 p.m. - Lunchtime!  During the week, my grandma usually cooks meals so I have time for my coursework.  On the weekends, I cook or we make something together.  She’s an excellent cook!  After the meal, I help clean up.  

1:00 p.m. - Now it’s time for our daily walk! It’s a cloudy day, but it’s not windy or cold.  We had snow here for a while, but it’s finally melted and we can see the beginnings of spring.  Today’s route takes us past the river, and we also get to see some animals.

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A small river with rocky banks and grass nearby

2:30 p.m. - After our walk, we have our afternoon coffee or tea.  It’s nice enough to sit outside today while we sip. 

3:00 p.m. - Back to my desk to finish anything I need to do before classes.  Usually I have more emails around this time, as those on campus begin their day.  

4:00 p.m. - Classes start!  I’m on Zoom for my linguistics lecture and my Czech class. 

6:00 p.m. - A short break for dinner before the rest of my classes.  For me, lunch is usually the biggest meal of the day and dinner is something quick.  

6:30 p.m. - Back to Zoom for the rest of my classes.  My Russian class is first, and then I have another break before my linguistics precept.  

10:30 p.m. - Classes are finally over and it’s time for bed.  Tomorrow is another full day!

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A sheep standing in a grassy field


Studying in the United States


Grace Lee

  • Hometown: Seoul, South Korea
  • Class Year: 2021
  • Major: Sociology (certificate in Entrepreneurship)
  • Email: yklee@princeton.edu 

 

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Grace Lee

As an international student from Korea, a racially homogeneous nation, I was not used to being surrounded by such a diverse population at Princeton, one where I am a racial minority. It was a challenge that I had not anticipated prior to college. Yet, it came to significantly impact my identity. I even wrote my Sociology Junior Paper on this topic (the racialization of international students from homogeneous countries in higher ed in the US). However, as much as that diversity initially made the Princeton environment seem foreign to me, the very diverse make-up of Princeton's campus came to be one of the best parts about the community and helped me find a strong sense of belonging at the University.  The sense of connection to Princeton's broader community came from the recognition of how I help contribute towards to that incredibly rich diversity. Through being part of diverse, dynamic communities in my residential college, student clubs, classes, the Davis International Center, and several other spaces, I have become more aware and proud of my identity as a Korean. Now, I have a deepened sense of appreciation for the diversity of thought that stems from varied backgrounds and experiences.


Ronnie Kihonge

  • Hometown: Nairobi, Kenya
  • Class Year: 2022
  • Major: Economics
  • Email: rkihonge@princeton.edu

 

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Ronnie Kihonge

As an international student, life on campus has had its fair share of ups and downs. From not knowing what products to buy because of the numerous brands America has to offer, to not knowing how to properly address my professors in emails. These nuanced challenges have been part of my Princeton experience. Fortunately, the Davis International Center (Davis IC) was there for me from the very first day. One of their student leaders was even kind enough to help me move in and get settled! While in the beginning I was uncertain about how to navigate Princeton, International Orientation helped me get a better sense of the school and eventually make close friends. The Davis IC also hosts regular events throughout the year that foster community among international students. We would meet, talk and joke about everything we were going through, and I would leave feeling like I wasn’t alone at Princeton. Joining different clubs also helped me transition into the Princeton community. The frisbee club, for example, was a way to make friends and also take a break from school work. As I became more comfortable, I decided to serve on Mathey's College Council in my sophomore year, organising weekly study breaks for students. I also found great joy in serving as director of PiE, a sub-group in the Entrepreneurship Club, which allowed me to meet great leaders in different entrepreneurial spaces.


Katherine Ross

  • Hometown: Toronto, Canada
  • Class Year: 2022
  • Major: Economics (certificates in cognitive science, German language and culture, and environmental studies)
  • Email: kfross@princeton.edu

 

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Katherine Ross

While coming from abroad presents its own challenges and hurdles for international students, the Davis International Center (Davis IC) staff understands and anticipates them. For example, during our International Orientation, there was a fair to help students learn about phone plans, set up bank accounts and ask any visa-related questions. I remember thinking that the event coordinators must have read my mind! They knew my concerns and planned an event to help my classmates and me settle in to our new home. The international students here at Princeton really do contribute to the diversity of opinions and backgrounds on campus, and I love that we have the Davis IC to celebrate and support that.

 

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Students at International Orientation

International Orientation was a great way for students to get to know campus, meet their residential college staff, and begin to bond with their fellow international students. I am from Toronto, Canada, and therefore, live closer to New Jersey than any American students from the West Coast. I remember debating whether or not I should attend International Orientation, but looking back, I am so grateful that I did! I am now a junior, and have met many other students, whether they are teammates, other students in clubs I am involved in or peers in the Economics department. Over the years, I continue to cherish the memories made with my fellow international students, during orientation and beyond!


Tanvi Nibhanupudi

 

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Tanvi Nibhanupudi

There’s no doubt that Princeton is challenging, and one of the challenges of being an international student is dealing with the culture shock. Having moved between London and Singapore, I considered myself fairly well-versed in navigating different cultures and, naively, I did not expect to experience culture shock. Yet, when I got on campus, I was overwhelmed but exhilarated by just how AMERICAN everything was. I was inspired by my friends’ passion for constitutional law, for moral debates, or even for finding the best chai latte on campus, Tiger Tea Room! My favourite part of Princeton will always be the conversations I’m having and the friends I’m making: everyone on campus is eager and excited to hear you bring your experiences from outside the U.S. to the discussion. The culture shock has even taught me so much about my own values and finding my place in the fields of journalism and economics. To be an international student on Princeton’s campus is to meet new people every single day, each with exciting stories that you may know nothing about. It is about learning and immersing yourself in a foreign country’s politics, history and culture. And, it is about having conversations that push the limits of your knowledge, shape your values, and teach you what it means to be an engaged global citizen.

 

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Tanvi with friends