As a junior, I can only describe my frosh week as volcanic. On the surface, everything appears the same as it always has. We flock to Cloister Inn every night for the revelry of catching up with both great friends and forgotten acquaintances. Nassau’s restaurants fling their doors open for the thousands of hungry students waiting for meal plans to start. We let off one last burst of steam to prepare ourselves once again for a year of challenges. But there’s a new comfort for us now. We know our majors, we’ve survived Bicker, and we’ve made our closest friends. Much unlike the past two frosh weeks, this year I feel like I truly belong here at Princeton.
But despite that solace, a nostalgic dread bubbles like lava beneath the surface — a mini midlife crisis. It seems to plague every college kid at this halfway point. You can hear the subdued panic on the Street and in our dorms. It’s in all the shallow courtesies of catching up: “Can’t believe we’re juniors already!” “Would you believe it’s already been two years?” These passing greetings are all reluctant and euphemistic confessions of what I’ve been deliberately denying all summer long: We’re old now. I, for one, am ecstatic to have found so many friends and passions over my two years here. And yet, I feel strangely deflated: Yeah, this is awesome, and I’m satisfied, but could there possibly be more out there for me? Is this what those working-professional alumni remember as the best years of their lives? Should I be doing something else — something more — to make all this time, money and effort truly worthwhile?
It all seems particularly bittersweet for me, as I will be studying abroad this spring. Yes, that’s quite a while away; I know that I’ve got loads of time until I leave in January. Then I’ll be cut off behind the Great Firewall of China. No Lawnparties, no Facebook, no Street, none of the social phenomena that make Princeton — and more generally, college — the formative experience that it is. But upon my return to the Orange Bubble next year, I will face my last frosh week. Job recruitment, apartment shopping and all those scary adult accoutrements of the future will finally be among my worries. Thoughts like these only worsen my paranoia and force me — despite how perfect my experience here has been — to consider cramming my life with more, if only to experience all that college has to offer.
And yet there have been moments that somehow seemed to calm my melodrama. In order to save some money in this week’s endless spending on food and furniture, I recently got off campus with friends in order to visit a roommate’s home in Ewing for dinner. There was nothing particularly special about the event. There was no big occasion to celebrate; the curried potatoes and rice still tasted like hospitality, just as they had for the past two years.
After dinner, I sat with my roommates around a shoddy Indian karaoke machine, belting covers of Whitney Houston classics with the host family. In this moment the eating clubs, resumes and herds of vulnerable freshmen melted away from my mind. I came to see that Princeton is indeed a special place, but it is not the only one. Obligations keep us here during the semester, such that we can seldom fathom our friendships outside the context of the campus where they were born. This is, superficially speaking, the beginning of the latter half of our career here. Really, though, it’s just the beginning of a feeling that we belong to a community larger than ourselves. At least I like to think so.
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