I remember leaving campus to head back to California, the first time I’d ever traveled alone — an experience I shared with many other students. And just like them, I would have been consumed by the paranoia of unwittingly detouring from my meticulously crafted schedule of NJ Transit times and airplane boarding gates had I not had my peers by my side. But as I stared down the aisle of the NJ Transit train heading to Princeton Junction, I was comforted by the familiar glances exchanged between classmates in organic chemistry precepts. I smiled at the pleasant introductions between Forbesians and Rocky-ites who had never met each other until the fated train ride and chuckled at hushed whispers about the previous night’s mediocre hookup on the Street. It seemed that from that first step onto the Dinky to picking up my suitcase at baggage claim in Southern California, I was continuously greeted by some element of Princeton — some semblance of home.
So what is it about this place that manages to make its students feel right at home even after the first month of its eight semesters? While I’ve heard our tour guides rave about the school’s availability of resources to undergraduate students, extraordinary professors and their research opportunities, the spacious dining halls and the multifaceted student body, I find myself separated from this cookie-cutter explanation about the pros of being a Princetonian.
When asked on a bitingly frigid autumn afternoon, very few of us would say that we came to Princeton for the comfortable weather, but perhaps we would reply with something a bit more random but a bit more personal. Maybe we’d answer that it was having an unexpected debate about the paradoxes of war in science fiction with College Master Jeff Nunokawa or walking over to breakfast alone and later leaving with a herd of friends that we had stumbled upon while spooning country-style potatoes onto our plates. Maybe we’d say it was noticing the signature of a ’76 alumnus etched out on our library study carrels while cramming for midterms or having the most insightful discussions with some girl from the neighboring entryway in the bathroom as we brushed our teeth. At every turn, we are met by the accidental charm and incredible sense of community that Princeton seems to lend at the most surprising instances.
After my first few weeks, I came to the simple conclusion that people come to Princeton to be with family. Think about it — with the closest metropolises at least an hour and $17 away, we’ve had to make our own version of a bustling city within the confines of the campus gates. It’s not to say that Princeton as a city doesn’t offer its resources, what with its artisan bakeries filled with sugary, fattening confections that drive us that much quicker toward our regulatory freshman 15, or its preppy, elitist clothing stores that seem determined to dress Princeton students into their stereotype with their boat shoes and salmon-pink chino shorts. But for the University, it is we the students who have created this dysfunctional family dynamic embedded with our quirks and ever-random interests that somehow manage to make us as a group make sense. As a hall mate of mine once joked, where else can you join a legitimate club that trains you to strategize in poker or sign up on a listserv to get access to a year’s worth of restaurant-quality free food?
Nearly every element that we see on a daily basis has reaffirmed the faith that Princeton desperately tries to make its students lucky to be here. And you can tell that others feel it too. From the avid Asian tourist groups that are as integral to the Princeton experience as the students themselves to the brides and grooms that choose our chapel for their special days, the outside world is drawn in to this brimming, multicultural society that Princeton students have created for themselves. It is because we don’t have the “everything” that students of universities adjacent to New York City, Chicago or Boston enjoy that we have been forced to adeptly improvise. But it is also because of this that we have learned to make Princeton home with just each other.
Isabella Gomes is a freshman from Irvine, Calif. She can be reached at email@example.com.