For many students, the University’s campus is like a second home. Throughout their four years here, campus transitions from being an undiscovered site to a comforting bubble where fun and work intersect. However, some students who arrive on campus for their first school year have called Princeton a part of home long before the first day of classes.
Students who grow up in the Princeton area recognize the University as a landmark of their own idea of home. Princeton’s campus has always been at the forefront of their consciousness and has been the place of many adventures even before they were accepted. Some current Princeton students were once the middle schoolers and high schoolers who walk along Nassau Street today. “There was a time in middle school when the cool thing to do was go and hang out downtown, which basically meant walking up and down Nassau Street and getting pizza somewhere,” Dan Sturm ’19, a lifelong resident of Princeton said.
Amy Liu ’19, who has lived in Princeton for 17 years, said that the town “was like a big carnival right in town and there was just so much to do.” She noted that although she didn’t spend a lot of time on the University’s campus, she remembered buying crafts made by students, going to McCarter Theatre to see performances, and watching Fourth of July fireworks in the stadium.
From even the limited time that Liu spent on campus, she remembers one location making an impression: the fountain in front of Robertson Hall. “It used to be a lot deeper. You could go in and run through the fountain in the summer... But too many people started bringing their kids in swimsuits to play there so they stopped doing that,” she explained.
Prachi Joshi ’19, who had lived in the Princeton for ten years until 2016, also explained that she did not spend a lot of time in downtown Princeton or on campus until the last two years of high school. However, she noted that her favorite things about the Princeton area were the local hiking and nature trails, recalling that she and her friends would go to Baldpate Mountain to go hiking and enjoy the scenery.
According to both Joshi and Liu, not spending time on the University’s campus as children has made the Orange Bubble seem almost as new to them as for other students. Liu explained that campus still felt pretty different to her. “There’s definitely still this idea of the bubble, even if you step outside and realize, ‘Oh, I’ve lived here all my life.’”
Joshi pointed out that “going to school close to home can be exactly what you want it to. You can pretend like you live hundreds of miles away or you can go home every weekend.”
However, to some, instead of being the ‘bubble’ that removes them from the world, the University’s campus feels like an extension of home. Sturm explained that he initially didn’t want to go to school close to home because “college always seemed like an opportunity to go and explore, go off into the world, broaden your horizon. Going to Princeton wasn’t that exciting in that respect.”
Sturm and Liu both took a gap year to get away from home for a year. While Liu partook in the Bridge Year program, Sturm worked at a general store located in a National Park in Wyoming, a ski reserve in Colorado, and then traveled in Bolivia for some time. Both noted that these experiences exposed them to a different set of people than the well-educated middle class majority that populates Princeton.
Sturm returned from his gap year hoping that perhaps the University would end up feeling foreign and exciting. However, he said he learned “this place is always my hometown, and I can’t really erase that.”