Coming to Princeton from Philadelphia, a city slicker like me should have been disappointed by the simplicity and isolation of campus. Surely the manicured lawns, empty streets, and not worrying about getting mugged when walking back to my dorm at 2 a.m. ought to have felt anticlimactic somehow. Instead, I was a rat in a maze, stumbling through identical-looking fields with large white tents and diagonal sidewalks, trying to decipher which arch was which, walking all the way down Washington Road past Powers Field looking for the Neuroscience building (twice). I even found myself lost in my own hall, wandering up and down flights of stairs and through identical passageways.
(Washington Rd. by Powers Field)
There’s a stigma attached to getting lost here. Nobody wants to admit they don’t know where they’re going. When the automated voice of Google Maps breaks the tranquility of the morning air as students shuffle past me to class, I frantically reduce the volume. But it’s too late. They know. I’ve been caught.
If you’re reading this and nodding, take solace in the fact that you’re not alone.
Lizzie Parker ’21, a freshman in Forbes college, has shared in these struggles as well. Parker is a copy editor for The Daily Princetonian.
“This happened yesterday,” she informed me as we stood in line for late meal. “I was biking to my politics class but they moved the class from McCosh Hall to the art museum building. So I’d only been there once, and I tried to go a slightly different way that I thought would be faster, and I ended up like behind Wilson I think, but I’m not really sure where I was. I actually fell off my bike, so that wasn’t fun.”
She ended up walking into class five minutes late and bleeding.
I asked if she would ever seek help from another student in this kind of situation.
“No,” Parker replied immediately. Like most of us, she prefers the somewhat under-the-radar experience of Google Maps.
(I took this photo when approaching Whitman while trying to get to Frist)
It seems that getting lost is inevitable; everyone does it, some more than others. The tangible sensation of panic in the rain at night while trying to find Frist is only one of the ways students here (or maybe just me) have experienced lostness.
To delve into this further, I spoke to two Mathey freshmen, Jessie Fielding ’21 and Alexander Kim ’21, both prospective math majors, about their experiences of being lost in the classroom. After all, math is something I fear getting lost in almost as much as in the woods at night.
But Fielding has only positive things to say. (Well, mostly. When asked why she chose to take MAT 215, she first said, “because I’m a masochist” before assuring me that she was kidding.) In a more serious tone, she added, “I want to major in math and I thought this was a good class to take.”
When asked if he often finds himself lost in class, Kim said, “Yes...it’s a good kind of lost, most of the time.”
Fielding elaborated on this by explaining how over the summer she rediscovered her love for jigsaw puzzles: “I would sit down with a jigsaw puzzle and just be completely gripped by it. I could not leave. I physically could not leave the puzzle. Math is a more fun version of that.”
I also inquired about what they do when they feel lost.
“Stare at each other for a moment and then hope like hell somebody asks the question,” Fielding said.
(Alexander Kim in the MAT 215 classroom)
Kim added, “I think you discover that you need to look at someone else and realize that they look just as confused as you do. It’s comforting.”
For many, the thought of getting lost inspires fear and recalls the lowest point in a hero’s trajectory before the completion of the quest. But that feeling of uncertainty also means the adventure isn’t over. And for people like Kim and Fielding, that adventure is the best part.
Still, all adventures must eventually end. I know now that the Neuroscience building is not across Washington Road. I know the quad with the diagonal sidewalk is mine. I know which arch to pass through, and which arch to avoid. Fielding and Kim have begun to understand sets and complex fields. Parker has figured out how to get almost anywhere from Forbes. The wonder begins to fade as comfort settles in.
(The arch that I now know is Blair Arch)
But only temporarily. A character from the TV show “Lost” once said, “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” There will always be new terrains, harder proofs, more treacherous bike paths, and plenty of times when we realize that the things we thought we knew we didn’t really know at all.