Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not actually from Princeton. No, it’s worse than that; I’m from the town next door, called Montgomery, which basically claims Princeton as its own even though parts of our town lack that illustrious 609 area code.
From sixth through eighth grade, I spent my Friday nights loitering on Nassau Street and taking peace-sign pictures in the Woody Woo fountain. My crew and I used to pop out on a Saturday to have a formal sit-down dinner at Qdoba and wander around the tiny lawn outside of Nassau Hall like docile, penned cattle. I even remember the old, burnt toast-looking Wawa that was the size of a dorm in Wilson and inherently a fire hazard.
Yes, I’m an area girl, and despite the perks of familiarity and a home cooked meal 15 minutes away, I struggled with my local origins a lot during the first few weeks of school.
We all know how the first few weeks of freshman year go; you’re talking to someone new and you’re asked your name followed by the inevitable “Where are you from?”
I would shrug up my shoulders and say something like “Oh, I live in Montgomery, it’s 15 minutes away or so…” but despite the difference in name and in school district, that still doesn’t change the fact that I’m from… well, here.
My fellow freshmen had made the trek to Princeton from the likes of Arizona, California, Texas, and more. I’ve met international students who hail from Ghana, Pakistan, Greece, and other countries. On move in day, I made a grand voyage of eight miles.
All of the fabulous summer adventures my classmates brought to the table didn’t help my feelings of inadequacy either. While others had traveled the world or embarked on life-changing service trips, I spent my summer blowing up inflatables and manning the craft table as a camp counselor at my alma mater, a prep school that is also about fifteen minutes away from Princeton (I can’t escape).
Simply put, I thought my origin story was pretty lame. I’m effectively a townie, although we enlightened ones at Princeton would never use such a phrase with narcissistic, elitist undertones. I wasn’t sure when or how to chime in when people talked about their hometowns because I figured that everyone would eventually discover mine anyways. We even went to my local ShopRite on my CA trip.
But as the weeks have passed and conversations have dipped below surface, I've started to see some of the ways in which my local roots might not be such a detriment. For one, I know where everything is in relation to campus, so if you're looking for the mall or the best place to get your hair done, I’ve got you covered. I also feel remarkably comfortable here after a few short weeks and I can’t discount the benefit of being so close to loved ones and being able to see familiar faces just by crossing the street.
I’ve slowly realized that it’s not where you're from that makes or breaks your identity or how you are perceived, but it’s the experiences you bring to the table that ultimately shape what type of impression you make on someone. I have indeed left this 15-mile radius before, and those adventures have influenced who I am just as much as the ones that happened down the street.
Finally, everyone always claims that college is “all about new experiences” (cue montage featuring zany collegiate antics). Despite the overuse of this saying, I’ve found it to be true so far. One’s origin story will always be important, but it’s the memories we create together that will ultimately build relationships in this new environment. Princeton’s not done with you yet; take it from a townie.