Holiday party small talk can be summed up in three questions: Do you love college? Do you know your major yet? And how long are you home for?
My responses were typical: Yes, I love college. No, I do not know what I am majoring in, but people were shocked to find out that us Princetonians get three weeks off.
“Only three weeks! Wow, that’s too bad!” was the comment I received the most, but I think the shorter winter break actually benefits students, particularly first-years.
To begin with, we are one of the few schools that is given a weeklong fall break toward the end of October. This time away, fairly early in the year, was crucial. It helped quell my homesickness, while my friends at other schools had to hold out until Thanksgiving, but that chance to go home also made me realize that I was more comfortable at Princeton than I had thought.
Within a few days, I was surprised to find myself missing the omelets in RoMa dining hall, the Sunday cinnamon buns in Wu Hall, the Street, and my new friends. Stepping away from something often makes you appreciate it more, and having that chance early on in my college experience helped me value my time at Princeton. If the Registrar’s Office were to consider removing that week in October and attaching it to the beginning or end of winter break, it’d be a huge mistake.
Three weeks is enough time to see the important people in one’s life, but not enough to fully slip into the routines of home again. As I’m getting older, I’m beginning to understand how precious time is, and I would not be disciplined enough to take this lesson to heart if I had eight or even six weeks home. I’ve had to be really thoughtful about how I’m spending my time, and with whom. These are not fun lessons to learn but are good to get a handle on earlier, rather than being shocked by the tough reality later.
This prioritization disrupts the way I used to interact with people at home, underscoring the fact that it is not the default anymore. Having to put this kind of thought and effort into what was once quite simple really drives home the idea that Princeton is now the reality of my life. I never really thought I would feel that way freshman year, but the shorter break keeps Princeton on my mind, rather than allowing it to drift back into being a foreign place again.
While a shorter break teaches some necessary life lessons, another scheduling change would help facilitate enjoyment. We could have reading period and exams before the winter break. Three weeks is a great amount of time to be home — if you are not working for parts of it, and if your mind doesn’t occasional brew with panic about the work waiting for you when you get back. I’m sure I am not the first student to raise this concern, but in terms of the students who say that our break is too short, this would be the best way to counter that argument. We don’t need a lot of time away from Princeton, but time away meaning no work for a bit would be much appreciated.
Catching up with friends, sleep, and Netflix over the three weeks of break was great. We all need a break, especially at a place like Princeton. This may change as I go through the years at Princeton, but I firmly believe that our staggered breaks throughout the fall semester helped my transition into college life much more than a longer winter break would have.
Rachel Kennedy is a first-year from Dedham, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.