Back in mid-March, when I arrived back in Australia, I hadn’t spent longer than two months at home for the last two years. When I left for America in the fall of 2018 to begin my freshman year at Princeton, I left my entire life behind with it — my friends from high school, the club team where I used to train, the part-time jobs I had tutoring local kids or lifeguarding at my school’s 25m indoor pool.
Instead of taking the traditional route — graduate from high school, enroll at one of the five universities most popular among students at my school, and begin my degree in either law, commerce, arts, or engineering — I chose something different. Something that sent me on a path that diverged sharply from the norm and pulled me far away from the lives of my Australian friends.
Arriving home in March without a return date, I sought to reconnect with those I had lost touch with. In doing so, I learned what could have been and, more importantly, what Princeton has given me instead.
Some of my closest friends from school followed the aforementioned path, studying the same subjects and going to the University of Sydney, Melbourne, or New South Wales. Each day, before the COVID-19 lockdown, they would commute to university from home, sit through a lecture in a hall of people they did not know, and go to a precept in a room of people that they, once again, did not know.
Their friends remained the same as they were in high school, and most of them cannot name a single new friend they have made during the past three or so years they have spent at university. Most of them don’t have the luxury of connecting through regularly attended university extracurriculars, clubs, or groups.
Perhaps the most telling description of my friends’ university experience is their assertion that they cannot wait for their degree to be over.
And, for the most part, I can understand why that is the case. For a typical Australian, the difference between being a university student and being a working adult is relatively small. University does not change them — if they were to graduate tomorrow, their lives would remain largely the same as they are today.
Over the past few months, as I have seen myself slip into a life that would have been had I not made that decision to travel to America two years ago, I have begun to understand what Princeton has given me.
Namely, it has given me a chance to be young for longer.
Not one of my Australian friends understands what it is like to live on a campus with thousands of others going through the same experiences at the same time in their lives. They don’t have the luxury of existing in a social bubble, having the freedom to make mistakes or make their own choices within the protected sphere of a college campus. They are not exposed to the lives, stories, and interests of individuals whose backgrounds differ vastly from their own.
As I’ve lived here for the past six months, separated from the Orange Bubble, my friends, and campus life, I have found myself acclimating to my friends’ realities. With this comes a feeling of having grown, perhaps nearly to the point where I have outgrown college altogether.
Of course, there is nothing like a pandemic to acquaint you with the fragility of that feeling of “youngness.” The Orange Bubble isn’t impenetrable, after all.
But lingering in the back of my mind is the knowledge that one day it will all resume to what once was. I will get to feel young again, at least for a small amount of time. I will belong to a campus of people all going through the same experiences. I will get to rejoice in the excitement and the potentialities that come with sitting on the precipice of adulthood.
But for now, I have the memories of what once was, and the promises of what will be.
Claudia Frykberg is a junior in the English Department. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.