Opinion » Column | Sept. 12
If there’s anything Princeton has more of than free food, tiger puns and black bear warnings, it’s the opportunity for students to study abroad and immerse ourselves in a different culture. Scrolling through my Facebook newsfeed recently has become something akin to a Lonely Planet experience, from Rome to Beijing, Rio to Nairobi. It seems hard to imagine how anyone could possibly blame Princeton for being an Orange Bubble, yet it occurs all too often. Maybe it’s because the academics here makes it difficult to actively keep up with the outside world, maybe it’s just geography, but judging from my Facebook newsfeed alone, Princeton students are anything but oblivious to the world.
That said, some of Princeton’s “cultural immersion” programs are a bit too orange-tinted for them to be truly immersive. While our students’ safety is undoubtedly a first priority, Princeton’s administration limits vital learning opportunities by being so cautious about what activities students can engage in and where. Part of studying abroad is being able to interact with the local community and venturing out into the unknown, and none of that can be achieved by following a regimented schedule set up by the university.
Take Princeton in Beijing. The program is lauded for being a comprehensive cultural and language immersion program, geared towards garnering a complete understanding of Chinese life. Theoretically, this is true. Afternoons are usually free for students to explore the city, and teachers are all local graduate students who provide a glimpse into the local mentality. That said, the program’s quick pace and the threat of grade deflation keep most Princetonians within campus walls; the few free weekends are spent on organized (albeit optional) touristy trips. I’ve spoken to many who have attended the program, and while everyone agreed that it was an academic experience beyond compare, few felt like their cultural understanding of China had been significantly enhanced.
The same goes for some community service trips, including freshman orientation programs. Last weekend, President Eisgruber mentioned in his opening remarks that “service wasn’t a price we pay for happiness, but a prerequisite.” He spoke about the importance of understanding our community and realizing our critical role as a member of it. However, during my two weeks as a Community Action leader, I felt myself slightly disappointed by the lack of interaction with the Trenton community; our time was spent painting empty classroom walls or deserted halls. It’s not that I found the work unrewarding; on the contrary, we were all aware that even the most basic of chores could help our patrons spend more time doing their actual jobs instead of trying to make the campus more presentable. That said, CA is intended to be a community immersion program for the freshman class to understand the importance of service, and the lack of actual community interaction seemed less than ideal.
It’s important to note here that there are also many programs that do allow for more immersion opportunities, most especially in exchange programs. However, as a whole, the problem with Princeton’s Orange Bubble isn’t that we’re unaware of the world, but that we rarely have the chance to fully explore it. In order to truly become a part of the community, we need to be able to plunge into it without any restrictions, and nothing should overshadow our capacity to do this.
Ye Eun Charlotte Chun is a sophomore from Seoul, South Korea. She can be reached at email@example.com.