Why we need to burst the Orange Bubble

Love the bubble, but learn to burst it

It’s easy to get lost in Princeton, and I don’t only mean that for the spatially inept, I-need-Maps- to-go-everywhere people like me. I mean that it’s easy to get lost in the haze of history readings, COS assignments, sports practices, arch sings, speeches, meetings, and whatever else we’re involved in. Oftentimes breakfast can be a luxury, and you probably start to think there’s something wrong if you wake up to an empty inbox. It’s not easy to be here, but it can be really easy to not leave. There’s so much to do that we sometimes don’t leave campus for weeks at a time: we say we’re “going out” to The Street or “getting off-campus” to buy something at CVS, but the parameters of our bubble stretch out to Nassau and Prospect.

Last semester, I interviewed a Harvard-graduated Princeton professor. Jokingly, I asked “So, Professor, Harvard or Princeton?” His short answer was “Princeton” (as expected), but his longer one was a little more surprising and profound. Roughly paraphrased:

Princeton is one-of-a-kind: it’s not uncommon or wrong to liken it to Hogwarts – it’s a magical place. Sadly, though, it’s this very magic that can put its students at a disadvantage with students from other top schools in more urban areas (like Harvard and Columbia). Not because Princeton students are any less intelligent, or any less well-taught, but because it becomes natural to forget that there’s a world outside this bubble in suburban Mercer County – a world filled with problems that can seem absurd to the educated university student. But education consists of real-world experience too, and though Princeton offers many opportunities for this, it can understandably be hard to take advantage of these because on-campus life is already so busy. But it’s important to do so, to get out – if not, adjusting back to real-world life can be difficult, even disappointing.

A little grim, huh? I thought so too. But not necessarily. Because unlike our counterparts (@ those with more Ivy League Snap Stories), if we try hard enough and know where to look, we can have both: the magic of Princeton and the world beyond its gates. As near as Trenton and as far as Italy, Princeton is filled with opportunities to go out to the real world and experience it. Eleven minutes away from campus is a daycare for homeless children that was recently struggling to buy a $100 vacuum cleaner, less than an hour away is a school district with a 48 percent high school graduation rate. And no, we can’t let the beauty of our bubble crowd out this reality. What we can do, though, is reach out to it and still enjoy the comfort of coming back to our orange bubble (at least until graduation).

So, enjoy being at the best damn place of all. Love the bubble, and capitalize on its endless offerings, but don’t be scared to burst it either. (Caution: as tempting as it may be, don’t get carried away and use the “sorry, I’m out saving Trenton” excuse to skip lecture).

I know adding “get out for a bit” to a page-long To-Do-List or to an already-overcrowded calendar is probably as appealing as your next 9am, but it may just be worth it.

Whether it’s some initiative in Trenton offered by the PACE Center a couple of hours a week or concert-filled trip to the city with friends for a weekend, getting off-campus may be just what you need to get back on track.

Princeton University