My First Year at Princeton University
Harry Ayto (OV2019) tells us about his first year of studying in the US at Princeton.
The impressive Basketball gym at Princeton
I had never heard of Princeton University until a year ago. I thank my Mum for the fact that I am student there now. She encouraged me to apply for the Sutton Trust US Programme - a charity that helps lower income students access higher education in the United States. I applied and was fortunate enough to get a place. Through the programme, I learned about financial aid, American culture and the differences between UK and US universities (there are a lot!). The highlight of the programme was a weeklong Summer school in the US, where we visited the Big Apple and numerous East Coast Universities. The culmination of the programme was applying to US universities and I was lucky enough to receive an offer from my first choice, Princeton, in early November.
I arrived on campus in early September the next year, the weather hot and humid. I have had so many opportunities and looking back on my first year, it all seems like a huge blur. The year commenced with international orientation, a few days just for international students to familiarise themselves with the American way of life. Then, the US students flocked to campus and the standard orientation and ‘opening exercises’ began. The activities included theatre productions, Clash of the Colleges (a fun games competition between the six residential colleges), acapella performances and parties. As part of the orientation, I also completed ‘Outdoor Action’, where I wild camped in Shenandoah National Park (think no toilets, no showers and no tents). It is safe to say that we all desperately needed a shower upon returning to campus! After this, it was time to begin with actual studying. In the US, you take four classes per semester. In the Fall, I took German, Number Theory and classes on Brexit and nuclear policy. You don’t declare your major until the end of the second year and so the education is very broad and flexible. Currently, I am thinking of majoring in Economics.
Of course, university is not just about academics. In terms of extra-curriculars, I played squash, had a part time job in the dining halls (yes, we have dining halls - meaning no independent cooking and all you can eat buffets for every meal) and tutored at a local prison in New Jersey. There is a huge partying culture at Princeton too. We have Eating Clubs which are essentially eleven Frat houses lined along Prospect Avenue (or as students so endearingly call it, ‘The Street’). Despite the drinking age being 21 in America, beer is free in the Eating Clubs and totally legal in the eyes of the university! New York is also very close to Princeton and so I have been there multiple times for day trips.
Whilst at university, I massively milked my British identity. The Americans are apparently absolutely fascinated by our culture and accent. However, I’m not so sure that they envisaged a Brummy accent when they thought of a British accent!
All of this fun unfortunately came to an end in early March. Princeton was one of the first universities to send students home as a result of Coronavirus, and now I have the great joy of taking classes virtually through Zoom. It’s not quite the same but during this time of crisis it’s important to remain grateful for what you have.
I have thoroughly enjoyed my first year in the US. I have developed and matured massively. Immersing myself in a foreign culture has certainly altered some of my perspectives. I would highly recommend any Sixth Form students at Bishop Vesey’s to look into American education. It is a perfectly feasible and affordable alternative option to the standard path. Please feel free to contact me.
Harry Ayto (OV ’19)