When I first stepped onto Princeton’s castle-like campus, I was in awe of all the beauty, all of the ivy, and all of the greenery. If you walk down to South campus, you will stumble onto a beautiful river tucked into the woods. If you go up to North campus, you will reach the notoriously affluent Nassau street (not so friendly to my wallet). I am currently living in Bloomberg Hall, one of the few dorms with AC on campus. I have learned to appreciate Californian dry weather through exposure to the humidity of the East Coast this summer.
During the weekends, I tend to travel a little to get to know other East Coast hubs. The Public Policy and International Affairs (PPIA) Program is financially generous and so have planned paid trips for us to visit Philadelphia and New York, where we attended a Yankees Game and a Broadway show. However, the program itself is no joke.
As a Junior Summer Institute Fellow at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, I am taking classes in Advanced Economics, Advanced Statistics, and an International Relations Policy Workshop taught by James I. Gadsden, a former American diplomat and former U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. These classes are intended to strengthen our quantitative skills background, especially for those of us considering public policy and international relations graduate schools. I attend each class three times a week and I am assigned problem sets and policy memos as homework. One of the greatest assets we enjoy in this program is the availability of tutors every day of the week.
Although the classes are tough and the work is substantial, there is beauty in doing work during the summer for the sake of learning. The classes are graded, but the students are taught to try their hardest instead of focusing on letter grades. Also, since we are not occupied with our numerous extracurricular activities, internships, or classes, we are able to delve deeper into the material.
However, if I had to choose the biggest perk of this fellowship, I would probably say that it is the the network of highly-motivated individuals looking to positively change the world. The students all come from different backgrounds and have passions different than my own, which makes this place the most diverse setting I have ever been a part of. Through personal interactions, these students have reinforced in me the importance of recognizing the intersectionalities in identities. They have also suggested ways in which I can become a better accomplice (“ally” has become too passive a term) for socially-excluded identities.
One of the best highlights thus far was our trip down to Washington D.C. Through Ambassador Gadsden’s ties to the US Department of State, we were able to meet up with certain European Union officials and discuss our policy proposals with respect to the regions we are studying. The region that I am working on is Latin America and I am studying the EU-US cooperation to decrease the illicit drug market in Colombia. These officials were working with law enforcement agencies back in Colombia and with the EU; hence, this was the absolute best group of professionals to talk to about this matter.
We were also lucky enough to meet Barbara Bodine, former Ambassador to Yemen, American diplomat, and now professor at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown. Throughout the International Relations Policy Workshop, Ambassador Gadsden invited many speakers to our class; however, Ambassador Bodine was my favorite. She was eloquent, she challenged the ways in which we approach conflict resolution in the Middle East, and she linked terrorism abroad to the domestic terrorism here in the United States, specifically to the Charleston Shooting Terror caused by a White Supremacist.
Besides the ongoing talks and various speakers with many IR-related topics and issues, we had a networking component to our trip to DC. I was able to meet other PPIA Fellows who were working in the DC area — many of them were young and have been an alums for a year now. We were introduced to directors and recruiters for the State Department, the CIA, and several think tanks focusing on proposing policy. We also attended a graduate college fair of all the schools who were in the PPIA network. By being a PPIA Fellow, we are granted free applications to these schools, if we decide to go the Public Policy route, and at least a $5,000 scholarship once we get there. As a low-income student, this is a pretty sweet deal!
All in all, I am enjoying my time at Princeton, and I know now that I have many different directions in which my career passion and interests can go. Having many options and opportunities opened up to me makes me feel both excited and overwhelmed, but I needed this program to keep me focused on what my end goal is and what/where I should be applying to after Pomona College.