into the Princeton Mix
By Jennifer Albinson '05
When I developed the pictures from the winter formal dance at
my eating club, one in particular surprised me.
The image showed from right to left good friends Sam, Jefferson,
Alexis, Lisa, and some kid I didn't know. After looking at it twice,
I remembered the kid as Lisa's date, one of those exchange students
As I examined the snapshot, I remembered how he had scooted closer
to Lisa in order to be included, even though he'd never met me,
the girl on the other end of the camera counting to three.
This picture had frozen a moment for me, and for him. It froze
him eagerly participating in culture that was foreign for him.
Indeed, for him and his fellow exchange students, most every facet
of Princeton life is unfamiliar.
Even when it comes to alcohol, the social lubricant that enables
classic college craziness 'round the world, the Oxford students
noticed distinctions between their place and ours. Rather than the
Princeton method of overconsuming alcohol (but just on the weekends!),
the Oxford students are accustomed to a more relaxed approach to
drinking, having campus bars in each subcollege of their university.
Back home, they would kick back a drink or two at the end of the
day much like Princetonians veg out in front of the big television
in Frist with a piece of pizza.
Lisa's date, whose name I learned was Matt Cartwright, is a senior
and is one of 12 Oxford University students who came to Princeton
this year as part of a new Princeton-Oxford exchange program, now
in its second year.
This exchange, which directly connects the academic departments
of Princeton and Oxford, not only brings students to Princeton,
but also sends Princeton students to Oxford, with five students
spending their fall semester at Oxford, and three in the spring.
The 12 Oxford students currently at Princeton, who range from sophomores
to seniors, from historians to biologists to mechanical engineers,
found out about the program through e-mails Oxford sent out, and
were immediately interested in spending a semester or a year in
this central Jersey town.
In addition to the academic experience, they were enticed by the
opportunity to go to the U.S. (many of the students had never been
to the former colony), and experience a new culture.
To this end, the students have fully integrated themselves into
the Princeton community, living in dorms, joining eating clubs,
and playing on sports teams. They have also visited New York and
other East Coast cities.
Another difference involves specialization. In the British education
system, senior exchange student Alex Quayle says, "you specialize
starting at age 16." In his case, this means that while his
American counterparts were looking toward getting their driver's
licenses, he was narrowing his academic studies to mechanical engineering.
This early focus allowed him, and his fellow exchange students,
to feel a step ahead of their peers at Princeton, although they
quickly concede that they missed out on the broad liberal arts experience.
While Princeton's mechanical engineers round out their schedules
with English literature and art history courses, Alex feels obligated
to remain within the discipline he has studied for years and years.
In addition to early specialization, the Oxford students have
found other differences. Senior exchange student Rachel Armitage
says professors' methods of constantly testing the students are
"stifling." Armitage feels that frequent graded assignments
at Princeton, all of which "matter" in that they factor
into the G.P.A., provides less opportunity for a student to learn
In contrast, Oxford's tutorial system allows students to work
closely and routinely with professors to deconstruct and discuss
the material before having to display their understanding of it
Like Armitage, exchange student Matt Cartwright agrees that tests
are too frequent at Princeton. He feels Princeton students are so
focused on finishing their problem sets, tests, laboratory reports,
and essays, that they lack the "time to learn things properly."
Associate Dean of the Collge Nancy Kanach, who coordinates the exchange
program, notes that the Oxford students "realize that lectures
play a more crucial role in their education at Princeton."
But despite frustrating differences, they enjoy involving themselves
socially at Princeton. Cartwright joined the club rugby team, and
traveled with them to Trinidad and Tobago over the intersession
break. Armitage joined the women's varsity field hockey team, but
could not play in games because of N.C.A.A. regulations.
The sophomore students lived in residential colleges, where they
ate in dining halls and participated in the colleges' programming.
Five of the upperclass students joined Colonial Club, after the
club's president met the students and realized that by living in
single dorm rooms and eating at the Frist Campus Center, they "lacked
a social focus." The club president, Mike McFadden '04, worked
with the students and the club's office to determine a meal plan
that would enhance their experience without overburdening them financially.
He also met with Dean Kanach, who agreed to inform future students
about the benefits and costs of joining an eating club. Colonial
Club, in turn, promised that in coming years it would "do [its]
best to accept as many of the exchange students" as possible.
The students are pleased with their decision to come to Princeton.
While there have been unpleasant surprises Quayle broke his
arm and was astounded at the cost of American healthcare
they have enjoyed their experience. In fact, they claim the only
thing that could make Princeton better would be a campus bar.
Jennifer Albinson '05 can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.