Web Exclusives: On the Campus

September 27, 2006:

Summer studies, at home and abroad

By Laura Fitzpatrick ’08

This summer, Brian Santana ’08 navigated the Sahara Desert by camel. He sipped mint tea at roadside cafes perfumed by spices, figs and dates.  He traipsed along winding roads dotted by vendors hawking handicrafts. 

With grants from Princeton’s Department of Near Eastern Studies and Princeton’s Institute for International and Regional Studies, Santana was studying at the Arabic Language Institute in Fez, Morocco. It was about as far from Princeton as you can get, as he followed a route taken by many undergraduates in spending the summer studying abroad.

“Each house in the city is like a mini-temple,” Santana said, describing colorful mosaics crisscrossing the floor and lush gardens punctuated by fountains. The rich aesthetic was all of a piece with the slower pace of the city, he said, recalling how shop-owners would take a break from pushing their wares to invite students to share tea and conversation. A politics major, Santana said he developed a deeper understanding of Arab traditions and Muslim practices that will enrich his understanding of global affairs.

As part of Princeton’s Ishikawa internship program, Tom Arias ’08 spent his summer rotating among departments at the television/radio news studio MRO in Japan.  Interviewing important cultural figures in Japanese was a challenge. But Arias made time for fun, too: “I will never forget learning my first Japanese drinking game,” he said.  

Wistar Wilson ’08 spent a month studying at the Rhodes University summer school in Grahamstown, South Africa. Wilson’s most vivid memory is of visiting nearby townships rife with poverty, unemployment, and AIDS. “There was usually a whole field full of makeshift gravestones,” she said. “The names of the dead were written in marker on cardboard.” 

Beggars were common.  But Wilson remembers one man who wanted a different kind of help. “When he held out his hand as I walked by he said he didn’t want money, but please could I help him because he couldn’t read,” she said. “He’d gotten a letter from the government about his social grant and didn’t know what it was.”  

Working with Child and Family Health International, Carey Faber ’07 spent the summer in India, in rural Himalayan medical clinics. Aside from the obvious ­ the crowded conditions and the traditional food and dress ­ she noticed one major difference from Princeton, where Tigers rule: “There are monkeys everywhere!”  

PRINCETONIANS WHO OPTED to remain on campus for the summer faced a different set of challenges. Research alongside world-renowned professors or top-level jobs aside, many found the biggest adjustment to be finding new friends now that fewer students traversed the paths amid the greens and gothic spires.  

“The only thing I knew about [my roommate] coming into the summer was that he was working in the lab and he didn’t have Facebook,” said Luke Owings ’07, referring to the popular online student network. “Talk about a bad omen.”  

Owings was balancing a job at Merrill Lynch in Plainsboro with training in the varsity basketball weight room and research on his economics thesis. Eventually, he said, having long conversations after work with his roommate, Robbie Loughlin ’09, became the highlight of the summer. “I never would have gotten a chance to know him were I not on campus.”  

Andy Brett ’07 was dividing his time between working at an environmental consulting firm in Carnegie Center and researching for a civil and environmental engineering professor on structural risk from natural hazards such as hurricanes. He agreed that being on campus was a way to spice up his social routine. “It was like freshman week all over again,” he said. 

Aside from meeting new faces, with the Street quieter for the summer, many students found alternative spots to hang out. Brett watched summer thunderstorms from the top of Fine tower. Working in the PRISM micro/nano fabrication lab, Alex Kandabarow ’08 didn’t limit his time in the E-Quad to research hours. “I discovered a way to access the roof,” he said. “A few friends and I used this, along with a case or three of Milwaukee’s Best, to liven up an otherwise pedestrian Thursday evening.”  

“Last Saturday afternoon I was walking around town with a friend and we happened upon live music in Palmer Square,” said Blair Moorhead ’07, on campus for preliminary thesis research on women in fundamentalist religions. “Who strolls through Palmer Square when you have papers to write?” The best part of the summer, she said,  was having the freedom to explore a familiar place in a new way. “There’s no one sprinting to class or pulling all-nighters to get work done. It’s fabulous.”

FitzpatrickLaura Fitzpatrick ’08 is an English major from Ossining, N.Y.

Photo by Hyunseok Shim ’08