“I’m a very visual person, I have a very visual understanding of the world; but I couldn’t have imagined what Princeton would look like as a campus, and I couldn’t have imagined what the people would look like,” says Jacob Rosenzweig, a Tulane student currently studying at Princeton.
Rarely ever compared before with respect to culture, people, or politics, New Orleans and Princeton now have something wholly unique in common: they are both homes—prior and current—to 25 undergraduate and five graduate students this fall term. The University has joined a national consortium of colleges offering admission to displaced New Orleans students seeking an academic and social home for the semester. Out of roughly 200 seeking interest in temporarily continuing studies at Princeton, a small number of Tulane University students were selected to start over again at a school that has a policy of not allowing transfer students, only “visiting” ones.
“You know that ‘Talking Heads’ song, ‘Find Yourself a City to Live In?'” Rosenzweig asks me. “I keep hearing freshmen saying that, after visiting many schools or cities, they decided that Princeton was the school for them—whether it was because they found people like them or something similar, I don’t know—but it’s never been that way for me, adding, “I don’t think there’s a city for me, I haven’t been everywhere.”
Originally from Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Rosenzweig is a fifth-year student at Tulane in the school’s five-year architecture program. At Tulane, he played soccer and performed in a band, one that he as describes, “escaped all genres”—i.e. they played mainly rock music. Here, he has become an activity-less senior for now, a brief member of the class of 2006, parting the sometimes-stubborn waters of senior year.
The University grouped Rosenzweig with two other visiting Tulane students, one a first-year student and the other a sophomore, in what was likely an attempt to provide a support system for the students involved.
The living room of their suite in Henry Hall—originally closed for renovation this year, but reopened to accommodate the visiting Tulane students—has a disheveled, bare look to it. Efforts to fully move in, arrange, or decorate seem to have been abandoned mid-action, and the personalities of its inhabitants do not yet grace the common room. Laptops and phones adorn desks, yet have not been plugged in. The large window provides the only reliable connection to the outside world of Princeton.
“The president of the school [Tulane] writes a blog every day,” Rosenzweig tells me, explaining that the journal updates the students on the school’s progress. He believes that Tulane will be ready for students again by next spring, and that even the city of New Orleans is making steady progress.
The architecture major is sitting cross-legged in a standard dorm-issue chair, eating crackers and dressed in a purple and blue plaid shirt and brown pants. His focused blue eyes betray an affability that allows for an easy rapport about his transitioning experience. He picked Princeton for academic reasons: he is writing a thesis on New Orleans infrastructure and knew a PhD student at Princeton who is studying the same topic. After sending the University his high school and college transcripts and two academic references, he left his mostly undamaged house near Tulane for the lush, dry grounds of Princeton.
The self-described “mysterious outsider” thinks back on his first social experiences at his new school – mainly at a place he amusingly calls Prospect Avenue, more familiarly known as the “Street.”
“The first night I was here, my neighbor in the hall took us to Prospect—Street?—Avenue; I went to T.I. and all those places – it actually looked similar to Tulane,” he says. Throughout the interview, he stresses that he can only relate an evolving, limited perception from the two weeks that he has been here. Nevertheless, the self-aware student engages me in his memories.
“I saw a lot of freshmen, and from what I’ve found out over the past two weeks, a lot of these people have been working really hard at boarding schools of the same sex, so this is their first free co-ed experience, so they’re drunk and horny—which is how it was freshmen year at Tulane. It’s just five years ago—it’s kind of a shock to see it again,” he says with a laugh.
Once on the Street at an eating club, another student was poking fun at his Southern accent, yet afterwards various people approached him to apologize for the student’s comments. The next day, after thinking Princeton “social life was not an option,” he gave the Street another chance by going out to Terrace Club. Meeting people there for the first time, he ended up hanging out with them “until 5 a.m., at a girl’s house hanging out in the backyard, talking about all kinds of cool stuff, looking at the stars,” he says. It was his first “intimate experience” at Princeton—one that has led to meeting more people and becoming more comfortable in the college’s social scene.
On the whole, in fact, Rosenzweig has received a very friendly, if not always sincere welcome.
“I just try not to have a closed attitude, and I’m not sure if I can tell for sure if they all have closed attitudes,” he says, adding, “A lot of people are very open when I first meet them because I’m from Tulane,” yet he is not sure if the encounters are ‘realistic.’”
He says that he has found something in Princeton academic life different from Tulane’s, namely an environment where students are enthusiastic about learning and being at college.
Yet he has found differences in the popular aesthetic trends at the two schools. As a result, he continues jokingly, “There are a lot of guys here probably saying I’ll get all the girls because I dress like a freak.” A freak meaning that he likes to shop at thrift stores instead of Ralph Lauren.
But Rosenzweig suffers from many of the same problems his new fellow Princetonians do. Of his friends from Tulane, distributed all over the nation adjusting to the life of a new school, Rosenzweig admits, “The cell phone reception in my room makes it hard for me to keep in touch with old friends.”