Admission Ambassador Stories

Connection to Academics at Princeton

The Novogratz Bridge Year Program's "Reflections & Connections" series features unique stories from the Bridge Year Admission Ambassadors. Each week, a different group of ambassadors will share their thoughts on a topic related to the Bridge Year experience. This week, Anna Hiltner ’23, Cody Mui ’23, John Bullock ’23, and Leopoldo Solis '21 reflect on the ways that Bridge Year prepared them for the Princeton academic experience.


In what ways did Bridge Year prepare you for studying at Princeton?

Anna Hiltner: After Bridge Year, I came to Princeton feeling more prepared and excited to explore my academic life than I would have been going directly to the university. Each week, my cohort not only studied Spanish, but also got to explore indigenous history, U.S Interventionism, food sovereignty, art, and more. I got to meet activists, farmers, diplomats, artists, and academics who specialized in different areas and ask them questions. On top of that, I learned through experience during our excursions, with my homestay family, at my worksite, and elsewhere. This gave me the worldview I needed to be confident in what I wanted to study at Princeton and left me more prepared to choose my classes and major.

John Bullock: Bridge Year made me much more receptive to new ideas and ways of thinking. This is because many of the conversations that you have as well as many everyday experiences all demand that you reflect and consider new perspectives along with your own implicit biases. When I came to Princeton, this open and receptive mindset came with me, and it has allowed me to perform much better in my classes than I think I would have otherwise.

Along with that, Bridge Year also made me better at NOT studying. I think that especially freshmen at Princeton often spend too much time studying, restudying, and stressing. Because of what I learned on Bridge Year, I now feel like I am more aware of myself and my own needs. So, I know that sometimes the most productive thing for me to do is to go play board games with some of my friends. That way, I can be more present and intentional with my time both when I study and when I hang out with my friends.

Cody Mui: Bridge Year taught me to adapt, adjust, and persevere through hardships. Although I strived to constantly push myself to explore and engage, I also learned through Bridge Year how to do some self-reflecting and to learn about my own limits. Especially with the pandemic, I made sure to keep a balance between my academic needs and my personal needs by giving myself the time I needed to recuperate and refresh while getting the work I needed to get done. This can be achieved by spending time with friends, going for a walk or a run outside, or even studying with friends for moral support. I am very much a planner-type of person, but I have learned that it is important to be flexible and to give yourself the space that you need.

Leo Solis: The academic engagement that I was familiar with in high school did not end when I began Bridge Year but rather took on different forms. Instead of using coursework as a topic of introspection, I began to turn my curiosity towards my new environment. For instance, when I arrived in Salvador, Brazil, I slowly began asking myself about its history, how its physical landscape had changed over time, and what cultural influences had made the city what it was. In other words, the academic curiosity that had helped get me into Princeton enabled me to engage with the environment around me. Additionally, the break from schoolwork helped reignite my passion for education by helping me realize that education does not have to exist in a vacuum but rather is a continuous process that all people engage with - regardless of their background.

How has Bridge Year informed your academic experience at Princeton?

Anna: During Bridge Year, I made a goal to take advantage of every opportunity, whether it be going on a hike, building a greenhouse with my coworkers, attending a concert in the city, or cooking with my homestay family. It was easy to feel like I had all of the time in the world, but it goes by quickly and I found that going out of my comfort zone to take advantage of any and every opportunity led me on all kinds of adventures.

At Princeton, I try to entertain this same philosophy. I make an effort to seek out and make time for new and interesting things such as attending a talk about a topic I have never been exposed to, or visiting a professor during office hours to ask them about their research. I think that my time on Bridge Year gave me the confidence and motivation I needed to pursue these things and I am still able to use everything I learned from the experience to enhance and guide my work.

John: One of the important skills that Bridge Year teaches is the ability to recognize and address both group and personal needs. Many portions of the program (such as travel, service placement, homestay, etc.) all required me to constantly navigate unexpected situations all while cataloging and assessing my own physical, emotional, and mental needs. Now that the majority of my Princeton academic career has been unexpectedly virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this analytical way of thinking and assessment of my own needs has proven immensely valuable. Because of my experiences on Bridge Year, I felt more mentally and emotionally prepared to handle the challenges that came along with virtual Princeton. I was even able to get back some of the college experience that I had felt we lost by not being in-person by finding creative ways to engage with a small group of Princeton friends while virtual learning in Salt Lake City, Utah and in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

Cody: During Bridge Year, I tried to really push myself out of my comfort zone. This includes playing a new instrument in my homestay brother’s indigenous music group during the Carnaval parade or sharing details of my life to my worksite coworkers during coffee break. After Bridge Year, I arrived at Princeton with that same mindset of pushing myself and engaging deeply with my work and the people I met. My time in Bolivia solidified one of my main reasons for wanting to pursue medicine – to engage with and listen to others’ stories so that I can best help in any way I can, and to learn about others along the way. It gave me newfound energy to pursue not only a life in medicine, but also the drive to engage in constant self-exploration and exploration of different places and cultures through my courses and activities.

Leo: As a current student of Latin American/Latinx history, I often look back on my Bridge Year experience in Brazil as pivotal to my Princeton academic trajectory. Before Bridge Year, I focused my understanding of Latin America on Spanish-speaking nations. After returning home, I understood just how complex the history of the region was, which in turn pushed me to expand my interests to include all Latin American nations. In my first few years at Princeton, I found a community that was committed to understanding Brazilian history, culture, and language. Engaging in this community allowed me to make better sense of my Bridge Year experience and cemented the bond I felt with Brazil personally and academically.

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