Novogratz Bridge Year Program, India
I’m Lena Hoplamazian (she/her/hers) and I’m from Chicago, Illinois. I’m concentrating in History at Princeton, with a particular interest in labor and economic history. I also am pursuing certificates in Architecture and Engineering, South Asian Studies, and Latin American Studies. I participated in Princeton’s Novogratz Bridge Year Program in India from 2018-2019, where I volunteered at Shikshantar Andolan, an alternative education movement and community center. In my work there, I spent time facilitating community programs surrounding composting, gardening, and environmental education, organized programming for incarcerated folks through the Open Jail initiative, created systems maps of community knowledge networks and cooked daily meals. My time in Udaipur fostered my love for people, food, the environment, and collaborative, community-centered learning, themes that are still present in the work I do today. On campus, I am a barista and the Treasurer of the Coffee Club, our largest student-run agency. I also co-coordinate the Princeton Asylum Project, head the Immigration Committee of Students for Prison Education, Abolition and Reform (SPEAR), and am a student technician and resident sewing/embroidery specialist at the CST’s StudioLab Makerspace.
What did you learn through your participation in Bridge Year?
Bridge Year was the first time in my life I was encouraged to be bored, to fail often, and to make a fool out of myself, which was challenging, rewarding, and so fun. This changed my approached to my professional, academic and personal life. I learned how to take care of myself, take risks, think outside of the box, and lead with curiosity and empathy.
How has Bridge Year informed your Princeton experience?
Bridge Year was the first opportunity I had to learn who I was outside of an academic context. I was given the chance to learn about myself and another part of the world before diving into the Princeton experience, and I couldn’t imagine the past three years of my life without that change in perspective. It was my first introduction into local food systems, which I now study in my environmental engineering classes. My work with folks through the Open Jail initiative was also the impetus of my involvement in activism related to the carceral system in the United States and New Jersey, as the initiative introduced me to human-centered designed solutions that prioritize the safety, mental health and future opportunities of incarcerated people.