Stories of Service: When Worlds Collide

Thursday, Oct 30, 2014
by James Haynes '18

This entry comes hot off the presses of the Breakout Princeton Learning Through Legacies Blog. Breakout Princeton is the Pace Center's alternative break trip program. Seven trips are exploring critical social issues over fall break Oct. 25-Nov. 2. The Learning Through Legacies trip is exploring the intersections of race and education in Alabama.


"Anybody knows, you gotta keep your worlds apart!" - George Costanza, Seinfeld

What happens to you when you leave home or a similar environment that you’re comfortable in, and come to a new place and find your comfort and your place there? What happens afterwards, when you cross over from one to the other?

These are questions this trip has made me ask.

I’m a journalist. Over the summer, I interned for my local newspaper, and interviewed a friend of mine from church who had come to my hometown from Germany through a student-exchange program in high school. Since returning to Germany, she traveled back and forth between the two countries and came to appreciate and love both places as home. 

When I interviewed her, I don’t think I fully understood an important point about her two homes, and what it meant.

She said she would never trade her experiences for anything, but there was always a point at which she had to leave one home, one life, for another. She told me that anyone pays a price for having two such homes; two such lives: while you lead each of the two great lives, every time you leave one home for another, you start missing it.

Coming from Alabama, learning about race and education in my home state strongly appealed to me, especially as a coming-home opportunity. But I have come to appreciate my friend’s words as applied to my own experience.

As a Princeton student, my home in New Jersey is worlds away from my home in Alabama. And it presents me with a challenge. Not only to I miss the life I leave, those who go with me from one place to the other can’t understand both as well as I can.

To go on a trip with Princeton students from my New Jersey home and try to explain things about my Alabama home is very strange; it’s like trying to explain to my 3rd- and 4th-generation farmer family members what a Princeton eating club is. Like Virgil in Dante’s Inferno, sometimes I feel like only I can help others cross the bridge between these two worlds.

For my German friend, the conclusion she drew was that the required costs of leaving one world for the other were worth it in the end. To have two great lives, she said, was simply invaluable in comparison to having just one, an opportunity that had changed her life.

Despite any difficulties I may have in missing one world for another, or explaining one world to my friends in another, I too think it’s worth it. And while the lessons I learn on this trip about race and education pertain immediately to my home state and what can be done locally, I think that a lot of principles will carry over to many other environments. In the meantime, I will maintain my two homes, and I hope that though I may see the places themselves as distinct, I will see the lessons I learn in each as universal, wherever I happen to be.

Read more about the Learning Through Legacies trip.

Follow along with all the fall 2014 Breakout Princeton action on Storify.