An Ode to Academic Free Time

This summer, in the unlikely sleepy town of Selianitika, Greece, I had an unforgettable immersive learning experience. I applied to the Paideia Institute’s Living Greek in Greece program, devoted to immersion in Ancient Greek, at the urging of a friend. It would be perspective-changing, she said. Instead of running between classes and juggling ten different assignments at once, I would have one task–to grow comfortable with Ancient Greek–and an incredible amount of free time.

The Selianitika coastline, where I walked every day during my time in Greece!

It was a perspective-changing shift from my Princeton experience. I often feel limited by the lack of time available to fully experience the overwhelming material in my classes on campus. Beyond my Indo-European linguistics class, I want to browse through the Classics section of the library to see what I can find. In my computer science course, I want to do the optional exercises and play around with code. But independent exploration and extra-curricular learning can be hard to make time for, and I often end up working from one assignment to the next. Breadth and depth are challenging to achieve together.

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All Roads Lead to Gandhara: Integrating Science and the Classics

Around this time last fall, I was spending consistent hours in the basement of Fine Hall, gathering data from the Map Library and struggling with ArcGIS and Matlab to make sense of it. My goal? To explain the success of Gandhara, a little-known ancient civilization in northwest Pakistan.

I first learned about the region during an independent research project in my last semester of high school Latin. Gandhara started as an outpost for Alexander the Great’s generals but grew into an incredible region of diffusion between Greek and Indian cultures. Greek and Buddhist influences merged freely in philosophy, religion, and art, and not much research existed on the area.

Gandhara slipped from my mind until I resumed school in my first semester at Princeton. I was enrolled in FRS 187: Earth’s Environments and Ancient Civilizations, a geoscience seminar that traveled to Cyprus over fall break. In Cyprus, we used geophysics to examine unexcavated areas near a Princeton archeological dig house. As part of the course, we were responsible for writing three scientific papers explaining why a civilization succeeded or failed using topographical, mineral, and climate-based evidence. My mind turned naturally to Gandhara. I wanted to create one comprehensive paper examining its success, but I wasn’t sure that I could find sufficient evidence from three different angles.

This is a map that I created to provide an overview of Alexander’s route into Gandhara and major cities along his way.

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