A summer course in adulthood

By Nathan Phan

Illustration by Nathan Phan

By Saintra Thai
San Bernardino, Calif.

With a knapsack on my back, an over-sized suitcase by my side and a plane ticket in my hand, I was ready to go on an epic adventure.

I was at the time a sophomore in high school, and at the encouragement of my brother, I had decided to apply to Harvard University’s Secondary Summer School Program. A few weeks later, I found myself jumping up and dancing out of my seat when I got the acceptance email. I was convinced that it was pure luck that I had been offered a spot in the summer program. But while I thought my dreams had come true, my journey was just beginning.

The program had offered me financial aid that covered most, but not all, of the tuition, and I had to figure out a way to pay for transportation and living expenses. There was no way I was going to live on campus; the tuition for the classes with room and board was as much as what my mother made in a year. My school was able to provide a scholarship to cover part of the remainder, and for the weeks leading up to the program, I sold snacks to my peers to pay for my flight. Fortunately, my 26-year-old brother, who lives in Boston, offered to house me during the program.

Before I left for Boston, I started to get cold feet, and I questioned whether I had it in me to go out into the world on my own.

Arriving in Boston, I soon realized how much of a laid-back Californian I was. The East Coast is much more fast-paced than the West Coast. I had chosen to take a journalism course in food writing, and although the program that I applied through was for high school students, all of my classmates were college students studying for their degree in journalism. I felt intimidated, but saw this as a chance to prove to myself and those around me that I could be taken seriously as a writer despite my age.

Over the next two months, I lived in three different locations around Boston. The first apartment that I stayed in was with my brother and his roommates. I slept on a twin bed in the living room. The roommates had just recently come from Africa and the language barrier made it difficult to communicate. Also, they were messy and played loud music in the morning.

To make things worse, the apartment had bedbugs, and I learned that the hard way. When the lease was up, my brother moved in with his girlfriend and I stayed with my brother’s friends. Later, I moved back with my brother in his new apartment.

Despite these ups and downs, I made it through the two months living away from home. Looking back, I am proud that I experienced part of what it takes to be a college student and got a taste of the path ahead. Now, I am ready to take on the world.

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