Photo by Samyukta Sarma

Bursting through the Bay Area bubble

Tears flowed down my face as I walked through the San Francisco Airport security check alone. Gazing out the plane window, I was terrified of the four weeks I would be spending at summer programs on the East Coast. Little did I know that this trip would help me truly understand just how vast and diverse the world beyond the Bay Area is.

After landing, I sat in the baggage claim with a girl from Montana. She had taken three layovers to reach Washington D.C. and shared how no one ever leaves her rural town. Her peers are expected to attend college in-state and prioritize settling down rather than education. In addition, her town was extremely Republican and opposed masking and vaccinating during the pandemic. The stark contrast between her city and mine fascinated me — we were from polar opposite locations, yet we were sitting in the same baggage claim and attending a program on our shared interests. 

Likewise, my roommate from Colorado illuminated regional differences between the Bay and other parts of the U.S. She had received a full-ride scholarship for horseback riding, a sport I didn’t know colleges had. When discovering that her friend had dropped out of high school at 17 and given birth, I reflected on the educational and social values that I had been taught, realizing that other cultures and communities may not share the same values. 

This trip also made me confront my hidden bias toward non-native English speakers. One of the kindest friends I met was an international student from Indonesia. I preferred to spend time with classmates from the U.S., but once I got to know her, I was fascinated by her experiences at an international school and life in Jakarta. After I caught COVID-19 right as she finished recovering from her own bout of illness, she took care of me, retrieved meals and comforted me in the quarantining room. Her selflessness proved to me how I shouldn’t be afraid of language barriers or foreign cultures, as good hearts exist worldwide. 

Prior to that summer, Lynbrook and the Bay were all I knew. I was shielded, even blinded by my limited perspective. My constant grind through AP classes and extracurricular activities had clouded my compassion toward those who prioritized other goals above academics. I had known the Bay was unorthodox compared to the majority of the U.S., but I could have never been prepared for the immense shock I felt from the drastically different life stories of my peers. Studying about the world is one thing, but experiencing it is another; I am more invigorated than ever to study abroad and learn in a more diverse environment. 

The unique glimpses of my new friends’ lives have been a beautiful stepping stone in mine. They’ve opened my eyes to the world, and I can’t wait to see even more clearly at college.

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