BY SOHINI LAHIRI
My nerves were causing me to feel nauseated before I even hopped into the car. I was being shipped off by my parents for six weeks over the summer to Florida State University for some apparently prestigious program. Six weeks. It seemed it would be a lifetime before I would be able to kick back on my couch and watch the Friends marathon again. I wasn't sure if I would make any friends in Tallahassee, or if it'd be my turn to be the lonely outcast.
Of course back in April I was thrilled when I was accepted into the Young Scholars Program, a six-week summer session paid for by the state of Florida to immerse high school students in science, math and computer programming with a focus on scientific study. But as I dragged the last suitcase into Room 462 in Southgate dorm, I was filled with trepidation. My roommate, Sarah Nguyentran from Jacksonville, with whom I'd been matched because of our love of photography and happy life mantras, was late and I had to face the other 38 campers alone. With a sigh and gritted teeth, I headed for the common area.
The next six weeks were a transforming blur. From classes and research days to weekend trips, I evolved from intimidated nervous wreck into a person truly confident in my own skin.
Sarah and I became the best of friends, blasting music from our open door, singing duets in our room and climbing trees on Landis Green. My birthday included a surprise: My new comrades threw me into Legacy Fountain at midnight (a well-known campus tradition).
Late nights always included multiple food runs with our favorite counselors to Chubby's Chicken Fingers and More (open as late as 4 a.m. for those infamous party animals), CrepeVine and Taco Bell. All campers bonded over our distaste for mandatory dorm meetings, cafeteria food, grocery store runs and being shuttled around in big white vans.
Even more than what I was doing, though, I enjoyed the people I was with. Never before had I been exposed to a more self-motivated, accomplished group of people. Daniela Veloza from Tamarac was competing in the Junior World Olympics for swimming in Singapore. Jonathan Galka from Boca Raton and Preksha Bhag from Fort Lauderdale had both placed top five internationally at a science fair. A handful of people had scored perfect (if not, then close) scores on their SATs and everyone had high hopes for college and beyond.
I became fast friends with the entire camp. Scoping out new lunch spots every day. Scaring others on our floor. Doing arts and crafts. Bunking in the corner rooms with the kind of all-American sleepover types you saw in movies, their space always open for visitors. Romances flourished (and died out). The sportier kids were always organizing early-morning runs and trips to Leach Gym.
The contrast between my first day and last night was a world apart. On the last night of YSP, the campers and counselors congregated in the common room to watch a video of our time at Florida State. We went on our final food runs; a group of us bought ice cream from CVS, snuck into the life sciences building and threw it off the roof at 3 a.m. Kevin, Danielle Hu and I scared a couple dozen more people. Those who managed to stay awake took a bubble bath in Legacy Fountain at 5 a.m. We watched the sunrise over Southgate, then fell asleep for a few hours until our final goodbyes by noon.
After my summer experience, I still find it difficult sometimes to transition back to the "real world." It's strange walking into a class and not seeing my friends from YSP there to greet me. Or to go to the cafeteria without Jonathan by my side. Or to come home to a room that's bigger than my dorm space, but with no space for Sarah.
As my senior year gets under way, YSP is helping me plan my life as I see it in 20 years: surrounded again by a group of great and genuine people.