Sitting on the floor of the neighborhood church, my sixth grade class of 10 intently watched the Ken Ham versus Bill Nye (creationism versus evolution) debate on a computer belonging to our teacher, who doubled as our classmate’s mother. After four years of my homeschool teachers lecturing us on the wonders of biblical creation, soaking up story books illustrating how the world was created in exactly seven days and writing essays about the ‘blashphemous’ Big Bang theory, my classmates and I already knew what we were supposed to believe without a question. When we took classes at a local public school, my classmates’ parents would not allow them to attend classes that discussed Pangea or Darwinian evolution. Every aspect of my education was centered around the Protestant Christian church, and as I would realize later, my thoughts and beliefs were constantly manipulated by the adults and the culture that surrounded me.
Everything changed in the middle of seventh grade when my parents, both scientists who had always been skeptical of the value of homeschooling, decided that I should experience “real school” in a more progressive part of the world. We moved from rural Modesto to San Francisco and I finished my middle school education at Stanford Online High School (SOHS.) I experienced a massive culture shock as I studied drastically different information from what I had learned in my homeschool group in elementary school. Suddenly my science lectures discussed proof of evolution, my English essays dove into Orwell instead of Corinthians, my teachers were no longer “homeschool moms” and instead had PhDs from Stanford, Harvard and other top universities. While my experiences in homeschool education were not all negative, I enjoyed the the subjects I learned about at SOHS and felt that they gave me a more realistic picture of the proof behind a multitude of beliefs.
Online learning came with its own challenges, though, and I quickly realized that despite the incredible education SOHS offered to me, it was difficult not being able to have close social interactions with my peers who lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. Eventually I decided to leave SOHS and transfer to the Nueva School, a small private school in San Mateo. I knew transfering again would be a struggle, but I hoped it would be for the best. My freshman year at Nueva provided me with a bridge between learning at home and public school, but Nuevas’ teaching style did not fit my learning style. Due to a multitude of reasons: financial, personal and educational, I decided to apply and transfer to Lowell.
At the beginning of my sophomore year, after experiencing what felt like every different type of social and learning environment–homeschool, online school and private school–I was convinced there was no way that Lowell, a public school with a community much larger than any school I had even enrolled in before, would be able to phase me. I was wrong. I remember on one foggy morning during the first or second month of school, I woke up, got into my car and just started sobbing. I was overcome by regret. I had convinced myself I would never be as successful or as happy as my peers at even more prestigious schools like SOHS or Nueva. I had left my friends and a wonderful community to come to Lowell, where no one seemed to even care about me.
Starting to feel hopeless, it didn’t take very long for this one morning to become many mornings. Some days I couldn’t even force myself to go to school. I constantly asked myself, would I ever have the same experiences and opportunities as my peers at Nueva? I doubted it. I almost gave up and transferred back to Nueva, but I eventually remembered how I had gone through this same cycle of hopefulness and regret each time I started over at a new school. I would just have to adapt to a new situation, again.
In my case, the academics at Lowell were not challenging to adapt to, because I transferred from other schools with similarly rigorous curricula. Instead it was the social adaptation that presented me with a challenge. Being involved in an extremely time consuming sport outside of school made it even more difficult for me to build connections with other students. I couldn’t join clubs and participate in activities because I had to rush to gymnastics in Burlingame everyday, every week of the year, immediately after school and stay until 8:30 every night, leaving me with little to no free time to build friendships on the weekdays. My weekends were filled with competitions and catching up on homework from the week. Eventually, though, I was began to make new friends in my classes. Although the struggle of transferring schools so many times is one I am still in the process of overcoming, it has gotten much easier to survive socially at Lowell.
All of my different learning experiences have helped me realize the value of having a diverse education experience early in life and to better understanding how to thrive in and adapt to various environments. After five major transitions: moving from New York to Modesto, from Modesto to San Francisco, transferring from homeschool to online school, from online school to private school and from private school to Lowell, I have realized that although some impacts of living so many “different lives” have been negative, I have learned so much about myself and others through my experiences. I learned the value of having consistency in my life even during times of change. Having teammates and a dedication to a sport throughout most of my life made transferring much easier for me, and I cannot even imagine how difficult transfering must be for people not fortunate enough to have this same consistency in their lives.
At the time, I didn’t fully realize the significance of my drastically different experiences, but reflecting back on them now I realize that my exposure to them helped me develop an open mind and respect for many different viewpoints. They instilled in me the need to discover and formulate my own beliefs independently of the popular opinions of those around me. Finally, they taught me that when it seems like your environment never stops changing, you just have to find a way to keep your mind at peace.