The summer following my sophomore year of high school proved to be an unexpectedly pivotal moment in my life. In the last few months preceding the summer break I received a letter from the National Youth Leadership Forum on Medicine–it explained that I had been nominated by a teacher at my school to attend a prestigious medical camp. Located on a college campus in Atlanta, Georgia–this trip had promise written all over it.
I have always been part of a close-knit family and time spent away from home was always uncomfortable. Although I was excited for this trip, my level of anxiety increased rapidly with each day leading to my departure. The day arrived sooner than I expected, and in a matter of hours we arrived in Atlanta. I found the registration area and quickly learned that over the next ten days I would be entirely self-sufficient. I was handed a schedule, a room key, and a large map that highlighted my building. This, more than anything so far, was a bigger shock than I was prepared to handle. The thought of taking care of myself was frightening. Eventually, my family and I located my room and unpacked my suitcases together. The time abruptly came when they had to leave. This was, perhaps the most difficult thing I had ever done. I was barely sixteen and had never been separated from my parents for such a time or distance in my life. After they had left and I returned to my empty room I realized that more than anything else I dreaded being left alone.
The initial loneliness was becoming almost too much to bear by the time of my first meeting. I walked a long distance to a building filled with people my own age, already sitting in pairs or small groups. I felt as though I was the only solitary person in the room and my despair began to worsen. After some time, though, I decided that my poor attitude would not help me feel better and it definitely would not win over any friends. I tried unsuccessfully to speak to a few people–receiving mostly one-worded responses and shrugs. It was not until that evening that I had an actual conversation with someone other than my spontaneously disappearing roommate. Speaking to this individual gave me just a bit more confidence, and maybe that showed because more people came over to talk. When I came back to my room that night, I felt a weight lift off of my shoulders. Perhaps this wouldn’t be as hard as I expected. My loneliness was relieved a little and I was able to sleep–a feat that I thought impossible on that first worrisome day.
As the days passed and I became more familiar with the people and my surroundings, I felt surprisingly comfortable. I had progressively made a group of friends who I felt at ease around. The campus no longer imposed upon me like some enormous and confusing maze, but had such a normality about them that I felt almost at home. The most shocking transformation that I noted in myself, however, was my new sense of responsibility. For the duration of the camp, I was entirely responsible for myself. I had developed my own schedule of making myself ready for the day and arriving to all events on time, I kept track of my assignments and books, and made my own purchases. I realized at this point that I was capable of more than I had ever given myself credit for. I had developed greater social skills and most importantly–responsibility.
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