I entered the new residence hall, almost feeling like I was going into a prison. I passed a security check, noted the strict rules that I must abide by, and followed the staff member onto the normally forbidden territory of the Boy’s Floor to drop my luggage off. Intimidated by the graffiti I drove by downtown, and the staff member’s Spanish accent, I started to tremble once more. No one looked the way that I did, and half of them were speaking in Spanish. I could see them looking at me from the corner of their eye, some even pointed. I decided to participate in the Salem State Upward Bound Exchange program because I wanted to learn. What would it be like to be immersed in Hispanic culture? How would it feel to stand out like a spot on a Dalmatian? How would it feel to be somewhere entirely new and different? That was why I decided to attend.
The Upward Bound program at Keene State College is a program that I have attended since the summer before my sophomore year of high school. The program prepares students for success in high school, college, and life. I couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed. I knew an opportunity like this would never arise again. Despite the fact that Salem State, too, was an Upward Bound program, it was entirely different. I was facing the unknown and I was stuck there for a week. I was surprised by much that week and was delighted to see an old friend I had met the previous summer that participated in the exchange, coming to my program. She skipped right up to me with a smile that stretched from ear to ear. She greeted me, saying how glad she was that I was there, and motioned for me to sit with her. The other students scooted their seats over to make room, and flooded me with questions. They wanted to know nearly everything about myself, and explained to me how their program operated. They then proceeded to introduce me to every student in the program and show me to my biology class.
At one point a girl was sharing a story of a hardship in her life, where a teacher told her nine year old self that she would never make anything of herself. This moment stuck out for me because she told it in Spanish. While I was able to pick out a few words, she spoke too fast so another girl translated for me. That was the moment that I truly realized we were all part of one world, and despite our differences, we all share commonalities. I soon found myself quite at home amongst these people whom I had never met before. I can still smell the salt air from the beach we visited, and taste the delicious Spanish food. I learned in that one week more about myself than I had in several years. Because of that experience, I now recognize that we may come from different backgrounds, but we are all people and can relate in some ways. I realized that I wanted to get every possible new experience out of this exchange, and life, because I would never get those moments back.
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