Let me take you back two years to a bus dripping with rain and filled with forty-some singing high school sophomores from the Academy of Science. We were on the island of San Salvador because only at the Academy of Science do we go to the Bahamas for a field trip.
When we got to Gerace Research Center, we found our living spaces amid the pouring rain. After a long day of traveling, it was comforting to be settled in one place, even if it would only be for a week. That night by the girls’ dorms, we played Ninja in the rain and learned how to “dougie,” because why not? At least, that’s what the others did. I mostly just watched, hoping that this trip would be all that they said it would be. It was more.
I’ve always been reserved. Maybe that was because I lived in another country for the first nine years of my life, and American culture was still a little foreign to me. Maybe that was because of my bookworm tendencies that led me to find the characters in novels much more welcoming than the real, flesh-and-blood people around me. But either way, I had found that in my main circle of friends, I was always “the smart one” or “the responsible one.” I didn’t truly connect with my peers because I always knew I was different from them.
And then I went on this crazy field trip with a bunch of nerds. I considered them my friends, but the fact still remained that I didn’t know most of them very well. For the first few days, I was distant, as always. On the fourth day, the sun came out, and that is when everything changed.
I have always connected with the sun. Maybe it’s because I was born in a sunny place; maybe it’s because the sun epitomizes everything that I find beautiful in nature. But when the sun came out that day, it filled me with an overwhelmingjoy. And I let go of everything that was holding me back. I was singing and dancing and praising the glory of the sun. I was a completely different person than I had been before, and I honestly think it scared my friends a little. In that moment, I didn’t care if I belonged or not, and I finally let go of the fear of showing my true self to people.
Over the next few days, I bonded with my classmates even more, from our games of Capitalism on the basketball courts to complaining about mosquito bites and the sand in our diving suits. My friends laughed with me when I chased all the stoplight parrotfish with my underwater camera instead of sticking to the buddy system. And I willingly offered my shoulder as a pillow to anyone who had need of it, whether that was on the rides to the diving sites or waiting in line to get snacks. I did this out of love for my friends and not because I thought I needed to, the way I might have before. That made all the difference in the world.
Before the Bahamas trip, I had recognized how different I felt from most of my peers, and that kept me from connecting with the people at the Academy of Science. I was used to not belonging, so I didn’t know how to let go of my reservations. When I went to the Bahamas, I bonded with people who were like me. For once, I was an equal. I wasn’t the only smart one, and I finally had a place to belong. That place was with my newfound nerdy friends.
“I love it, because I have lived in it a full and delightful life,–momentarily at least. I have not been trampled on. I have not been petrified. I have not been buried with inferior minds, and excluded from every glimpse of communion with what is bright and energetic and high. I have talked, face to face face, with what I reverence; with what I delight in,–with an original, a vigorous, an expanded mind. I have known you; and it strikes me with terror and anguish to feel I absolutely must be torn from you for ever. I see the necessity of departure; and it is like looking on the necessity of death.” ~Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte