Excitement overwhelms me as I step out of the dormitory and looked at the beautiful campus ground. I can’t even begin to imagine the fascinating college life that awaits me.
I am the first to arrive at my four-student suite and can’t wait to meet my roommates. The door opens, I hold my breath, and in walks a tall European girl with dark blond hair. She smiles warmly: “Hi, I’m Defne.” Defne and I become friends immediately. Albeit we are both bookworms and a bit quirky, it is our differences that bring us even closer. She is a Muslim, from Istanbul, Turkey, and is very eager to share her culture. The traditions, laws, and food differed greatly from those of China, and we are both intrigued by the cultural differences. Just when we are engrossed in our conversation, our roommates arrive. An energetic and petite girl hops in, followed by her grandma who wears a white robe from head to toe. That’s when I met Mali, a half Japanese and half Thai Buddhist girl whom I will later have a wild time with. Our last roommate is Sierra, who goes to an all girl boarding school in New York. We have an amazingly culturally diverse suite. In the next few weeks, our dorm life ranges from artsy to crazy.
The two classes I take are Introductory to Biological Molecules and The Novel and the American Family. They turn out to be the most interesting classes I have ever taken by far. Biochemistry is challenging but also very exciting. As one of the best universities in the world in the medical science, Johns Hopkins has state of the art lab equipment which we are able to utilize our lab classes. I also write my first real college lab report. Everything in it must be detailed, yet not a word can be wasted. Our instructor, Professor Shingles, is a venerable and skilled scientist and mentor who loves to help students. I ask him why he chose to teach at Hopkins. He responds, “It’s all about the students! Hopkins students generally have an end goal in mind and are driven to get there. Helping them on that journey is most satisfying to me.”
The extent I am influenced by the literature class surprises me. The summer course prompts us to learn about the representation of the American family through novels. However, the novels chosen for the course do not only focus on the typical white Anglo-Saxon Protestant American family, but also more closely on minority families. We do a study on Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint,which I find difficult. The story is written in the form of a monologue of the protagonist, Alexander Portnoy, a rebellious Jewish boy who strives to find his identity outside of his cultural background. The troubles he faces are in a sense similar to those of any child born in a country that values tradition, like China. His parents are very set in their traditions, expecting him to comply with their every demand and even the smallest hint of defiance on his part will result in accusations of disrespecting his culture. His anxiety, frustration, and desperation all stem from the burden his parents and culture place on him: education, marriage, upward mobility, responsibility. Sound familiar? Though the novel contains deep themes, the writing style itself is a humorous and interesting read. I learn a lot about the different cultures that have embedded themselves into the American culture during the course.
While academically I find that I benefit greatly from the summer courses, it is summer vacation, so I don’t spend all my time in Baltimore studying. Fun activities are organized on a regular basis. Call us nerdy but my roommates and I win the Pokemon trivia competition hosted in our dormitory! Mali and I participate in many activities together like paint tag which participants splash body paint on the person you are trying to catch, or “assassin,” which everyone roams around in the dark to find their target. Every weekend, we go on field trips to cool places like Inner Harbor, Washington D.C., Hershey Park, and Annapolis. We are in awe of the Jurassic period display in the Smithsonian Museum, we go on all the rides at Hershey Park, and see many cool things in Annapolis. Near the docks of Annapolis, we come across a South Korean teenage artist who is painting on a hard cover paper with oil spray paint! He carves silhouettes and scenery with a chisel. He sells his artwork to help pay for college and I buy one of his paintings.
Attending Johns Hopkins Summer University was a truly a fantastic experience that I will never forget. My parents were skeptical at first. They thought I should spend my summer on test preparation but I’m so glad I convinced them to let me go. From small things like drinking milk out of shot glasses or eating Thai food in front of the library with my roomies to the bigger events like the last dance, game nights, and movie combo party, I am left with fondness for so many nice and talented people and with memories I will treasure forever.
Photo: Courtesy of Nancy Ren
Nancy Ren attends the international campus affiliated with Beijing No.4 High School, a public high school in Beijing. Through her blog posts, she hopes to share unique and exciting experiences at Beijing No.4 High School International Campus.
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