In case you’ve never heard of it, Summer@Brown is a pre-college summer program offered by Brown University in Rhode Island. It’s for high school students who want to explore their academic interests and get a taste of college life. And this is what it’s really like, according to a student who experienced Summer@Brown firsthand.
Do you want to know what happened during my first moments of my summer program at Brown University? I fell. I tripped going up the concrete stairs to my dorm and fell onto the sidewalk. There I was, on an Ivy League campus surrounded by the best and the brightest, already nervous that I wouldn’t be good enough, and I started off by plummeting into concrete. Nice.
Okay, so I don’t think anyone saw. Maybe a random runner or actual college student taking summer classes, but no one I became friends with at the summer program knew I fell. I managed to walk away without a scrape and continue towards the dorm like nothing happened. Luckily, the rest of my days in the Summer@Brown program included no more confrontations with gravity. Rather, they were some of the best moments of my high school years.
I enrolled in the Summer@Brown creative writing class, with a focus in short stories. This is what it was like.
I have to imagine that the weeks leading up to my summer program experience were a little bit like the weeks leading up to leaving for college for real. I went from excited about being on my own to on-the-verge-of-puking nervous that no one would like me and I would be eating dinner alone every night. Who would my roommate be? Would my class be challenging? Would anyone like my writing? Would anyone like me? At least I knew the worst-case scenario: if things went horribly, it would be over in one month.
As stressful as these weeks leading up to summer were, after about 10 minutes of being on the Brown campus (once I got past the face full of concrete), I realized how silly my worries had been. Despite my fears, no one seemed to hate me. Although it was slightly awkward and we all had no idea what to say to each other at first, the people in my dorm room and on my floor were extremely nice.
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In the beginning
The first three days were filled with a lot of getting-to-know-you questions and small talk. I remember having a 20-minute conversation about a painting above the stage at the welcome meeting. Our RA had us fill out one of those questionnaires that ask things like, “What’s your favorite movie?” and “If you could have one superpower, what would it be?” You know—things no one knows how to answer. The questionnaires were posted on our dorm doors, in case someone walking by decided to come in just because Transformers 2 was also their favorite movie. (They didn’t.)
But the Brown program did try to help with the I-don’t-know-what-to-say jitters. To keep students from locking themselves in their dorm rooms, the summer program also had lots of required activities. They ranged from going to a club fair to attending a seminar called Beyond the Birds and the Bees (oh yes, I remember the name), where the enthusiastic speaker tried to connect with her not-so-enthusiastic teen audience about the inner workings of the human body via plush pillow genitalia…
Anyway! Like it always does, after the first few days in the summer program, the awkwardness went away. We fell into our little cliques and started talking about real things. It helped that we were actually starting to have experiences unique to the summer program that we could talk about too, like the one time my roommate and I hopped onto the student bus and took an hour detour around the city of Providence instead of the 10-minute ride we were expecting to our dorm. (Oops!)
Speaking of the living arrangements: the rooms in my dorm building were suite-style. I shared my room with three other girls. Interestingly enough, two of my roommates were from New Jersey like me, and the other was from Hong Kong. We each had our own bedroom, which gave us the option to escape the world for a while, and we shared a decently large living space, kitchen, and bathroom. My friend’s Brown-alumna mom later told me that I had lived in a high-demand building that was usually reserved for seniors. Honestly, this surprised me at first, because the cinder-block walls and stained carpets didn’t exactly strike me as an enviable place to live. Yet, I grew not to care after a couple of days living there.
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As for the other students in the Brown program, I met people from across the United States and around the world. On my floor alone were students from Georgia, New York, New Jersey, Texas, Florida, Illinois, Turkey, and China. I had many conversations about our cultural differences, like whether it was "pop" or "soda" or if it was "diagonal" or "catty corner." I've never met so many people from outside of New Jersey before.
This was when I began to realize that perspective is everything. Sure, people in my high school have different opinions, but we've also had similar educations and opportunities. Everyone in the Brown program had a different viewpoint and different experiences that opened my mind. For example, I met a girl from Arkansas who was homeschooled and wanted to be a composer. Another girl was a radical liberal living in a community of die-hard Catholics.
The heart of the matter
While I enjoyed meeting new people and made a lot of great memories, the thing that really impacted me—the thing that left a permanent change in my life—was the whole reason I went to the Brown summer program in the first place: my creative writing class.
My Summer@Brown creative writing class read short stories, mimicked styles, and shared our work in small workshops. When I walked onto campus, I wasn’t sure if going to college for writing really was for me, but by the end of the month-long course, I knew my passion was writing creatively. Going into the summer program, I thought I would have either this reaction or the opposite. I pretty much expected to learn a whole lot and have a little taste of college classes. What I didn’t realize was how much my creative writing course would open my mind and give me more confidence in my writing than I’ve ever thought possible.
My advice to other high school students considering pre-college or other summer programs: they are great for figuring out if what you think you want to study in college is actually what you want to study. In a summer program, you can completely dedicate yourself to one subject or explore a few. Also, in many cases (including mine), the courses are ungraded, so you don’t have to stress about getting an A!
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When I returned to high school that September, I felt like I’d been let in on a secret that no one else knew. I felt a lot more mature too. No longer did I rely on my parents to order my hamburger at lunch or organize my schedule. I also took advantage of my newly found confidence, submitting poems and short stories to literary magazines and reading my poetry at open mics.
My month in the Brown summer program gave me a taste of the world beyond high school, as well as the tools and practice I needed to become the person I’m supposed to be.
Did you go to Summer@Brown or a similar pre-college program? Are you thinking about going to one? Leave your story in the comments.