"Attention. you are now on a four-year direct flight to Mars." This is how I felt after moving from a New York City suburb to a small Vermont town when I was 14 years old. Imagine it yourself - it's the summer before ninth grade; you and your best friend are finally going to high school. You will get to experience Mr. Buckley's killer global studies class that your older sister warned you about. The chilling, brick building across the street from the house where you grew up will mean something. Then, one August day, you return home and your mother tells you, " Dear, your father got a job with a company in Vermont. We're moving in two weeks."
Bang! All of a sudden, the first day of high school means going to a small school with 250 people, none of whom you know. You wander into the tiny gym, which is about the size of the French room at your old school, for orientation. Everyone among this sea of faces seems to know each other. You sit down, bewildered. No one notices you until a girl, who you later learn is named Sarah, asks you if you are new here. You say, "Yes," and then innocently ask, "When are the students from the other grades going to get here?"
"Oh," she laughs, as though the answer is obvious, "this is everyone!"
I couldn't believe it! There were only 250 students in the whole school? There were 350 students in my class alone in middle school. Then again, I thought, the gym was the size of a peanut.
This was the beginning of my adjustment to rural life, which certainly has proven to be vastly different from life in suburban New York. On the second day of school, everyone already knew my name, while I was struggling with people's names through my entire freshman year. The fact that my freshman class only had 45 people amazed me, and everyone in the school constantly commented on my New York accent. I cannot even begin to tell you how many times since I have moved here that my peers have imitated me with "I love your accent! Why do you say Adawg' instead of dog?" or "I love the way you Atawk'." One thing is for sure - people have never had to ask me where I was from!
Despite my initial qualms, I have found many advantages to life in a rural school. You are not just "Number 325," you have an actual name, and since classes are small, much more schoolwork gets accomplished. Teachers are not remote professionals who do nothing but grade your work and with whom you must make an appointment. In smaller schools, the teachers, and even the principal, show up at football and basketball games to cheer on the students. It is not uncommon for teachers and their pupils to get together for dinner on Friday night, so the relationship is more like a family than a teacher-student relationship. For example, this summer I went on vacation with my French teacher. How often does that happen in a large school?
My first day in my new school, which, at the time, seemed like a bad joke, was actually a pivotal day in my life, a day I now cherish. It marked the transition from one period in my life to another and brought me a new set of friends, teachers and adventures. I have made several important discoveries: the old adage "Don't judge a book by its cover" is actually true and is not just something we are forced to learn in elementary school. Every environment has its own unique strengths which time uncovers. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.