08/30/2012 09:15 am ET Updated Oct 30, 2012

Unorthodox High School Career Can Lead to A Greater Level of Maturity

The bell rings on your first day and you shuffle into the beginning of your high school career. There's a commotion sounding all around; kids saying hi to familiar faces, the smells of new supplies filling the room as eager students unzip their fancy pencil cases filled with all types of utensils, some that will never touch the soft edge of their multicolored three-subject notebooks. They move forward through the four years in preparation for life ahead. Many times, it's the same story -- enter high school, make friends, lose friend. You start out with easier classes, and then as academic maturity begins to set in, move on to more rigorous courses -- AP, IB, dual enrollment in community college. When the experience comes to an end, you say goodbye to the friends that borrowed those pens and pencils on the first day of freshman year, and with a certain lack of responsibility, consequently lost them. And then it's college.

But there are some kids who encounter countless abnormal obstacles, which result in giving these kids high school lives that are slightly out of synch with the other US students; some would go as far as to call their educations unorthodox. These kids are seen as different and a little bizarre when they describe their academic careers. Some examples include changing schools because of family problems and moving due to an army officer in the family. This is my story and it is devoted to all those who face these obstacles to their adolescent academics.

When ending eighth grade at a private school, I was immediately dropped into a public school environment that was far more dangerous than what I was expecting. There was an average of three to four arrests each day and every student was checked for drugs and weapons upon entering the school in the morning. I chose this school because it offered the best Pre-IB and IB curriculum in my city. I believed that this rigorous curriculum would be a perfect fit and offer me a certain advantage in life. Unfortunately, I came to the realization that the atmosphere within which you are studying and trying to excel counts just as much as the curriculum you are following. I ended the year successfully, but I had been put under unnecessary stress due to the social climate of the institution I was attending. The next year, due to medical problems, I missed a lot of school, and the school refused to aid me in catching up on the work I had missed. I realized that this was no longer the place for me, so I packed my bags and got out of there as fast as I could.

I transferred into a small private school that offered the same program that I had just come from. It truly intrigued me to be in an environment where the teachers were close and personal with the students because of how few of us there were. I finished my sophomore year with flying colors, and was excited to start my journey to obtain the IB diploma.
For those that are not familiar with the IB diploma, it is an international program that was initially designed to accommodate those who were seeking a rigorous academic pathway. Its purpose is to breed well-rounded and authentic individuals that are able to think and create their own lives, rather than follow in the paths of others. This small private school was not well-prepared to teach this program, and being a for-profit organization, the students were seen more as clients than as individuals that were being counseled to succeed in the future. At the end of the year, rather than taking the academic sector of the school one step forward, the program coordinator dragged it five steps backward. We lost all our best teachers, higher level and lower level classes were combined, and generally everything lost every form of structure and organization. This, in addition to family problems, led our family to leave the school and continue to try to find a solution for my final year of high school.

Meanwhile, I came to Greece with my family for vacation. As it is my homeland, the people, the sights, and the energy enchanted me. We had decided on home schooling for my senior year, but in Greece we found an excellent school with a very stable IB program that would provide me with all the tools I needed to succeed. Finally, I have satisfied my hunger for a stable academic position.

These experiences -- which many others have probably gone through before me -- are what have brought me to the level of intellectual and spiritual maturity that I have today. They have taught me to truly absorb everything I can from every situation I am faced with in my life, and come out a little bit smarter every time. Although I have a ways to go, these experiences have taught me many life lessons and forced me to introspect at a much higher degree than I would have ever done at this age.

Not many kids have the exact same experience, nor do they face obstacles even remotely related to mine. But there are many teenagers who go through high school confronting certain barriers that with much work and pain, they are able to overcome. Excelling within such situations always affects the individual in a very positive way; they make him or her a stronger person and prepare them for the future.

There is an old saying, "The soul that gets challenged by storms the most is the soul that matures the fastest." It is better to endure the rain, hail, thunder and lightning at a very young age so that when you reach a point where you have to face each storm again, you know exactly which umbrella to whip out.

So freshmen -- hope for a tough high school career filled with countless good and bad experiences, so that you can enjoy life at its true intensity in the future.