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  • I once thought of college as the great equalizer. My freshmen class and I are on equal ground; we take similar classes, we live in similar dorms in the same area, we eat the same food. I was wrong.

    I'm 19. My life leading up to this point was tough, there's no denying that. I lived with a crazy father who abused me from birth to 5. I lived with very conservative, limiting, but mostly loving, parents from 5-13. Then foster care until recently. Living with my best friend, then living with my loving mentor who is my family. Lots of change.

    But I made it out alive, despite what statistics would have you believe about a Puerto-Rican foster kid born in Patterson, NJ. Success in my high school was easy - in general, people weren't motivated. Most of the people just didn't care about the school, the community. The people who did usually just didn't have the opportunities to make an impact, and didn't receive the respect of their peers as they might have in a better school. I mean this as a critique of the culture of my school and not the people - I had some amazing classmates who are going on to do great things, but the school overall did not have a culture of success. But I did fine; I made some clubs, made some friends, became Senior Class President and lead a lot of community initiatives.

    Now I go to New York University. The university, so far, stands up to its reputation. I've met some INCREDIBLE, intellectual people here. I went on a few dates, and the conversation was great... except it made me realize how far removed I was from the culture of excellence at NYU. How much is lacking from my experience of the world.

    The majority of the people here have iPhones, MacBook Pros, amazing clothing, are fashionably thin and attractive, have large, corrected white teeth, groomed hair, and go out every weekend to parties all around New York City with their clique. Money is not an issue for most people here. They also have efficient habits, habits of excellence, that they apply to their educational and social lives to make their NYU experience the best.

    I'm a friendly guy. I have some great habits as well, and have done well in school most of my life. But it's very hard to compete and fit in here. I do not have the same resources as my peers. I do not have the same support. I do not have the same excellent habits as they've developed. I think very highly of my skills - in my school, I never lost a debate. I ran a highly efficient club with the highest number of active members. I had the most volunteer hours in my high school. But here, my skills seem to be a minimum, a baseline. I struggle in class, like some other people, but most people excel. I struggle to manage my time, like some others, but most people manage time effectively. I don't have free time unless I sacrifice completing my responsibilities. I usually can't afford things I want, and it's hard for me to ask my mentor who is my family for help.

    I will try, and try, and try to do my best, to find my place to stand out. But my experience is not the same as that of the students here, and because of that I struggle. I am at a disadvantage. I am not without support - my family, with whom I've lived since a couple of months before college started - is there for me when I need support. But it's simply not the same. I cannot ask for money as freely as one would with their birth parents, I cannot ask for advice without receiving criticism or having my experience compared unfairly to others. I know these criticisms are meant in the BEST of intentions, but it only adds to my stress, to my isolation, to my realization that I am not a typical NYU student. I am different. I am disadvantaged. But I'll be fine; it always turns out fine.
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