I knew I'd be just one of about 250,000 American college kids heading abroad in the fall, but this was the most momentous step I'd taken in my life so far. And I was unusual among the people I knew -- most of my UW friends weren't studying abroad. I felt exceptional. I felt courageous. I was meeting maturity head-on. I'd come back from Italy having evolved into an adult just by having been there. And I'd be fluent in Italian.
This year overseas would be the first time I'd ever really been on my own. During senior year at my Jesuit high school, Seattle Prep, almost all my friends sent applications to schools hundreds of miles from home. Some even wanted to switch coasts. But I knew that I wasn't mature enough yet to go far away, even though I didn't want to miss out on an adventure. I made a deal with myself. I'd go to the University of Washington in Seattle, a bike ride from my parents' houses, and give myself a chance to season up. By the time high school graduation came around, I'd already started looking into junior-year-abroad programs.
Most of my high school class had been more sophisticated than I was. They lived in Bellevue, a decidedly upscale suburb with mansions on the water. Their neighbors were executives from Boeing, Starbucks, and Microsoft.
I received financial aid to attend Prep and lived in modest West Seattle, not far from my lifelong friend Brett. I was the quirky kid who hung out with the sulky manga-readers, the ostracized gay kids, and the theater geeks. I took Japanese and sang, loudly, in the halls while walking from one class to another.
Since I didn't really fit in, I acted like myself, which pretty much made sure I never did.
In truth I wouldn't have upgraded my lifestyle even if I could have. I've always been a saver, not a spender. I'm drawn to thrift stores instead of designer boutiques. I'd rather get around on my bike than in a BMW. But to my lasting embarrassment, in my junior year, I traded my friends for a less eccentric crowd.
I'd always been able to get along well with almost anyone. High school was the first time that people made fun of me or, worse, ignored me.
I made friends with a more mainstream group of girls and guys, attracted to them by their cohesiveness. They traveled in packs in the halls, ate lunch together, hung out after school, and seemed to have known each other forever. But in pulling away from my original friends, who liked me despite my being different, or maybe because I was, I hurt them. And while my new friends were fun-loving, I was motivated to be with them by insecurity. I'm ashamed for not having had the guts to be myself no matter what anyone thought.
This didn't change who I was. Like most teenagers, I was too well aware of my flaws. I felt lumpy in my own skin. I was clumsy with words, and I knew I was way too blunt. I'd do things that would embarrass most teenagers and adults -- walking down the street like an Egyptian or an elephant -- but that kids found fall-over hilarious. I made myself the butt of jokes to lighten the mood. The people who loved me considered my kookiness endearing. My family and friends would shake their heads goodnaturedly and sigh, "That's Amanda."
Soccer is where the boundaries fell away. I was good at it, and that always allowed me to feel on par with others.