Aarya Newasekar, studying in grade 8, at Oakridge International School, Einstein, Hyderabad pens down her experience of the ASSET Summer Programme
It was all rather like Percy Jackson, I thought. Being called off to a camp during the summer, a place where not everybody is allowed to attend… The last thing I needed to know was we were all demigods. Thankfully, that part never came. And maybe most of my fellow ASPians would agree with me that ASP was, is and will always be far better than Camp Half-Blood.
It was the 13th of May, 2018 and the three weeks that followed which irrevocably changed something in me. Before I walked through the narrow corridor lined with dozens of wooden doors- adorned with cutely hand-painted welcome signs; portals into our temporary abodes- with my RC (resident coach), I was a rather timid person who would speak only when spoken to and generally the type of person who everybody called “a bit too sane.”
Before I met my RC (residential community)- mates and my course- mates I was rather nervous-maybe nervous is an understatement. These were the people who I would be living with and be studying with for the next 21 days. And moreover, everybody was supposed to be super-smart; something I didn’t know what to make of. With mounting trepidation, I stepped into RC 1’s unofficial common room.
I was greeted with smiling faces and cheerful ‘hellos’. I took a seat, and we began briefly introducing ourselves. But introductions were just a formality, it was as though we were just another crazy group of friends, meeting after a long time. I realised that we were pretty much all the same. We all shared the same passion for academics- different areas in it, of course. And we all knew that somehow school was sort of limiting our abilities of learning and expression.
All of this gave us a common ground which helped us converse and understand each other better than any of our peers from school. We spent the rest of the evening joking around about how we were at “Nerd Camp” and exchanging excited comments about the first day of our courses next morning.
I could barely eat breakfast, the next morning as I thought about what the day held in store- which was a very bad idea since I was starved to death till lunch. One by one, all the courses were called to the front of the food court. As our course – Storytelling through creative writing- was called a thrill of anticipation ran at full speed down my blood vessels. 15 of us- 12 girls and 3 boys- found ourselves at the front of the food court waiting for further instructions. Our TA (Teaching Assistant) asked all of us to stand in pairs- ‘buddying up.’ We called it- and we began our excruciatingly long walk to our classroom.
It was good that it was long, though. We got to know each other better before the formal class introductions. As we walked into the classroom, we were greeted by our course instructor. That was when I knew this was going to be different. This wasn’t going to be like a typical classroom where a teacher walks in teaches all he/she has to and walks out.
For one, we were only going to focus on writing and writing and some more writing and did I mention writing? For seven hours every day, we would be doing what we each did best, writing. That’s why we were all here.
The second thing that actually came as a shocker was that competition levels amongst peers was next to zero- even if there was any, there was only a healthy competition, at the end of which everybody was congratulated for their efforts, and it was a learning for everybody.
Whatever other competition that existed was with oneself. To do better each day- write something new every day. We shared different perspectives on the same topics and embraced them all. We debated and peacefully came to conclusions which everybody agreed on. Something that doesn’t really happen every day, where scoring the highest mark on a routine weekly test turns into a cut- throat battle.
To understand the art of landscapes, we re-visited ‘ahum’ and ‘puram’ poems of the ancient Sangam period in South India. To explain mythology Joseph Campbell and Carl Yung lent us their helping hands. And finally, Oliver Strange, T. Lobsang Rampa and Carlos Castaneda fascinated us with their stories about places they had never been too, but the descriptions of them were strikingly real.
At the end, of three weeks what we were taking away was almost equal to what we would learn in one year at school. And a bunch of other skills which we never learn anywhere.
I got a chance to explore my writing in a way that I never could before. Maybe, because whatever writing I did was for school the tasks came with its own dos and don’ts and guidelines.
Generally, I’m a very disorganised person, and all my things are always strewn across the place, and I need ten thousand other people to help me search for them. But since I had to stay alone for a considerably long time, if not keeping things organized, I learnt how to look after and clean up after myself- something the world won’t take separate lessons for.
Being a natural ambivert, I usually let my introvert side rule over, making it almost impossible to make new friends. But here, I learnt the ‘art of building relationships.’ – another nobody will ever teach you.
Another thing which I developed was a more open, un-judgmental outlook to the world. I realised when we look at people, places and things through a filter, through opinionated views, they always appeared coloured. We, therefore, see what we want to see, what we believe the person, place or thing is, which dangerously handicaps and limits good writing. If we are to write something out of the world, we must look at people, places and things as impartial observers, be fully involved in everything around ourselves yet not build strong opinions and capture the beauty of the world for what it is and not through a twisted looking glass.
And most importantly I found the crazier self in me. It may be a bit too dormant around most people, but I know it is there. It is what I am.
And last but definitely not the least. All the friends that I have made, closer than the ones I have been spending most of my days with for the past nine years, will always remain, forever cherished in my heart of hearts. It was all as if I- a lone wolf- had finally found my pack.
I can very definitely say that it was indeed the Best Summer Ever and had I the choice, I would keep returning over and over again.
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