I struck up a conversation with him, and he casually mentioned that he was having trouble adjusting to Columbia, due to his “previous situation.” So I asked him to elaborate.
“I was born in Egypt,” he said. “I worked on a farm until 3rd grade with no education. I came to the US for one year, started 4th grade, but was pulled out because my father couldn’t find work and returned to Egypt for a year. The first time I went to an actual school was middle school, but the whole school was in one classroom, and I was working as a delivery boy to help the family. It was illegal for me to be working that young, but I did. When I finally got into high school, my house burned down. We moved into a Red Cross Shelter, and the only way we could live there is if we all worked as volunteers. I got through high school by watching every single video on Khan Academy, and teaching myself everything that I had missed during the last nine years. Eventually I got into Queens College. I went there for two years and I just now transferred to Columbia on a scholarship provided by the New York Housing Association for people who live in the projects. It’s intimidating, because everyone else who goes to Columbia went to the best schools, and have had the best education their entire lives.”