People & Places: The Freshman

“This show has been watched by more people than any other,” proclaims Alek. Although eighteen years old, he is mesmerized by the cartoon show on the screen. On his way to Washington D.C. a few days before his freshmen semester, his nervousness and excitement are palpable even though he’s trying his best to exude a calm and cool exterior. Slender and tall, Alek is handsome with chiseled features and athletes body. for the first time he will be living away from home and embarking on the adventure that will be the start of his future.

The show, SpongeBob Square Pants, first aired in 1999 when Alek was only eight years old. It quickly became a staple in the collective consciousness of his generation. It is still actively watched by children today. “They’re funny and the characters are really good. It’s one of the most successful shows of all time. It’s a well put together show. The interactions are great and the humor is actually funny,” he says, trying to explain the appeal to someone who is not a fan.

“If you’re saying that as an eighteen year old then what is the appeal to a three year old? Do you get the same things out of it?”

“Yeah. Just because they [three year olds] can’t verbalize it doesn’t mean they don’t get it on a subconscious level.”

In all honestly, Alek hasn’t watched the show for years but this summer he happened to come across it on television a few times and set aside time to watch some old favorites. Perhaps it was his subconscious way of acknowledging the end of his youth and closing the chapter on this portion of his life.

Classes start Monday, only a few days away. He has barely enough time to shop for supplies, settle into his dorm room and acclimate to his new surroundings.

“How excited are you?”

“I want to say I’m kind of nervous about how my schedule is going to work out as far as school, studying, working or interning and trying to play soccer all at the same time. Once I understand how my life is going to work then I’ll be ready to go. But until then I’m in a business mindset trying to figure things out and organize instead of ready to absorb and enjoy the other side.”

Alek is on an academic and financial aid scholarship. Part of his aid is tied into a work study program. “All I need to do is make $2000 in a year to qualify. So if I can get a paid internship it would be great.” Interning is a way of life in Washington D.C.  “It’s not mandatory but it’s just something everyone does. It’s almost expected. I want to do it but I can’t do an unpaid internship and work and go to school,” he says, struggling with the demands of a somewhat adult life.

All of this has to be sorted out quickly. The work-study meeting is scheduled for Tuesday. “Then I have a meeting with someone who works at the Department of Homeland Security to see the internship possibilities. I guess all by next week I should have it figured out,” he says with a sigh, already feeling the pressure.

With such top rated universities as UCLA and USC in his own backyard, Alek’s decision to attend George Washington University is unusual but mostly pragmatic. “It was the best deal,” he says, “Out of all the schools I got accepted to, academically, [it’s] the most respectable. And then I applied for financial aid to all of them. By far it [GW] is the most expensive school I applied to and the second most expensive in the country, [but] they gave me the most amount of money, so I was able to go here.”

Luckily he visited the city during the university orientation weekend so it’s not completely unfamiliar to him. “It’s different,” he says of his new home town. “I really enjoy how it’s truly a metropolitan city compared to L.A., in a sense that public transit is good, you can walk around, like NYC – L.A. it’s impossible [to do that].”

Although he’s vacillated between several options for a major, he found himself drawn to the Communications Department’s booth during orientation. It seems like the most natural fit for his outgoing and charismatic personality.  “I’m a people person and naturally drawn to using my people skills. When I was talking to the Communication Department, subconsciously, instinctively, whatever, I was drawn to it. It felt right. Within the Communication [class] choices I had, the one that was most alluring to me was the Interpersonal Communication [class]. I think partly because it’s what I use day to day. What I learn can be applied most effectively and efficiently. And since I don’t know what I truly want to do, taking a public speaking course could be used anywhere.”

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Alek has never been away from home for a considerable length of time. “I’m an independent person so I’m not really worried. It will be good to mature, meet new people, learn new things, change.”

“You won’t miss it your family?”

“I will but I don’t know about ‘homesick’. I’ve never experienced homesickness; I’ve never been away for this long. I’ve never experienced anything close to what’s called homesickness,” he says.

“You’re going to be gone a good chunk of time. You’re leaving behind everyone, your family, girlfriend… how does that feel?”

“It feels different, not necessarily bad,” he makes sure to clarify. “I guess I’m not used to it so it doesn’t feel normal, it doesn’t feel exactly right yet but it will. Slowly.”

“How do you think you’ll emerge, at the end of the year? Do you have any expectations or ideas of how things will turn out?”

“No,” he says. He’s keeping an open mind knowing that he will be exposed to new people, experiences and knowledge, all of which he’s ready to explore.  But adds with a laugh, “My liver will probably be shot.”

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