This piece is part of an ongoing series called With Love From. You can read the rest of the articles here. If you would like to send some love from your side of the world this semester, please contact Precious ([email protected]), Helen ([email protected]), Lyon ([email protected]), Adaobi ([email protected]), or Arden ([email protected]).

Adaobi (“Ada”) Amanna spends the first half of her second year in San Francisco, taking time to reflect, learn, and grow amid a pandemic, elections, and protests in her home country, Nigeria.

In one word, she describes San Francisco as “open-minded.” Coming from a “very conservative community,” living on Turk Street with its street-light poles painted in transgender colors was a ways out of her comfort zone at first, even while she accepts the LGBTQ community. 

“Normally, if you’re older than someone, culturally it is expected of you to do better than them.”

When it came to the Minerva community, she also admits to the struggles she had with the emphasis on individuality she’d noticed with many of her classmates. Back in her motherland, “raising a child is a community thing,” where as a kid having misbehaved, you could reasonably expect someone other than your parents to scold you. For her, the Western attitude of every man for himself took a little adapting to. “It was very sad for me,” Ada remembers.

Since then, she has managed to find her own people, and is happy with the Minervan community in San Francisco this semester. She and her friends have “invented a small community of Africans” in the dormitory, where they “make jokes, play Nigerian music, and study together.”

The third struggle in San Francisco was the food. “American food is terrible,” she laughs, half-crying. She starkly remembers the first meal she had in SF: “bland, cold… I felt like throwing up.” Just with everything else, however, she’s built her own comfort zone. Now, she enjoys the myriad Mexican food and Indian food she can get in the city, and cooks Nigerian food when she can. 

Since this summer, Ada has been taking online classes in coding and has worked in an internship. She used to feel “shameful” about her lack of skill in coding in her first year. “If I didn’t understand something I’d be so frustrated and disturbed.” 

I ask her what it’s like being able to understand all the things she used to feel so lost with. “It’s been wonderful,” she says, nodding and smiling to herself. 

“I used to go to the school on Mission Street just to practice so that no one could hear me making mistakes.”

Currently, Ada is pursuing AI in healthcare, partly because she has always been interested in the field of medical science, but also because such a career can be a trajectory to many other opportunities. She particularly looks forward to getting enough capital to found her own orchestra in Nigeria. 

Music happens to be one of the first things Ada and I bonded over, when we first met each other last year. I had trouble believing the fact that a violinist lived two doors away from me, who had already landed a seat in an SF-based orchestra! As a violin newbie and enthusiast, I had rented a violin and often practiced some horrible scales in my room — my then-roommates can tell you the rest.

Little did I know that I was also serving as Ada’s inspiration. Excessive enthusiasm and egocentricity meant that I played in broad daylight without a mute to muffle the noise, which had shocked Ada. “She plays without a mute?!” she recalls the surprise she felt. “I used to go to the school on Mission Street just to practice so that no one could hear me making mistakes,” she confesses. “Now I got so comfortable. You pushed me not to use the mute ever again.”

Our conversation drifts to the YouTube channel, TwoSetViolin, in which two violinists/quasi-comedians embark on a mission on making classical music slightly less stigmatized and underrated. One of their favorite repertoires is reacting to child prodigies on the violin. 

Ada admires TwoSet. “Normally, if you’re older than someone, culturally it is expected of you to do better than them. But they don’t feel offended by someone who plays better.” TwoSet’s motto is “Practice forty hours a day.” Physical impossibility aside, it reminds us that it is only ourselves we’re fighting against — our fears and our laziness. We’re not fighting against some child prodigy who “started playing from the womb” — Ada’s description verbatim. 

As with any interview these days, I ask Ada how she has been keeping herself above water amid everything. She tells me she has been working on recognizing her anxiety, as she recognizes this kind of skill is “useful in Minerva as an international student.” She hopes to take the rest of the semester easy, planning and budgeting her upcoming semester in Seoul. Finances can get “a bit overwhelming at Minerva,” she admits. 

One other thing. “I practice violin every day. It’s a bit of a distraction. When I play something right, I do a little dance and scream to myself, “I got it!” It throws me off of thinking extreme things.”

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