Common Ground: Still striving to be the best he can be

Four years ago, I wrote about a teenager who earned a perfect score on the ACT exam.

Steven Olsen, then a 15-year-old Baton Rouge Magnet High honor student, was among a fraction of students nationwide who had accomplished the feat of acing a college entrance exam.

These days, Steven rides camels in Africa, snowboards in France and studies abroad at a French University.

His academic wizardry and his attitude and dedication toward his studies originally grabbed my attention.

“I set goals for myself and I get things done,” he told me in 2010. “I have a planner and I write everything down I have to do.” His parents also instilled in him a love for learning and exploring at a young age.

Now 19, Steven’s travels reveal more about a young man who has adapted, survived and gained self-confidence and appreciation from his encounters away from home.

I interviewed Steven earlier this month to find out whether his goals have taken shape as well.

He signed up with the International Student Exchange program last year and now studies math at LSU and French at Savoie University in France, he said.

“It’s (studying abroad) a big commitment, but there’s also a huge potential for personal growth. You have to go into it with a positive mindset,” he wrote in an email.

Cultural differences between France and the United States were obvious, Steven said.

“The mind-set in France is much more laid back; in America, it can feel as though everything is in a hurry. If you want to buy something in America, Walmart is always open, and you can immediately buy just about anything you could want. In France, the supermarket is open until 8:30 p.m., and closes from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. for lunch. This is rough at first, but pretty soon you realize that you could probably just make do with what you have,” he wrote.

Besides feeling more sympathetic toward non-English speakers in the U.S., he is more self-reliant.

“When I went to France for the first time, I didn’t know anyone there and I didn’t speak any French. I was entirely alone in a foreign country with only myself to rely on. And I adapted. I learned to survive and even thrive there,” Steven wrote.

Too, Steven learned to look for the unexpected adventures he encountered during his travels to Morocco, where he watched goats climb argan trees and eat its fruit.

“It was totally magical; all I could do was stand there and smile,” he said.

Steven’s lessons learned from his many travels and academic experiences impart a wise message to anyone thinking about playing it safe.

“All I can do is keep questioning, keep seeking out new experiences and keep striving to be the best I can be,” he wrote.

That says it all.

Chante Dionne Warren is a freelance reporter. She can be reached at