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story.lead_photo.caption Ryan Shaffer (top, center) watches some of his former Decatur Bulldog basketball/track teammates play their final game of 2017 against the Life Way Warriors in the gym at First Baptist Church in Centerton Dec. 29. Joining Shaffer was his sister Cameron (top, right) and friends Bracy Owens (left) and Leng Lee, the old guard. - Photo by Mike Eckels

DECATUR -- When Ryan Shaffer walked down the ramp after receiving his high school diploma May 14, 2017, he began a long 1,500-mile journey that started at Peterson Gym in Decatur to Tufts University in Medford, Mass.

Shaffer was among 14,491 seniors to submit an application to the QuestBridge program, a national nonprofit organization that connects exceptional, low-income youth with leading institutions of higher learning.

The Palo Alto (Calif.) organization makes 38 of the best colleges and universities in the United States available to students who otherwise could not afford this kind of educational experience.

Shaffer learned in early January 2017 that he was one of 44 students selected from QuestBridge to attend Tufts, the college of his choice.

Shaffer is a lifelong resident of Decatur, living in the same house for 19 years. Shaffer and his family have traveled to other nearby states like Oklahoma, Texas, Missouri and, on one occasion, Alaska. But he has never had an extended stay far from home.

Along with his mother, Ann Wilkins, and father, Brad Shaffer, departed Decatur in mid-August for the east coast and Medford, Mass. The journey took about a week to complete, making a few educational stops along the way. Shaffer's parents stayed in Medford for a few days to help him acclimate to his new surroundings before bidding a tearful goodbye and returning to Decatur.

In the time before classes began, Shaffer was required to go through the usual orientation programs that all college freshmen are required to take to make the transition from high school to college a little less stressful.

Shaffer's new home away from home is in Houston Hall, Room 313. This stately four-story building is located near the center of the campus, well within walking distance of his classes and one other important building he frequents at least three times a day (if not more).

"I usually eat in Carmichael dining, but I have eaten at some local restaurants like 'Yoshi's' which serves sushi," Shaffer said. "I've eaten at 'Tenoch,' which serves excellent Mexican food, and 'Boston Burger Company' -- all located in David Square in Somerville (Mass.)."

One piece of campus life Shaffer has a little trouble with is not having a car at his disposal. The university discourages the use of cars. So Shaffer is dependent on public transportation to get around the Medford and Boston area. Most of the shops and restaurants are more than 20 minutes away. So Shaffer and his friend use shuttle buses to go into Somerville for extra food items and other amenities. One mode of transportation he was not used to is the subway.

"I usually have to take the shuttle to Davis (Square) where the subway (station) is located," said Shaffer. "Switching from one subway to another is a problem for me. I don't have the navigational skills to change from one station to another. But I am getting better at it. I don't think anyone in my family has ever been on a subway before. But it is a necessity up there."

One thing Shaffer likes about the subway system in the Boston area is the people.

"I find that subways are neat," Shaffer said. "There is a whole lot of people that use the subway, and a very interesting mix of people at that."

The one strong suit Shaffer has is his ability to meet new people and form lasting friendships. During his first few weeks at Tufts, he has forged several new friendships from all over the United States."

"My roommate's name is Lucas from Middlebury, Vt.," Shaffer said. "My friends are Lizzie from Palo Alto, Calif., and Jordyn from Great Falls, Mont."

Shaffer has yet to decide just what major he plans to pursue. So, this first semester, he took some general courses that Tufts requires for all incoming freshmen.

Shaffer's first semester classes included Globalization (history), Comparative Politics, Economic Principles, and Spanish 1. The Spanish class was his first foreign language class and he had a little trouble with it at first. But as the semester progressed, he adapted and, by the end of the term and finals, Shaffer pulled out a B-plus grade in that subject.

For almost three weeks after his last final, Shaffer wondered how he did grade wise. On Jan. 4, he got the answer to this question, three As and a B for a 3.67 grade-point average. Not bad for a small-town boy attending a big, east-coast college.

What classes does Shaffer plan to take next semester when he returns later this month? As with his first semester, he will take general courses such as Introductory Education, Introduction to Statistics, The Americas (history), Spanish 2 and Introduction to Philosophy.

Ryan Shaffer flies out of Northwest Arkansas bound for Boston's Logan International Airport on Jan. 10. He will return to his classes Jan. 18 for his second semester at Tufts University.

General News on 01/10/2018

Print Headline: Shaffer returns home for short break

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