Just 48 hours into her first summer at EXPLO, Gwen is already comfortable being herself — and she wants others to know they can be themselves here, too.

I love to write. I'm actually writing a novel right now. It's about children growing up in Europe during World War II. I'm researching that topic and time period specifically because I have a lot of family ties to the war and I wanted to learn more about it. I've been working on it for about two years; I have 50,000 words and 100-something pages. When it's done, if I'm happy with it, I'll probably try and publish it. Then I'll start writing my second novel — a mystery one that takes place in Washington state.

It was obviously a little awkward the moment I arrived on campus; in my head I kept wondering, is this going to be like my school? But almost immediately, I found a group of really cool, relatable people. I usually can't find people who I can relate to — who are like me  so it's an awesome feeling knowing I can actually talk with people about current events, world affairs, and things like that.

It's been less than two days and I already love it here. I feel like I can be myself, especially with activities like the Gay-Straight Alliance club. It makes me feel like I'm not alone in the LGBT community because where I come from, if you fall under that umbrella, rumors get spread and assumptions get made. Here, I feel like I can tell people my identity without anyone being mean to me or making fun of me for it. If EXPLO were my school and I got to be in classes with all of the people here, I'd never want to miss a day.

Something I want people to know is that there's always a place for them, even if you think that you're the weirdest, strangest person in the world. If you feel like the biggest outcast or can't find anyone else who's your gender or sexuality or shares your interests, you'll find a place. It may take time, but you'll get there. And for me, I think it's here.