De Anza student Austin Pleban breaks into a grin when asked about his first days in a college classroom last fall. The course was cultural anthropology – and it was the first time he’d been in a traditional classroom since first grade.

“This is awesome!” Pleban remembers thinking as he looked around the classroom.

Pleban, a Cupertino resident, came to De Anza after being home-schooled for most of his educational career. For Pleban, who found it difficult to learn in a traditional classroom when he was younger, home schooling with his parents was a great way to find his own interests and progress at his own pace.

But when it was time for college, Pleban knew he’d be venturing into a new kind of environment. While exciting, the prospect was also a little scary, he acknowledged.

Pleban chose De Anza both for its academic reputation and because friends told him it’s a very supportive place. He said he's been more than pleased on both counts.

“I was nervous, but I just told myself that this is what I wanted to do and this is how you start,” he continued. “You have to start with something you’re unfamiliar with ... and it’s been really fun.”

This is a very open, very positive community.

- First-year student Austin Pleban

“Here, the social aspects are very different, just in terms of the number of people around you all the time,” said Pleban, who has been introducing himself and meeting new people on campus. One big difference is the sheer number of people at De Anza. Pleban said he’s used to having a very small, close-knit group of friends that he came to know when he was home-schooled.

As for academics, Pleban said he’s been pleasantly surprised. “The work is hard, but at the same time I find myself enjoying it” – far more than he ever liked traditional schoolwork in the past. Once you buckle down “and actually start doing the work,” he said, “it becomes a lot easier.”

Pleban is taking more courses this winter and says he plans to major in biology. “I love the science of how different organisms interact with each other,” he explained.

His long-term goal is to work in marine biology or zoology, so his next step after De Anza will be a transfer to the University of California, Santa Cruz, or some other four-year school.

For now, Pleban said he’s heeding the words of anthropology instructor Angel Roque, who advised him not to be shy about asking for help from teachers or fellow students.

“A lot of people might be scared when they come into an experience like this,” Pleban said. “My experience has been great,” he said. “This is a very open, very positive community.”