I live in East Oakland, Calif., a city with constant crime. When I walk to school I need to pay attention to my route so I don’t get caught in the crossfire of potential criminals and gang activity. Lots of people look down on me and pity me for living in a impoverished, dangerous community but I’ve learned a lot from living here, especially as a young woman.

As a young person, I feel like so much is expected from me but I am given so little power. By combining street smarts with my formal education I’ve been able to successfully maneuver throughout the city without being involved in criminal activity or being a victim to to it.

My friend Shaka defines street smarts as “the wisdom to choose, learn from observations, intuition and awareness.” In school this means acknowledging that there are crowds you need to avoid. Some troubled teens like to bring others down with them. At school, I know to be my own leader, regardless of the group I’m with. But on the streets it means watching your back to avoid being a victim to any criminal activity or any assault. Both types are necessary to flourish in a community like East Oakland.

Being assertive in school and on the street lets others know you are not to be messed with. As a girl, I can see how it allows me to add my voice to the conversation. This skill is essential in the workplace, too, where contributing to a team is equal parts doing and sharing.

Street smarts allow women to know they are powerful by letting them undermine problems with the challenges they experienced and observations. School always emphasizes the significance of having a higher education to be prosperous but street smarts aid this by giving the ability to socialize with different people, assertiveness, seeing what could benefit your community, independence, self security from protection, and realizations that all people do not have good intentions.

Women are always subjected to being objectified for their bodies, not their brains. In the streets, rejecting this idea earns you respect and people learn to see you powerful. In school, if you can’t rely on your brains then its impossible to move ahead.

Growing up in East Oakland I got in the habit of learning from everyone around me and every situation I was in. I learned to be aware of my surroundings – like the time I almost got robbed but I watched the people so they knew I was aware of their plan. My friends and I managed to survive the crime and gangs in our community by limiting our trust for all people. This might sound harsh but it’s better than being naive. I know anyone can turn on you at any moment and the key to surviving is having alternative plans to handle the situation.

As pack my bags to attend University of California, Merced this fall – the first in my family to do so – I will make sure to pack my street smarts with me. Through my community, friends and family I’ve learned a few life lessons that will help me in college, like accepting people for who they are, remembering that anyone can switch unexpectedly, and even how to express myself. I know how to be sociable without oversharing – a person may seem trusting but can actually be a secret enemy. I can figure out the root of the problem before I try resolving it. These are things I learned from the streets, but working and school have helped me, too. My formal education challenged me critically and creatively. Working helped me develop a tolerance level for people and act positively in challenging situations. Combined, the school and streets will help me succeed in college. I will be entering a new community but I will never forget where I come from and the lessons I carry with me.