When I first came to the United States, I went to a school called Chinese Education Center. As I walked into the school, no one was wearing uniforms. This was very different from the schools in China. When I walked into the classroom, everyone was speaking English and I didn’t understand what they were saying. The kids were playing some board games I’d never seen before. Already, day one, I felt like I was fresh off the boat. I was like the only one in the land who was alone, while everyone was forming a group of people. Everything looked different and I felt like I had entered a totally different world.
Two of my Chinese classmates were playing a game that looked very fun. I was so relieved to see people like me who I thought I might be able to talk to. I asked in Chinese if I could join them, assuming they spoke Chinese too, but then quickly realized they spoke a different dialect. I thought I’d formed a pathway to communication, but even that small road had major cracks.
Later on, the bell rang. Everyone was sitting down and ready for the class to begin. I was the only one standing awkwardly in front of the class. I was scared because everyone was staring at me like some alien from another planet. They were silently whispering to each other, but it felt like they were shouting into a microphone. And unlike schools in China, the class size was very small so I couldn’t be anonymous; there was no blending in. I felt nervous because their faces didn’t wear welcoming expressions; their cold eyes said to go away. I had never seen such looks before. I surveyed the classroom from afar and saw no open seats. I wanted to dig a hole and bury myself in it. As the teacher told me to introduce myself, my body was shaking like there was an earthquake. I didn’t know what to say and didn’t know how I was supposed to introduce myself.
Finally, the teacher assigned me to sit next to a Chinese girl that was from Taishan. I felt a bit calmer because the girl looked nice and kind, and she taught me a lot. Her name was Susan, and we began working together almost every day. She would help me with school work and explain things to me. She started to become a friend, almost like a big sister to me. I felt like I was skydiving and had attached myself to her parachute.
When I wasn’t with Susan, I was alone on an island. During lunch time, everyone was playing in the yard. Kids were yelling across the yard. Some of them were laughing and they seemed like they were having a lot of fun. Some of the girls were whispering to their friends and sharing jokes. The yard was very hot; it was hot enough that I couldn’t even breathe. I was trying to join one of the dodgeball groups, but they didn’t seem like they wanted me to join them. Literally, I was suffocating from the heat, but I was also suffocating from my feeling of aloneness. I felt left out, so I went to sit on the bench.
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