It was a Monday afternoon. We had been in the country for a little over three weeks when we realized that I needed to go to school. We didn’t know what to do. One night, my parents took me to night school to learn the language. Because of my age, they said I needed to go to regular school.
So, on Monday, my dad drove me to the local high school to enroll after I had to take some tests at the school district offices. They needed to see where I would needed to placed. Much to my happiness, I tested at a 12th grade. Sadly, the lack of English skills sent me back to repeat the 9th grade. Yes, I was in 10th grade when I moved up here.
After submitting all the paperwork the school needed, the counselor told me it was time to say goodbye to my dad. School would begin right away. WAIT A MINUTE!! Why? Didn’t I need school supplies? Nope! It was time to go. My dad gave me some money for lunch. I didn’t have anything before leaving the house. With a $20.00 bill in my pocket and not much else, I was given a schedule. One girl took me to a cart outside the cafeteria to buy food.
The following memory will forever be in my mind. As I handed the $20.00 to the lady she said in a very rude voice (she spoke my language), “we don’t take $20.00 bills. Read the sign. You don’t get lunch today.”
From there on, I knew I had to learn the language to show this lady.
I was so hungry.
The bell rang and off to my class I went.
The culture clash was very interesting. It sounds so bad, but the type of ESL students that were in the class were the type of people I would never hang out with. They came from different backgrounds. But it didn’t matter. Here I was – poor and very lost. It was a humbling experience for which I will be grateful for my entire life.
The first few days were very hard. I had to learn to move from class to class. I had to get a locker and a *gasp* a lock – which, by the way, got stuck. If it hadn’t been for a nice girl, I would still be stuck in that locker room trying to get my PE uniform out.
A funny thing happened. I thrived as the days, weeks, months, and years went by. I learned the language. Within two years, I moved out of the ESL classes. I actually graduated with honors. I was one of the top 100 students in the school district.
Back then it was so hard to see the good. I felt poor, out of place (I still do), homesick, and physically ill. The first three months of school were a constant battle with colds. I had a cold every two weeks or so!
After school, my dad picked me up and we had Chinese food.
That place is now a doughnut shop.
So much has changed in twenty years. I am married (for the second time) with two wonderful children. I still have the weight struggles that I had then.
At the same time, two things remain the same. First, I am STILL in school. Second, I still love to do homework with only minimal lighting. The first few months in the country were spent in a garage sleeping on a cold floor. I did homework by the only lamp that gave us light. I hunched over to get my assignments completed. I still prefer to do that!
I should have had Chinese food with dad to celebrate the anniversary, but having the kids made the day so much sweeter.