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Benjamin

By , Ann Arbor, MI
I’m standing with a video camera in a French elementary school taping the nervous boy on stage as he utters the words in awkward, yet surprisingly understandable English. Regrettably, I am one of only a few in the audience who understand what kind of achievement this is for Benjamin. Only a year ago it would have seemed impossible for my seven-year-old host brother to find himself on stage in front of proud teachers and parents, but Benjamin’s success in overcoming his disabilities is remarkable. Video camera or not, I wish everyone could see the brave and determined boy that I do and appreciate the lessons he has taught me during my study abroad this past year in Dordogne, France.

My host parents took Benjamin into their home to foster him as an infant. The doctors told them that he would not be able to walk, talk, or even eat on his own. Though it took him time to learn certain things, like climbing up and down the stairs, or riding a bike, Benjamin proved to be astonishingly brilliant when he put his mind to it.

Benjamin never knew his biological father, so he is in constant search of an older male role model. Throughout my year in France, I was able to support Benjamin in various ways. I became a temporary math tutor for him when others had given up in frustration. I helped him ditch his fear of riding a bike by encouraging him to ride with me every weekend. With Benjamin I was more patient and less judgmental. Spending time with him, I saw past his obvious weaknesses and discovered a boy that was intelligent and courageous. When encouraged, Benjamin showed me that he could be at the top of his class with minimal effort—just the willpower to succeed.

As I watched over Benjamin, I noticed a change in myself as well. Without knowing it, Benjamin was inspiring me to try harder at everything I do, and to strive to perform to the absolute best of my abilities. When I first arrived in France, it was difficult to adjust to a foreign culture, an unfamiliar language, and a new family. Through relentless trial and error, I began to understand what others were saying to me, as well as how to express myself in the language and find a place within my family and school. This continuous decoding of languages and alien cultures sometimes turned my head into a churning battlefield, but my victories were rewarded with new experiences and a furthered acceptance into my community.

Looking through the video camera at Benjamin, I realize that I will soon be leaving for home. When the audience applauds, I look around thinking, that’s my Benjamin! I am proud of him and grateful to have had the privilege of knowing him. Benjamin helped me recognize strengths in my own character and was my greatest inspiration while working to gain acceptance into a new world. What more could you ask of a brother?





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