"Ladies and gentlemen, the first place in the speech contest goes to Alice Tzou," the principal announced. I saw my entire class celebrating and hugging one another.
Again, I had won, just like other speech, debate, and essay contests. As a ninth grader in Taiwan, I had delivered the best speech to six thousand people in an auditorium. I was a leader, a star, receiving the applause of those who knew me, swaggering upon my shining stage.
Suddenly, in September 1994, I was dropped into the U.S. where I could not speak to even six people at a time, since I did not know much English. I was not even able to go to a fast-food restaurant because I did not know what and how to order. Having lost my spotlight, I entered tenth grade silently, no longer a star but a frustrated member of the audience, clapping for other people.
One day in a dance class in my new school in this new country, I was grouped by the teacher with two other girls. As I was introducing myself, one of the girls said to me, "Go away! You wouldn't know what we are saying." How I managed to get away from them without losing face I cannot recall. All I remember is that in those days, as soon as the bell rang I would run home and cry. I was made fun of and ostracized. I did not want to talk; I did not dare. With my self-confidence drowned, my social skills lost, and my sense of humor gone, I could not breathe.
But I knew I could not give up. I absorbed as much English as I could. Two years later, as a senior in high school, I find myself backstage - already a substantial move from being in the audience. I write for my high school newspaper, I participate in Forensics, Drama, and the Select Choir, speaking and singing as loudly as everyone else. Being a competitive student with a built-in momentum and a thirst of learning, I am encouraged, yet not completely satisfied with the book award given to me by The 21st Century for the most improvement in English, nor with a perfect score in voice solo by New York School Music Association. I am getting ready to perform on stage again.
The most important step on my way toward the footlights was the Harvard Summer Session I attended in 1996. The atmosphere allowed me to meet students from all over the world. I learned that as long as my heart is open to anything and anyone, I will be happy. I made good friends through whom I rediscovered my sense of humor; I was able to laugh again and to make others laugh. I proved to myself as well as to others that I found my old self - the confident, the victorious.
College, I hope, will be another dazzling stage for me to strut upon. -
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.