May 28, 2009
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Do you understand English? What makes you want to live in United States? Did the money play a big role in the decision? Don’t you want to be a U.S. citizen, live in this free country and pursue your happy American dreams? These types of questions are always asked and always misunderstood by people. Hearing these questions refreshes my memories of uneasy transition. However, how much do people know about the background of our stories? Before we really enjoy these benefits, we all have to go through a period of tough times. By coming to the strange land, we gave up the place we are comfortable with, the language we are familiar with, the faces we see every day and the culture we were used to. Overall, the transition was not smoothes for me, either.
The characteristics of this particular subculture are unique. What makes this subculture special? Well, as a foreign student myself, I had completely defined these unique characteristics in my own experiences. Each member of this subculture can be defined as a hero. People can be seen as heroes who fight in a war without any explosions, blood or death. Instead, the purpose of this cruel war is not to be aggressive or to kill. However, it is to overcome ourselves. How do we overcome ourselves? What makes us to have the power to fight over ourselves? That tremendous strengths are comes from the new environment. It is the makeup of new surroundings which force us to explore other sides of ourselves. Our secret weapon is to be able to reflex and open minded to abject elements.
Of course, the language is a huge challenge for most of us in this subculture. From the moment, I arrived in L.A. International Airport and walked out the plane, I immediately felt I was into a “tight place”, everything and everyone seemed to go against me. As I dragged myself slowly toward the checkout, the blue-eyed lady stood behind the counter talking in her soft voice and with a friendly smile on her face said: “How can I help you?” I didn’t know what she had just said and my heart was almost jumped out of my throat. My throat felt like it was closing in on itself. A few seconds later, her face turned weird and she spoke slowly, as if I was stupid. As soon as I heard the word “……Chinese……….,” I paused and talked in a low volume. “Yes.” Yes was the only word that could come out of my mouth and my face turned red so quick. Then she made a phone call. Mom seemed to understand how I felt and pleaded: “It is fine, don’t worry, you will learn English quickly, you will be fluent in just a few years.”From this airport experience I so completely understand and have sympathy for people who cannot express themselves in the language of the people around you, it is a horrible frustrating feeling. Few minutes later, an Asian guy arrived. “Oh, my god. I can’t believe they have a translator here, Mom.” I said happily. Then he helped us to get on the plane to fly to Chicago. I was thankful for the friendly help; we didn’t miss the plane.
Most Chinese students notice that there are many differences between schools. American schools are much easier than schools in our motherland. The effect of first day in American school would never be erased in my mind; Hill Middle School is located in a decent neighborhood. As I followed other students entering the building, students didn’t go straight to class. Instead, they went to their storage which I found out they called lockers. I leaned back against by my locker and looked questionly at the lock; I had no clue how to deal with it. I wished I could ask the person next to me, but I couldn’t say a word. I felt uncertain at that situation, my legs were deeply rooted to the floor, and I couldn’t help stop sweating.
Finally, I walked heavily into the office. The secretary took me to classes and introduced me. As we walked down a hallway, I could see a huge open classroom with students sitting around tables, not at all like the neat rows of desks in my class in China. We walked through what appeared to be a library, shelves of books, but without walls. Why aren’t there any walls? Suddenly I heard students laughing and talking. Not many students seemed to be working on their work, as in China. How could they learn well with so much noise? We stopped at an open classroom on the far side of the library. A teacher was reading a book to a group of students sitting on the floor around her. There were only about twenty kids in the class, not fifty, as there had been in my class in China. She was an older lady, with clear wrinkles running through her forehead. The teacher said something and gestured toward a space on the floor next to a big girl with a big, goofy gap between her front teeth. The girl smiled and patted the floor beside her. Didn’t American schools have enough chairs? As I looked around, some of them were a lot bigger and fatter than eight graders in China. Some kids had faces that were pinkish or shiny brown. Several had yellow hair, including one boy whose hair was almost white. Another didn’t seem to have any hair, and some had wires on their teeth decorated with bright colors. To the far left, there was a student who was eating his food.
Suddenly, the bell rang. Students rushed out of the classroom to the cafeteria. The students ran up to line up, passed a seated woman who took money or scan cards. I stood near the door feeling uncertain. I wanted to go back to the classroom, but I didn’t remember how to get back. A girl next to me held up a plastic card and looked at me with a question in her eyes. She questioned “Do you have a school I.D.?” What is school I.D.? Why do they need I.D. for lunch? Why not just pay cashier by cash? I shook my head no. She led me to the end of line and talked to the cashier. The girl tried to explain the instructions to me, and I nodded as if I understood. The cashier let me go ahead to the line. I followed her through the line, got a tray and putted food on it. In my eyes, there was no food that looked normal to me. The food looked strange; there were some sliced, cut, raw vegetables mixed with a white sauce, and a hard yellow cracker on top of it. The milk came in small brown or pink cartons. I thought Americans only drank milk from big gallons. Some of the food looked so colorful, but they were all highly sweetened. She led me to her table with other girl from eighth grade. While I stared at the food, I figure out what it was. I noticed that the other girls ate with their hands, not with a fork or spoon. Do they care about table manners? Or have they quitted using silverwares? I picked a slice and chewed for a while. It taste so unusual, I couldn’t swallow.
Before I chewed it for too long, I ran to the nearest garbage can and started vomiting. I couldn’t understand why people here like to eat raw vegetables.
The transition seems impossible to be recovered. However, it was extremely painful. The hardship hasn’t completely gone as time has passed. The inner battle is still fighting. But its unique experience reminds us to be strong; we need to be unbeatable to pass each single challenge; we need to have a brilliant smile to meet a hard-worn victory. After all, I truly wish all foreign students could have an enjoyable time in other countries.

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