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Coming to America is a phrase that most immigrants can only dream about, but luckily for me, that dream became a realitywhen I arrived in the United States of America 13 years ago. Here I was, a five year old girl from Burkina Faso (West Africa), entering the land of liberty, land of glamour and architecture. Entering a land that was amazingly different from where I was coming from. My experience in America would ultimately change my life forever. A journey of self discovery was in store for me going forth
My elementary days of euphoria, anxiety, fear and anguish were gradually diminishing as a result of a gradually process of acclimatization. Then one sunny day my father told me that I would be attending junior high school next. Burkina Faso schools are completely different from America schools so I was unaware of what to expect. I just wanted to cope with the American kids and have them be warmhearted towards me and my African culture. It was hard going to sleep that night as a result of anticipation. Actually being able step foot into an American school was exhilarating. The next morning when I finally arrived at school I was in for a complete revelation.
Junior high happened to be a complete culture shock from my early exposure to elementary education. There are many differences between African and American schools. Never in my life had I seen a school so large in size. Another major difference between African and American schools was the public transportation system operated by the school board of education. In Burkina Faso there is no bus system so all students walk to school under the scorching sun the government have insufficient funds to provide students with free public transportation. I knew that I was going to love going to school, so I thought.
As I got settled into my first class, I began to feel like an outcast. To my astonishment I was received with such adverse negativity by my peers. In a predominantly white school all the students were staring at me like I was an alien from a different planet. Perhaps being one of the few blacks in the entire school had something to do with it. Or maybe they were just not use to seeing someone from a different nationality. My nightmare began as the teacher started taking the attendance. When she reached my last name she began to struggle. I told her the correct pronunciation while my fellow classmates began to stare. At the end of the class period the school notorious bully called Evan followed me down the hallway. He embarrassed me in front of my peers by yelling hurtful words that I would rather not mention in this essay. Needless to say I was stunned and hurt by his comments and in my mind’s eyes time seemed immobile at this point. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t talk, and I couldn’t breathe. It felt as if my heart had been broken into insignificant fragments. Not only was I verbally humiliated, but I had not a soul to lean on for support. Not until then did it finally dawn unto me that I was all alone and by myself.
That evening I came home all in tears. Disappointed and shocked about what I had encountered earlier in the day I was contemplating the worse. Realizing that this would be my home and school for a long period of time, I knew I had to come up with a plan to make myself acceptable. Several days of consistent humiliation ensured before I finally came up with an organized plan. My plan was to blend in with all the other kids. That way they won’t judge nor criticize me anymore. There were steps I would have to follow in order to be accepted by my peers. Now the question was how?
Step one was to become more sociable. I tried to start conversations with other students primarily to get over my shyness. This for me was extremely difficult since my English was not very great coming from a French speaking country. In fact my English was horrible. The first step began to quickly back fire due to my pronunciations and accent. Words came out completely wrong which always lead to laughter from those I wanted to impress the most. Even though I spoke English it was improper and more like slang. I knew I had to go to the next step or plan B.
The second step was to dress more like an American including changing my hair and personal style. Everyday I would come to school in casual African attire, but in order for people to relate to me I felt my wardrobe had to have a drastic transformation. I begged my father for money to take me shopping. After hours of non-stop pleadings, he finally agreed. We drove to a nearby department store and purchased stylish clothing. I could not wait to go to school the next day and show off my new wardrobe. Later on in the day my father took me to the hair salon to have my hair completely redone. The hair stylists worked miracles on my head. She transformed my hair from having a short afro to a having a head full of soft ringlets, wow! The next day at school people were very surprised or may be impressed with my dramatic transformation. Plan B was beginning to come into place. The feeling of satisfaction and excitement was flowing through my body. People were suddenly accepting me. People were more interested in my choice of new clothing and hairstyle than my personality. I was thrilled that I no longer felt like an outcast.
The last step in sealing the deal with my peers was to gain their acceptance by changing my harsh African vernacular and substituting it with the classic “Valley Girl” accent. To my satisfaction my third step worked well. Having to change my accent was the second hardest step. It took me days of practice. I eventually mastered it to perfection. I was finally being accepted and I love every moment of it.
Weeks went by before my father began to pick up on what was happening to me at school. Before entering the house I had to change my accent back to normal however, there were days when I would forget. My father felt like part of the problem was his fault. He wished that he could protect me from the dangers of the world even though that is humanly impossible. He sat me down and told me that if human beings are turned inside out, that their insides would all look the same. I took his words of wisdom to heart, but that perished away as I began to think about the kids at school and how their minds are different from his. I loved my father for taking the time to talk to me about my behavior, but I knew deep down inside that the next day I would be back to my double lifestyle.
Months went by and I still had friends and everything was perfect until one day a new student named Juliet arrived at school. She was an immigrant from Burkina Faso too. The distress I went through in the beginning was now occurring to her. I felt bad because I knew if I associated with her, I would loose acceptance from my friends. Days went by and I still kept my distance from Juliet. As I was walking through the hallway the unimaginable happened. Evan, the same bully that embarrassed me in the hallway a couple of months earlier pushed Juliet. She fell to ground along with the ample amount of books in her hand. My heart was jam-packed with rage. I quickly ran to Juliet’s rescue. At that moment the only thing going through my mind was to help Juliet in her time of need. The principal came to investigate what had happened. I testified on Juliet’s behalf. Evan was later suspended for misconduct. The word got around school and pretty soon people were staring at me once again. This time I did not have to care. My so called friends no longer associated themselves with me. From that day on I began acting like a leader instead of a follower. No longer did I let people step over me like a doormat nor put on an act in front of others to be accepted. I would rather have friends that enjoyed my company solely based on my personality instead of materialistic things.
Although American culture is well known in Africa, actually blending in took a lot of time and pointless energy. At the end of my ordeal, I realized the best method to making friends for a lifetime is by being unique to you. Appreciating me for myself gave others the opportunity to truly know and frankly love me.