United by a Room

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When I opened the door of my new dorm room, I wasn’t expecting to see a small Asian girl eagerly waiting to meet me. “Hi, I’m Yaya” she said with an accent as soon as our eyes met. She quickly grabbed one of my suitcases and helped me get situated on the empty side of the room. While I was dragging the last suitcase in, I began rambling about how excited I was to be attending boarding school. Although she was still smiling, she looked confused. “Oh, I’m sorry.” I said, after realizing she spoke little English. I talked slowly to make sure she understood me, only asking simple questions and giving back short responses. Within the first few minutes of our conversation, I noticed we didn’t have a lot in common. She lived halfway across the world in Taiwan while I lived only an hour away. While some people may have been disappointed to have a roommate with little in common, I was intrigued by her willingness to come to the United States to receive an excellent education.

The education I received was not only in the classroom. I was captivated by her willingness to better understand English. During our conversations, she would pay close attention to the way I spoke. If she didn’t understand a word or phrase, she asked the definition, how to spell it, then jotted it down. She taught me anything could be achieved though determination and hard work. Sometimes late at night when I felt like giving up on homework, she stayed up with me and was my motivation to continue. The grades I achieved were a result of my dedication to being the best I could be, and to make Yaya proud.

Although there were obvious differences, we discovered more similarities about each other every day. Taiwanese uphold many of the same values and beliefs Americans do. She displayed a vast amount of courage, independence, and compassion. On nights I fell asleep on top of the covers, I would wake up to her gently covering me with a blanket. When I came back to the room after cross country practice, I would find my favorite fruit, an orange sitting on my desk. After Christmas Break, I would come into the room to find a thoughtful gift on my desk with Yaya’s handwriting, “Just thought of you when I saw this.” I thanked her for the wooden chopsticks with my name engraved, without truly showing her the impact she made on me. Her kindness not only impacted me directly, but also impacted the way I treated others.

People from different countries don’t always feel immediately connected. It’s important to step outside your comfort zone and get to know different people. I’m fortunate I was given the opportunity to get to know someone from another culture. Yaya could have been one of those people I never had the privilege of knowing if I didn’t give it an honest chance. Although she looked different and was from across the world, she was still a person and I had to respect our differences.

Soon we are going to graduate and go down different roads, but I know we will keep in touch and genuinely care about each other’s lives. I’m very blessed to have been given this chance to spend high school with someone from a foreign nation. I will never forget the journey we had together and the lessons learned that made me a more diverse person. The cultural differences brought together by our room will have a long lasting impact on my life.





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