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Uprooted and Transplanted
What am I supposed to say? What am I supposed to act like? What am I supposed to wear? What are they going to think of me? What are they going to say about me? What if they don’t like me?
These are just some of the questions that are constantly circulating through my mind. I have always been extremely self conscious. I am constantly worrying about how I look. How I act. How I am being perceived. Growing up in a town like Park Ridge, where I was comfortable and felt safe, where I knew the names of the kids in my school and what they were like, where I had best friends, where my height was recorded in various colored markers and pens on the wall in my bedroom closet from when I could first stand was beneficial for a kid like me; one who is constantly worried about meeting new people, and making friends, and the ‘what if’s’ that are just a natural part of life. In the summer of 2007, weeks after my 12th birthday, my life was drastically changed from the normality of growing up in a Chicago suburb, to taking subways and public buses all across the islands of Hong Kong with my family.
I had never been the new kid.
I started my elementary school at the age of 5, and stayed there until I was 10, when I went to middle school. We moved to Hong Kong in October of 2007, 3 months after my parents told me we may be moving. The first couple of weeks was a sort of adjustment period. We were supposed to get used to the city, and allow our bodies to adjust to the twelve hour time difference.
To say we were overwhelmed would be an understatement.
The only member of my family to have gone to Hong Kong before was my step-dad, and he mainly spent time at his office or the hotel, never truly exploring outside of those places. The city was a total mystery, and having a completely new culture and language thrown in our faces was very difficult. We were constantly repeating ourselves, trying to be understood by the locals and attempting to assimilate.
Before I started school, my parents thought it would be best for me to have a tour of the building, ease some of my worries I guess.
I think their plan backfired.
When we finally pulled up in front of the school, I was greeted with stairs. Lots and lots of stairs. I know what you’re probably thinking, ‘oh she’s just being dramatic’. No. There were 187 stairs just to get to the first floor of this school, and I would later have to walk these uncovered steps in the pouring rain. My mom and I were the ones to take the tour, and when we got to the top, we were slightly embarrassed about how hard we were breathing due to being so out of shape. Now, along with worrying about what the older 8th graders or my fellow 7th graders would think of me, I was panicking that everyone would make fun of me for being fat.
All I wanted was to make a good impression on these exotic kids.
On the tour, my new principle said that I would have gym on my first day of school. Since the school was so small, there weren’t any locker rooms. On days that we had gym, we were just supposed to wear our gym uniforms to school instead of our normal uniform of khakis and the school polo. It turned out that the principle was thinking about the schedule for the sixth graders, who had gym on Mondays. So on my first day of school, when all I wanted was to make a good impression and avoid looking stupid, I ended up wearing the wrong clothes. I was so embarrassed. How do you end up wearing the wrong clothes when there is a uniform? When I walked into that classroom full of seventh graders, I was instantly 10 times more embarrassed.
I knew they were judging me. Hell, if I were in their position, I would have been doing the same thing. What person doesn’t evaluate new people? Even if you don’t mean to, your natural reaction when seeing someone new is to judge them. It’s just a flawed part of human nature. That fact alone terrifies me.
My first day in Hong Kong was October 23rd 2007. I had just left my best friends behind. My dad was in a time zone 13 hours behind the one I was in. The only people I knew in a country of 7 million people were my two younger sisters and my parents. We had just gotten off the plane at Hong Kong International. This may sound stupid, but all of a sudden, I realized how much my life was changing. As I looked around the airport and saw all of those people that, to be honest, looked exactly alike, was scary as hell.
It finally hit me that I was in another country. I was in f***ing China, a place I thought I would never be.
3 months before moving, my mom picked me up from my best friends house to take me to get my passport picture taken. I was so excited. I thought we were finally going to Italy. When she asked if I’d like to go to China, I laughed and replied, “Why would I want to go there?” Because of my naivety and twelve year old girl selfishness, I missed the look that briefly flitted across her face. I would have seen that I answered the wrong thing. That I was in for a damn big surprise.
My year in Hong Kong was insane. Absolutely one hundred percent insane. I never would have thought that I would be living in Hong Kong for a year. That all of my emotional limits would be tested within just the first month. I spent that year with my family, exploring, and being embarrassed to be seen with my parents, and trying to connect with the kids at my school.
But most importantly, I spent that year making memories.
I will never forget the things that I experienced there. The feelings that I felt. The friends that I made. The embarrassment of my first day of school.