Survivor This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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     I always have a lot to say, but whenever I open my mouth, everything in my mind turns to cold sweat. I envy my classmates, who seem to speak without a moment of hesitation and their graceful pronunciations make me think of the springy blond curls in a shampoo commercial. My classmates don’t sweat when they talk, either. But then, they are Americans.

The fourth-hour bell rings. As I gather my English portfolio from my locker, my heart beats faster. I’ve been waiting for this class all day. My teacher said there would be a discussion of The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde, one of my favorite playwrights. Maybe I will say something today.

Forty-five minutes later, I’m frustrated. After flying to America three years ago, I still think and dream in Korean. While I’m feverishly translating my thoughts into English, a classmate is effortlessly spitting out what I want to say.

Meanwhile, my teacher glances at a clock and asks the final question. Feeling defeated, I raise my hand. She sweeps up her spectacles and calls on me. Everyone turns to look.

“I think Wilde is criticizing ...” as soon as I open my mouth, the cold sweat dampens the back of my shirt. What is the word I want? Fake? Superficial? “ ... criticizing the superficiality of the society ...” I feel my awkward tongue contorting out of control. I hear my own pronunciation distantly ringing in my ears, with wrong accents at wrong moments sharply pricking me. I’m a sorry raven singing the song of a nightingale. I gulp, hoping nobody hears.

“ ... that he was living in, as seen when Jack Worthing says ...” My head is spinning, and I want to close my eyes. I desperately try not to notice boys’ mischievous grins, while assuring myself over and over that speaking English in front of 23 people is really not a big deal, that I’m old enough to be confident.

So many voices are clashing within me that I can’t listen to any of them. I automatically cross my legs and glance at the blond head in front of me, without any particular thought. Yet the words come and leave my mouth, and I’m feeling myself.

Suddenly, I feel as if I have a duty to prove to my classmates, to my teacher and to myself that I’m not afraid of my pronunciation, that I have pride. I push my chin slightly upward and say my words even slower and louder.

No one says anything when I finish my answer, which lasted more than two minutes. Then the bell rings. People eagerly run into the hallway, and so do I, emerging victorious. Make no mistake, I will survive my remaining high school years in America.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the February 2005 Teen Ink Travel Contest.






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