Author's note: My experience in USA has been amazing so far. It inspired me to write short stories. I expect... Show full author's note »
The Best Advice“So, Julia, how long have you stayed in USA?” asked a girl with big glasses and pleasant face. She was about seventeen years old. Thin dark hair was hanging upon her shoulder.
“Um, it’s about two month, “ answered Julia. She was used to such kind of questions.
Girls were walking down the hallway at the conference for the exchange students and this girl – Sam, was helping Julia to find a cafeteria.
“Do you have any favorite restaurants so far?” asked Sam.
“Oh, yes. I really like the Cold Stone. Ice cream there is magnificent! I would spend all my life in that place!”
“Oh, it’s funny! But anyway…I bet it’s hard to be an exchange student, ha? Everything is so different here, isn’t it?” Sam started smiling for an unknown reason.
“Oh yes, it is,” answered Julia. Why do they all ask the same questions? she thought.
“So, what is the best and the most important thing that you’ve learned while staying here?”
For a moment Julia thought that Sam somehow read her mind and asked a totally new kind of question.
“Well… I cannot think of anything specific…Um…”
That was a confusing question. Julia thought for about ten seconds and that was a very time to finally say something. The pause became awkward.
Suddenly one thing came to her mind. Julia turned her head to the window and started remembering the story.
It was about seven p.m. Julia was making her morning things trying to get ready to school. It wasn’t a big deal: she could get ready in 15 minutes if necessary. But it took her about 40 minutes on the school bus to get there.
“I live in the middle of nowhere,” thought Julia remembering her long and boring way to school. Even though that day her new girlfriend Hunter was supposed to give her a ride and therefore to give her extra half an hour of sleep Julia wasn’t happy at all.
This was her first month in USA and everything, literally everything was brand new to Julia. Back home, in Ukraine, she usually was up by 7 and it took her about 20 minutes on bus to get to school. Julia couldn’t get why in the country which is considered the most developed in the world there was no public transportation in towns. It complicated her life so much. Being stuck in the woods wasn’t what she expected.
Julia was ready to go when the car arrived.
“Hi, Hunter! Oh, thank you so much for picking me up. I slept for half an hour more today. It’s such a good feeling!”
Hunter smiled at her.
“It’s so easy to make you happy, Ukrainian! Haha….”
Suddenly she switched on the music as if she didn’t want to hear Julia talking.
“Ok…whatever” thought Julia deciding to keep silence. During all the way to school they were listening to the music and didn’t share a word.
That was OK for Julia. She liked looking in the window while driving somewhere. All the same panoramas were outside. Stone motionless trees. Haybales waiting calmly for their destiny. They were there every morning when Julia was riding the bus. And they were there when she was coming back to the house. Every time you glance at nature from the window…why does it have such a tranquil effect?
Suddenly Julia’s idyllic thoughts were interrupted. She heard a song she really liked. Julia’s already heard it before but she didn’t know its name.
“Hey, Hunter, how is this song called?” she was curious.
“I don’t know the name of the song but as far as I remember the singer is Taylor Swift. She’s really popular country singer here.”
“I really love this song. Interesting sounding,” said Julia.
“Oh, are you in the choir class?”
“Yes, I am.”
“Are you ready to those auditions they will have today?”
“Auditions? I haven’t heard about it. No one told me!” Julia was confused.
“Well, today they will decide which song our choir is going to sing on the high school spring choir concert. Everyone is supposed to bring one song, and during the class they will listen to all of them and then decide which one is the best. Mister Carpenter said that he wanted something completely new this time. New sounding, you know.”
I didn’t know a thing about that! I’m not ready at all!, thought Julia feeling desperate. It was usual situation for her. She missed some words of the teachers and sometimes it caused problems.
“Don’t worry, Julia! That’s fine! You’ve got an excuse, you are foreign exchange student! And besides, you said you liked this song. I have it on my iPhone so I can send it to you.”
“Really? That would be so good!”
“OK, that means you already have it.”
“Thank you, Hunter! Thank you so much!”
That song was stuck in Julia’s head. She was really curious about its name and the singer but when she received it the title in her cell phone said Unknown. Whatever.
By getting to the campus, Julia traditionally said a couple of nice words to Hunter and went to the building. She went to her locker to grab books she needed.
As for lockers. In Ukraine Julia saw them in American movies and always dreamed about one, because in Ukraine there were no lockers at schools.
From Julia’s diary (dated 16th October 2011):
“It is so flattering to realize that this narrow steel box, this little part of the whole establishment belongs to me. It’s like a soul: only you know the combination and only you can get inside. And also some people you trust, but not too much. Touching.”
According to Julia’s calculations her school day lasted for 6 hours and 50 minutes. Sounds like routine, doesn’t it? Yes, it does. But this word can have a positive meaning as well. Since Julia was an exchange student, a lot of words happened to have some positive meaning which she didn’t know about.
Soon the classes started. After the third class Julia had her lunch. In cafeteria she found her friends with whom she usually stayed and went up to them.
“Hi, Arianna! Hi, Corey! How are you, guys, today?” Julia learnt the way of American behavior pretty soon.
“We are fine” said Arianna. “What about you?”
“I’m fine too, thanks. I’m really excited about that choir competition today. I’ve got one good song.” Julia still had that song stuck in her head.
“Oh, really?” said Corey. “That’s sweet. But anyway, I unlike you am not that excited. Believe me, there will be a lot of really crappy pop music.”
“Oh, yeah,” said Arianna. “Very true! I have no idea why do people love that kind of music, cause it’s really crappy. Like, Taylor Swift and a lot of others. It just drives me nuts.” Julia surprisingly looked at her. Taylor Swift? Is that the one she was going to bring to the competition?
“So, what about that Taylor Swift?” asked Julia curiously. She was a kind of afraid to hear the answer.
“It’s just not too good music’ Arianna answered. “Last year one girl brought her song to the auditions and my friend Sabrina said in front of audience that that song was crappy. Can you believe that? She just stood up and told what she thought. Teacher wasn’t really satisfied, but all the kids started screaming and clapping. Like I said, Taylor Swift doesn’t make good music. No one else dared to say the truth except Sabrina so all the kids were screaming something like “Sabrina is right!” or “Good job, Sabrina!” Oh, that was so funny! Well, not for that girl who brought the song, but…Anyway, after that Sabrina became really popular and she’s got so many new friends. It’s weird, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yes, it is.” Corey took over the conversation. “You know, one day I…”
Julia didn’t listen to the conversation after that story. She was upset.
That song is really good and nice sounding, she thought, how can people don’t like it? Well, if my friends say that it’s not good, probably they are right. I don’t know much about American views on music, so…Anyway, now I need to find another one…That sounds impossible, because choir is my fifth class.
In the English classroom Julia tried to think about someone she knows there who could give her some music. Sabra? she thought, No. I bet she doesn’t have good musical taste. Who else? Think, Julia, think! Anna? No. Not at all. May be, Chrissi? She seems to be really popular one. People tend to like her. Yeah, it seems like a good idea. Julia already was in the classroom, when the bell rang. Thankfully, Chrissi was present. That was a good sign.
Julia liked English classes a lot because the teacher usually finished a lesson about ten minutes before its actual end. And he also let students listen to the music on their iPhones afterwards. Julia didn’t really care about the music, because she usually used that time to finish her homework. But anyway Chrissi was a person who usually switched on the music. Her friends were always making a circle around her and they all listened to the music and even sang sometimes. That was another reason why Julia decided to ask Chrissi who seemed to have good musical taste. By the end of the lesson everything happened as usually. Chrissi switched on her music and straight away people surrounded her. Well…people seem to like her music, thought Julia. She didn’t really feel comfortable that she was going to bring a random song, but not the one she picked up. Something squashed inside of her. Pride or whatever that was made her feel upset. But there was no time and Julia decided to not pay attention to her feelings.
So Julia went up to Chrissi and started talking to her. She was short of time because the bell was about to ring. That’s why she left all nice American questions and words behind.
“Hi, Chrissi! I really like the song playing right now. It sounds really good. Can you please send it to me by Bluetooth?”
“Oh, you like it? That’s sweet. Sure, I can send it to you. Just hold on for a moment.”
Julia didn’t care about the song she was going to receive. She forgot about that competition and her main goal was just to turn something in.
“Thank you, Chrissi. That’s so nice of you!” said Julia putting fake smile upon her face.
“You are so welcome! See ya!”
Without even checking what song she received Julia headed to her locker. For some reason she wanted to lock herself in there so that no one could see her.
There were about thirty students in the choir classroom. Everyone bubbled with excitement, unlike Julia.
“Hello!” said teacher cheerfully. “Hope, you remember that today we have auditions for the song our choir is going to sing on the choir spring concert. Do you all have your music with you? Ok, seems like yes. So, let’s start!”
And the mini concert began. Students went up to the front of the classroom presenting their sons. Julia was really bored. No one brought really good songs. Well, maybe they were good, but Julia didn’t really enjoy them.
Everyone brought either sweet love song or opera, or a rock song. There were also lots of pop music. Just like Julia’s friends said. She was disappointed, bored, and sleepy.
Julia suddenly heard a familiar melody. That was a song she heard in Hunter’s car! Did someone really bring that one in? She straight away started remembering the words her friends told her in cafeteria. “Crappy music like Taylor Swift and others”…”It’s not too good music”…Those words changed Julia’s opinion about it a lot.
For an unknown reason, Julia felt self-confident and she was ready even to laugh at that girl. How could she bring that lame song? Julia would probably make some comments about it to her neighbors but thankfully it was her turn to present a song. She went up to a laptop, switched on her song and just waited till it was finished. No big emotions or worries. Julia didn’t even look at people’s faces to see if they liked it. She didn’t care.
One minute left, she counted. Thirty seconds…Come on!
By the end of her song, the teacher Mr. Cooper started talking to her:
“So, Julia, are there any auditions like this in Ukraine or it was a completely new experience for you?”
“Well, it was quite new, because we don’t really have choirs in the schools. They are usually in specialized schools.”
“Oh, I see. As you see, today we listened to all kinds of music. The previous one was a kind of different than the others. Its name is ‘If I die young.’ Very unusual sounding! Do you understand which song I am talking about? The one before you. What do you think of it?”
Julia was confused. Mr. Cooper was talking about the song she heard in the car. Did teacher also think and make hints at that pop song being crappy? Or he really liked that song? What the hell was that?
Oh my gosh, thought Julia, what should I answer?
Julia hated questions like this because she didn’t have enough time to think about her answer. She needed just to say something and then become a winner or to regret for the rest of your life about the stupid things she’s said.
A huge struggle was taking place in her mind. What should she say?
Suddenly, Julia remembered Arianna’s words about her friend who decided to tell her point of view about the pop music. ” No one else dared to say the truth except her so they were screaming something like Sabrina is right! or Good job, Sabrina!” Her example encouraged her:
“Well, I don’t think that was too good song,” started Julia. “You know, to be honest, it sounded really bad. Pop music is not for me. It’s just doesn’t make any sense. That song she presented us didn’t really impress me. It’s Taylor Swift, isn’t it? I don’t her at all. But I understand people who like such music, yet it’s definitely not for me.”
The second after Julia stopped talking was crucial. She was really sure that people would appreciate her words. Come on, people, she thought, what’s wrong with you? Come on… But nothing happened. No one said a word. Even Mr. Cooper was looking at her with his big blue eyes. It seemed like the awkwardness of the situation could be felt in the air. Why it didn’t work out? Why?! Though Julia kept complete silence a huge thunderstorm was in her mind.
That was fail. Complete fail. Julia wanted just to disappear. Just to not be in front of those people staring at her. Thankfully, Mr. Cooper broke that silence which seemed to push with its hardness upon Julia’s mind.
“That’s an interesting opinion. But you probably missed something. The song we heard before is not Taylor Swift’s song. That’s funny, but who told you it’s one by Taylor Swift?”
Hunter, thought Julia as if it was an excuse.
“But, anyway…”, he continued. “That’s why I said it was completely new and interesting. I asked you because a lot of people here loved that song a lot and it was interesting to know your opinion. But now that we know that you don’t like it…”.
What? It’s not Taylor Swift’s song? How? How could that happen? Fail! Complete fail…She didn’t know what to say. It felt…terribly? Ten times worse than terribly.
And…did he really say that people loved that song? So, everything was fine with her musical taste?
“So…” she finally started, “so who is Taylor Swift then?”
“Um,” Mr. Cooper looked down saying, “actually the song you presented is the one by Taylor Swift. Didn’t you know that?”
No, that’s impossible. He couldn’t say that. Did it literally mean that Julia said all that crap about the song she had? She remembered that she didn’t check the singer and the name of the song which Chrissi sent her. She should’ve done that.
Disappear…Just disappear…, she thought.
“I didn’t know that,” the most obvious thing she could say.
In that moment she started to understand what the word ‘awkward’ really meant.
“Thank you for your song. That was nice listening to you. You can take your seat, Julia,” the teacher was smiling. Julia felt a kind of relieved when she saw his smile. It seemed like a sign of ‘forgiving.’ But then she remembered that she was in America.
When Julia took her seat she felt like she was the dumbest person ever... Why did she say so harshly about that song? The irony of situation was that she actually liked that song a lot, but somehow she decided to say that she didn’t. Disappear…Just disappear, the same thoughts visited her.
In some minutes the voting started. Julia felt terrible. She was really willing to apologize every single person in that class. To soften her fault she decided to vote for that song – “If I die young”.
“Ok, guys,” started Mr. Cooper, “We are ready to give the results. But you probably know which song we are going to choose. So, 23 voices and the first place comes to the song “If I die young.” Congratulations, Shelby! We are going to sing that song at the spring concert. Oh, and we have a little surprise for you. You get a certificate for a free ice cream in the ‘Cold Stone.’ Hope, you’ll like that place. Congratulations to Shelby!”
“Hey, Julia! Are you all right?” asked Sam suddenly distracting Julia from her thoughts.
She kept her silence looking directly out the window and Sam started worrying. Her thoughts swirled.
“Sorry, Sam, it’s just my thoughts. It’s so easy to distract me.”
“That’s fine. So, I asked you what is the most important lesson you were given here?”
Julia smiled with a slight irony in her eyes.
“To be yourself. Always be yourself no matter what”