Puzzle Pieces | Teen Ink

Puzzle Pieces MAG

March 7, 2019
By sghammer7 BRONZE, Newton, Massachusetts
sghammer7 BRONZE, Newton, Massachusetts
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I was six years old, and my older sister kept whining about how she wanted to stop playing race cars and Legos. I insisted she keep playing with me; I mean, wouldn’t you want to spend your time making a Lego cannon to shoot plastic projectiles at your sister, and then run from her when she came back into the room screaming, brandishing a broom? That’s probably a situation we’ve all experienced with siblings – one way or another. Though I was set on Lego building and endless Matchbox car races, my sister had a different idea. 


She placed a box in front of me and said, “We’re going to make a puzzle today.” Knowing me, I probably started crying. It looked like a nightmare. From the way I saw it, there were at least a million little pieces of cardboard with straight or rounded edges, and none of them fit together. The worst part was that I didn’t know the point of what these different pieces were supposed to do. In a mixture of Polish, English and charades, my sister explained what we had to do. Spreading out the pieces, we began assembling the puzzle. It took 10 days to complete, and the most disappointing part was the finished image: a cat’s face. No offense, but I like dogs much more. 


This was the beginning to the speech I presented to 400 of my peers at graduation. Throughout high school, I realized that experiences are the individual puzzle pieces that shape a person’s final “image.” Each of us creates these pieces and arranges them in the way that suits us. Completing high school added another piece to my puzzle; in July, after leaving the comfort zone of high school and committing to spend a year in Germany, I began shaping another. I decided to take this gap year as a way to challenge myself – to force and inspire myself to grow socially, academically and psychologically. 


I come from a home where my parents taught and encouraged me to speak their native tongues – Polish and German – though I was always more fluent in Polish. Therefore, I wanted to challenge myself, force myself to improve my weaker German. I chose Nuremburg, Germany to learn about the city’s culture and history, but also for the soccer perspective and opportunity. 


The beginning of my new life as a so-called “German citizen” was extremely challenging. The first few days after my arrival, I was still jet lagged and adapting to my new environment. When I lived at home, in Newton, I always had my parents to depend on; I knew they were there to support me, help with decision-making, and always provide meals. All of that changed once I arrived in Germany. Every day, it was simple: if I didn’t cook or buy food, I wouldn’t eat. I had to adapt, willing myself to cook after three hours of soccer every other night. Over time, making dinner became a routine, and I am now fueled properly each day for German school, soccer training, and other daily activities. 


As if cooking wasn’t enough of a challenge, I had to adapt to speaking the German language constantly. The first weeks were especially hard, because even though I spoke German occasionally at home, the dialect is completely different in the actual country. It seemed as though everyone had some sort of accent and it was very hard for me to ask for directions without people looking at me strangely. Those encounters only gave me more motivation to continue perfecting my German. Every day in German school I would try extra hard to speak with my teacher as often as I could; gradually I noticed a difference in my speech and comfort.


Though soccer in the U.S. is very competitive, I was shocked when I arrived at the field in Germany the very first day. The facilities were huge, like nothing I had seen before. The fields were perfectly mowed and watered. People of all ages, from six to 24, were playing. At first, I felt that I was treated as an outsider on my team, and though the players weren’t unapproachable, they treated me with some condescension and entitlement. For the first three months, this behavior took a toll on me and became discouraging. But as the months progressed, I understood I just needed to focus on my personal, athletic progress and not worry about fitting in socially. 


At first, I played very little, fighting to play four or five minutes a game; most times I was not called up to play in games at all. But that didn’t stop me from keeping my head up. I still made the effort to attend all games, even if they were two hours away and I wasn’t on the roster to play. After all, it was still my team, and I wanted to show my appreciation and support on and off the field. The coach noticed this; he began giving me opportunities to play. I mainly played with the U23 men’s team, where I excelled, showcasing my ability and enjoying playing at the same time. I had a successful season with them, scoring five goals in seven games. I learned that when you are put in a new environment, being positive, dedicated, and relentless in your efforts to accomplish a goal – even if the outcome isn’t what you imagined – helps you grow and develop coping skills that assist in overcoming present and future obstacles.


This puzzle piece of my life – my year in Germany – has been a time of self-growth and exploration. Taking a gap year in a foreign country, living on my own, and pursuing a high-level sport while taking classes, has forced me to grow as an adult. I am continuing to develop necessary skills – responsibility, accountability, and coping mechanisms – for
future pursuits in college and beyond. 

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