I clearly remember arriving in America for the first time when I was five. I was cold and scared. I was cold because it was December and just a few days away from Christmas. I was scared because I had no image of what my parents looked like. My brother and I were raised by our grandparents and relatives in Fujian, China. We were coming to America to reunite with our parents and start in a new environment. Not only was reuniting with our parents awkward for me, it remained awkward for a few weeks. It was like meeting strangers for the first time, but we had to live under the same roof right away in Chinatown Manhattan. I don’t remember the ice breaker or whether there were any for us, but what I do remember is having multiple babysitters because both my parents had to work and my brother had school.
As soon as I was old enough to attend school, I was placed in a bi-lingual school a few blocks away from my house where I took English class for one half of the day and Chinese class for the other half. In my household, we spoke Mandarin, a dialect of Chinese. While I attended school, many of the kids that I met and became friends with spoke Cantonese, another dialect of Chinese. In addition to Mandarin, I slowly picked up Cantonese and as much of English as I possibly could. By the time my parents decided to move to the Bronx, I was fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese, but I still needed help in English.
Moving to the Bronx was almost like coming to America. The environment was entirely different and the friends that I had made in Chinatown were all gone. I was starting fresh again, but this time my parents were also experiencing the same thing. I started second grade and was automatically placed in an ESL class. Even in an ESL class, I felt misplaced almost as if my level of knowledge was still below everybody else’s. I recall being stared at like an animal behind bars at a zoo. I couldn’t fully communicate with anybody because of my lack of English. After multiple verbal reading tests, and slowly progressing, I was finally about to communicate and even made a handful of friends. People saw me as a quiet child, but the truth was that I couldn’t fully express myself just yet.
I started from the very bottom where I couldn’t even start a conversation, and I brought myself up. By the time I was in fourth grade, I was in the honor class and I even had a best friend. Because I was raised by an old fashion Chinese family, my parents had high expectations for me and expected me to always study and hang out only when I had finished all my work and gotten good grades. School came easy for me and I had highly decent grades that were enough to please my parents.
When it was time to move again, this time to Brooklyn, I had almost gotten used to the point where I adapted to a new environment that I was in and then as soon as that happened, I would be pulled out and put into another one. I was going into the middle of seventh grade and I would describe Brooklyn as a combination of Chinatown and the Bronx. There were fewer Asians in the Bronx than in Chinatown. It was definitely a lot easier for me to blend in than it was for me in the Bronx at the beginning. I remember missing my friends from the Bronx terribly, but then I found a new group of people that took me in and I now call them close friends instead of best friends.
All this moving around and having to adapt to new environments not only helped me progress in my education, but it also opened up my views on a wide range of culture. I learned a lot about being a friend in Brooklyn when I found myself opening up to people about my feelings. This was something that I didn’t and couldn’t do towards my friends in the Bronx. Not only did I learn about friendship, I also learned about my personality and interests. I’m a real quiet person when you first meet me, but if I am comfortable around people I like, or know, I can be very mischievous and wild.
A year and a half later, I...
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