Bibin Biju

"Sixth Grade Adventures"
College Writing 1, Dr. Jennifer Fife

A very special memory that will never leave my mind is the day I moved to the United States, which in my life, was the beginning of a new adventure. An adventure which forced me to explore my identity among others who all had many similar, yet totally different identities. An adventure which transformed me into who I am today; which began when I moved here with my family from India in 2013. After patiently waiting for more than ten years for a permanent resident visa, our turn for an interview has finally arrived. It was an opportunity which everyone back home and the rest of the world dream of; being able to permanently move to the greatest country in the world. Although I could not wait to get out of India, the lifestyle in the United States was quite a change to adapt to. I realized I clearly underestimated the Chicago winter as I deboarded the aircraft through the jet bridge in mid February. I thought I was too tough for sub zero temperatures. I couldn't comprehend the idea of how different of a lifestyle it would be in every aspect from the ambient climate to the language I was to be speaking. Life went on for my family and I, as we gradually tried adapting to an “American” lifestyle.

Months passed by, seasons changed which also meant it was time for me to go back to school. Sixth grade was the first year I attended an American school. Mid August of 2013, I walked into my middle school with my dad on the first day of school, neither of us not knowing what the staff were saying. My dad spoke no English at all, but I knew just enough to survive. But it was different. It wasn’t the same English. Back home they had a British-Indian accent with British English terms such as lorry instead of truck. American English with an American accent was so hard for me to comprehend since I’ve never had the experience. I managed to somehow communicate, fill out the forms, and got admitted to school. After waving goodbye to my dad, I followed the crowd of students to the auditorium where they welcomed everyone and gave an eventful introduction to the chief mascot, the school's chant song and a bunch of other stuff which surely was exciting to everyone. It was very loud and wild. Although I did not understand almost any of it, I tried to blend in by clapping while everyone was clapping and screaming random noises when it was time to do so. It was sort of very uncomfortable for me. After about an hour, we were dismissed from the auditorium gym to classrooms. I followed the crowd to a random classroom which by coincidence was my homeroom. I knew I was in the right place when the teacher called my name from her attendance list.

I looked around and I saw no one like me. An Indian male with fairly dark skin dressed in an Indian way of school clothing; a combination of a long- sleeved buttoned shirt and casual pants. I looked around again and realized about 80% of the class were white, about 10% consisted of black hispanic students and 10% of black students. I was hoping to find someone in the same situation as I was in which I could relate to. All of a sudden I realized a few students were looking at me with a not so friendly face which made me pretty uncomfortable. I looked back at them and they looked away instantly. I even saw a couple people whispering to each other and laughing while looking at me simultaneously. I cannot express how distressing that made me feel. I didn't like the fact that I was so different from them in every aspect. I was just ashamed of my identity. Maybe I was just overreacting. But before anything else happened, I heard a knock on the door. An energetic, smiling face walked into the classroom. “I’m looking for Bibin,” she said. My teacher pointed me out. “Take your stuff and follow me.” As we walked out of the classroom, she introduced herself. “I’m Mrs. Mika, I’m an ESL teacher.” “Oh Okay” I replied, wondering what in the world she was talking about. She opened the door to a small room and let me go in there first. I walked in, I felt so relieved.

There were about five other students there from different parts of the world; Asian, Europe, South America. Mrs. Mika introduced me to everyone. They all introduced themselves. This is exactly what I was looking for. People in the same boat as I was in. We would attend all classes together in that room. We all had a different identity from race, language, religion, gender, culture and interests. The purpose of the ESL program was to train forign students in English, especially in developing their reading, speaking and writing skills to prepare them for independently take regular classes. Because of this, it wasn’t a one way communication where the teacher would lecture and tell us what to do. It was more of a communication with each other and the teacher. The teacher would ask us something and we would all have to participate, and speak. I truly enjoyed everything about that classroom from the materials we were assigned to the teacher and my peers.

Second semester of that year, we repeated a very similar process but we were all to challenge ourselves. We would attend the ESL program for English classes only. We were to switch to regular classes for subjects such as math and science. There I was once again sitting with regular students who were mostly all born and raised here. This time though, everybody looked very friendly and mature. Nobody was whispering to each other, nobody was staring at me. In fact, students sitting close to me even helped me a lot, such as with solving a math problem. Maybe I was just nervous on my very first day and overreacted. I portrayed them all as mean and toxic from that experience on the first day of sixth grade. Although a small number did exist like anywhere else, they were all mostly kind and helpful. One thing I realized was that although most visually have a similar identity, they all shared a different inner identity. I made friends along the way who respected each other’s identities and admired each other’s differences.

My ESL teacher, who was originally from Poland, would always tell us that America is a melting pot; a land where a variety of peoples, cultures, or individuals assimilate into a cohesive whole. A land of different cultures and identities. She had also told us that we should always be proud of our identities because that is what makes us unique. Identities tell interesting stories.

Although I’ve many disadvantages due to my identity, I’ve also had many advantages and experiences that many people may be incapable of taking advantage of such as being able to speak another language or being or having the experience of living in a different country. I’m very happy and proud of my identity. My identity is a large factor which has shaped my life and made me who I am today.

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