Looking Back: From ESOL Program to Magnet Program
A former ESOL student and Magnet Program graduate speaks to English learners about the challenges of competing in school when the country and language are not yours

image of theatrical masks

     This is a story of you and me, an experience blending with tears and laughter.
You cannot remember exactly how you imagine about this country before you arrive, but later find it very different. At first, every event around you appears to be so strange and interesting. Thus your entire concentration is linked to an eagerness of exploring new things. You do not have the chance or time for thoughts. While the days go by, the freshness, too, disappears little by little into time. You begin to notice that you have to face reality as the time for starting school arrives.
The Language
     The first challenge is the language. Some nights, you find yourself sitting under a lamp with the clock striking bed time, but you are only half way through translating the homework which your classmates can probably finish in five or ten minutes.
At times, a teacher, who appears to be weary after handling over 100 students a day, is now also a little annoyed with you for not understanding objectives that she/he explains over and over again. You are on the edge of trembling from holding tears, and want to say to the teacher, “I am very sorry for your having a student like me, but I am trying hard to comprehend the subject. It is strenuous to listen, write down, and grasp every word in class at the same time.”

Your Classmates
     The second challenge is to get along with classmates. You are lucky to find friends who have the kindness and patience of explaining everything in the class for you in the simplest words. For the first few months in school, anything reminding you of the past makes you want to begin sentences with, “In my country...” Unfortunately, not many people are interested in geography. In fact, only one or two will listen to you, but only because they are too polite and considerate to interrupt you.
     It does not take long for you to recognize that consistently speaking about your own country will only increase the distance between them and you. You learn to keep that part of you deep down in your heart.
As sad as it can be, there are always some classmates who look down at you and make fun of you because of who you are and how your English sounds to them. Their words and actions are as sharp as a razor, which cuts through you callously, leaving wounds all over you. This is the first time ever you truly understand the meaning and importance of the phrases “be strong” and “be forbearing.”
     Miscommunication can also cause serious problems between your classmates and you. Conflicts hurt the relationship that you have with them, and quarrels follow. Maybe sometime or other you really want to have fair justification for your innocence, yet you cannot speak as fast as they do to get your point across. Therefore you want to find a way to protect yourself and at the same time not to hurt anyone else.
As a result, you place yourself inside an invisible shell, as a silkworm places itself inside a cocoon. It takes a while for you to discover that a great amount of time and courage are needed to break through it.

Oh, So Lonely!
     At moments, you feel so lonely, so lonely fighting beside yourself to adapt to this new world. You are like a plant being pulled out from old soil and replaced in a new one. Even plants get transplant shocks, how can human beings not have one?
     Sometimes you think yourself as dandelion seeds, without anything to lean on but float in the air as the wind blows. There is no one anywhere in sight to do it for you as if you are drifting along on waves in a roaring ocean alone. All the setbacks bring back memories of the past.
     At nights, you can’t help but clutch the corner of your bed sheets tightly with your teeth and wet the pillow once again with tears as the bright moon and stars twinkle. Frequently you dream about returning to that dearest land, and the dreams are always fulfilled with joy. Upon a sudden awakening, you reach out to touch the smile from the dream, but it just fades away. Confused. WHO am I? WHERE am I? WHERE do I actually belong? WHICH is a dream, past or present?

Seeking Recognition
     In order to release yourself from strong homesickness and self-abasement, you consign yourself more and more to your studies and grades.
You become more sensitive and care very much about how other people view you as a person. A little praise from a teacher can keep you happy for the entire day. Oh, how much you long for smiles of encouragement and glances of understanding, and how grateful you are when you do receive them!
     On the contrary, an intentional negative comment can easily ruin your mood. Oh, how much you fear making mistakes, and how regretful you are when you do make one! Everyone needs applause, at least from oneself, if none can be received from others.
     You start to expect more from yourself and set goals that are rather high to achieve. Not many events can be compared with the great excitement of receiving recognition. It is when you find yourself actually breathing, find yourself worth something, find yourself SOMEBODY.
     Time moves its pace without notice. You know more about the art of communication and begin to see things from different angles, and remove the obstacles that may interfere with your advance.However, now and then you are seized with a sensation that stirs in the weakest part of your heart, and that old feeling of being an outsider takes over you again.
     On occasions, you find yourself sitting in a noisy classroom with classmates trying to use the last few minutes before the bell talking to each other. You can hear their voice and see them, but they also seem to be miles away from you.

Looking Back
     Once in a while, you turn back to see how much you have gone through and how clear the footprints are that you have left behind. You smile with slight embarrassment when you remember those mournful notes and letters you have written in the early years, but also sigh in silence with a feeling hard to describe.
     It is obvious that you are no longer the naive little girl or boy who knows nothing about worries anymore. That figure of the past now appears to be so faint, so faint that it resembles a blurred black-and-white picture, almost entirely lost into the flow of time. “Yes, I have fallen onto the ground innumerable times, yet I straightened myself. I didn’t accomplish everything perfectly; nevertheless, I have tried,” you murmur to yourself.
     I, too, have come through a long way. Starting from ESOL, then regular classes, and now the Magnet Program. It is a rough road for me. After all these years, I am still trying to fully adapt to this environment, to face myself with more confidence, to adjust my point of view, to break through the cocoon that I weave for myself, and to walk a little more steadily toward the future. I am still trying with all my strength. And you?


© Copyright Silver International Newspaper, Montgomery Blair H.S. 2007 (This page was created by Adene Bekele )