Immigrating to ‘New Kid’ Status

Being the new kid in class is not always an easy situation, especially when you move to the United States from a foreign country and you have no clue what “Where are you from?” means. At least, that’s what happened to me.

It was sixth grade. I was 12 years old and had just moved to the United States from Russia with my parents. I remember my first day of middle school like it was yesterday. It was mid-September and I was the new kid in class.

Yes, the new foreign kid in class who did not speak English. As you can imagine, I was terrified about fitting in and adapting to a new culture and language. I felt uncomfortable and awkward. The only few words and sentences that I knew how to say in English were hi, goodbye, thank you, you are welcome, what is your name and cheese.

Yes, “cheese.” I’m not sure why. I suppose whenever I used to watch American cartoons and movies, they all yelled “CHEESE!” when taking pictures, so the word got stuck in my head. Plus, I love cheese.

Starting middle school, I had to learn the English alphabet and basic grammar from scratch. Everything American kids learned in kindergarten I had to learn at the age of 12. At first it was challenging to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture and traditions. Everything was so new and not what I was used to.

I walked into my math class for the first time, and the next thing I knew, kids were standing all around me, asking me where I’m from. I did not know what “Where are you from?” meant at that time.

What came to my mind was, “What are they saying?” “Are they insulting me?” I was offended without even knowing what the sentence meant. I started smiling and saying, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak English.” The majority of the kids in class were very nice and understanding, and said that it was OK, I will learn to speak English in no time.

As the years went on, I got used to the culture and gained American friends. Each year, my English got better and better. I even started thinking in American-English, which is very interesting to me to this day. Though I must admit, critical analysis is not easy because there are still times when I literally translate what I am going to say in my head before I say it out loud. But that usually happens in formal situations.

One of my successful academic experiences so far was when I graduated from high school. After living in the U.S. for more than a decade, I realize now that education is very important in this country. Just like any other country, having a college degree makes you look professional, intelligent and educated.

When I graduated from high school, I literally felt like I was on top of the world. I felt very proud of myself. I’m thankful to all my wonderful English teachers who have helped and guided me through it all. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible.


Piece originally published in The Metropolitan, MSU Denver’s award winning, student run weekly newspaper.

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