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English as a New Life: Perspectives from students in ENL-Integrated English 9 & 10

Filed in Archive, Student Spotlight by on July 3, 2019

For nearly four months at the end of the 2018-19 school year, students in Liz Kennedy’s English as a New Language (ENL) Integrated English 9 & 10 class at Bethlehem Central High School worked tirelessly to put feelings into words — in a language that is new to them — to share their personal challenges of adapting to life in a new country.

You can read their entries below:


“Overnight Change”

The sky is a rare blue with few clouds, and the grass is just freshly mown with the lightest color of green, spreading my favorite smell in the air. The flowers are smiling as they receive the care of the gardeners. The summer trees are reaching up to the sky, giving a refreshing shade over the roads and creating a tunnel of greenery.  On the side of the roads are long red banners with white lettering hanging between trees that say “Welcome New Students.” Students are riding bicycles around the school chattering and laughing, as though their birthdays had come early. You can hear the bells of the bikes singing merrily like the choir of songbirds until the students rushing to class park them on the sidewalks. The sidewalks are filled with bikes, too, parked there by students, one beside the other, extending endlessly. There are no cars so the safety of the students is guaranteed. The sidewalks and roads are separated by leafy bushes dancing happily whenever a cool breeze passes by. They are all cut to a perfect rectangular shape with a darker shade of green than the grass. It is crowded but everything has a certain beauty to it. As I look around campus, my home for the past twelve years, I feel 100% confident that I will be ready for the first day of school as a student of Tsinghua University, even if it’s not for another six years.

I knew just how I would spend my time as a freshman at the university. Spending my weekends laughing with friends I had known since birth in my favorite cafeteria in the school or in the garden by the pond in the shade listening to the waterfall and looking at the water lilies and tadpoles. By night, we would be telling each other scary stories under the dim moonlight in our dormitory. This was the future I had pictured when I was a child. This was the future I believed I would have and deserved to have. This was the future I was fighting for.

But then on January 31, 2018, my future changed rapidly when I moved to America. I had no idea what future I would face. I had never been confronted with anything like this. I had always known what I wanted; I was never lost or distracted. I felt like the centerpiece of my world had collapsed and I couldn’t hold other pieces together after that. Looking back, it seems kind of silly that I had put so much time into an impossible dream, and I knew I needed to find a new dream. I needed to get rid of this feeling of uncertainty. I needed to take the first step to find a new dream, and this is how it had started.

Ever since I can remember, people have loved to tell jokes about Harvard. They would say: “Once upon a time, there was a teacher who overheard a student’s conversation… ‘I want to go to Harvard,’ one said. ‘I want to go to Oxford!’ the other said.  The teacher is impressed by such wonderful dreams, and the student said again, ‘And I also want bacon!’” It’s funny because the Chinese nicknames of those universities sound like barbecue food and when the students said that they want to go there, they actually mean they want that kind of food. And that is my first impression of Harvard – a school that means the same as beef. As I grew up, my impression of Harvard began to change as well. I have always been interested in the medical field, and Harvard offers a great medical education. From then on I always thought about going there, but I thought about it more like a daydream instead of something realistic.

When I moved to America, I could see only two possibilities. One was full of late nights and stress but it had the possibility to get me to my dream- to go to Harvard. The other was to not care about my grades, talk during classes, and recycle textbooks because no one here would make you do any work. For all I know, you can play all day and no one would care. In China, if you do not work, you would be ambushed by the teachers and your parents. But I decided that I wanted to make it happen. I wanted to go to Harvard. And if I try really hard, I think I can do it but I first needed to tell my mom about it because I knew that she can help me a lot on the way.

I tried to make myself seem confident. “Mom,” I said in my normal voice. Not confident enough, I thought to myself.

“Yeah?” she said, eyes not leaving her phone.

“I think I can go to Harvard.”

She looked up and gave me an expression that I could not read. Then again I was never good at reading expressions.

“Are you sure?” she asked, staring me in the eye, looking a little concerned.

“Yes, and I can prove it by mastering midterm week,” I said in a loud, steady voice.

“We’ll see,” she replied obviously not believing me and went back to texting again.

From then on, I began studying like crazy. Reading notes in the hallways, using the one minute before class and after if we had finished early. But I had not been studying at night. I realized that there was too much stuff to go through and I would never have enough time. Midterms were just five days away…

That night, I was unable to sleep, debating whether to get up and study in the middle of the night or to catch some sleep and study in the morning. I knew it was because I didn’t study as much as I wanted. After that I legitimately spent every free second reviewing. Then on the weekend before the test, I was really worn-out and sick of studying. I told my mom that I didn’t want to study anymore and was done with it and just wanted to play.

“You won’t get into Harvard if you play all day, will you?” she replied. Her words were a sword, heading straight to my weakest spot. She always knows what to say to keep me going.

It’s funny because over the weekend all I wanted was more time. Every minute, every hour seemed to be slipping by as fast as lightning no matter how hard I tried to grab it, like trying to grab a fish with your bare hands. But during midterm week, they were the longest days of my life. The pressure made them feel longer.

Pre-calculus was the most intimidating. I took the test in Gym A with everyone else. It was filled with never ending long gray desks with two people to each one. I had never been to a test room like this in China. Usually people just take exams in classrooms with 40 people to each room. I was never this intimidated by a test room.

I remember wondering why it was fifteen minutes until the test and we were still not going in, though no one else seemed to be bothered by the fact. This would have never happened in my old school! They would let people in half an hour early to sit in the classroom and study rather than crowding the halls. I was trying to squeeze in some last minute studying by reciting trig expressions again and again. People were murmuring in the halls, but every whisper seemed like a shout, dragging my attention away from my review sheet. The usually wide halls were packed with people ready to take the tests. I was squashed by my friends who were by my side and they were crowded by other people beside them. I couldn’t even straighten my arm without it being snapped in half by the people brushing against my body, almost making me stumble and fall. “Sine squared plus cosine squared equals one…” I said under my breath. It was really hard to focus with the feeling that an explosive bomb was about to set off inside my body any second and blow me into bits. It was hard to breath and the air was filled with the filth of people’s sweat and mud from the snow outside.

I was nervous. I tried everything possible to calm down: taking deep breaths, trying to distract myself, not thinking about the test in 10 minutes, drumming my pen against the air and on the wall, but nothing worked.  I wanted to run outside as fast as I could and get away from this place but my reason stopped me from doing so. I had to get a hold of myself! I needed to be confident.

“You knew you could do this from the beginning. You have been studying all the time and you know you can do well on this. And you can prove to mom that you can go to Harvard by mastering this. This is just the first test. Right. This is just a test, any plain test and you have taken so many, just like the ones you did in class. No worries, you can do this.”

And I truly believed I could.  I could master midterm week and I would do whatever I needed to fight for this new future. I have found a new dream to give time and energy to.  Even if this future is filled with uncertainty, I know I will be happy with myself, and that is what matters. I was filled with hope as I stepped into the gym to take my first midterm because I knew that I was taking the first step toward my dream.

-by Neinei Du


“Goodbye”

If I had known it would be my last time seeing my cat Karamel, I would have hugged his fluffy caramel colored body. I would have kissed his neck more, which feels like kissing cotton candy. I wouldn’t have gotten annoyed when he came to my room early in the morning and woke me up or scratched me with his nails.

If I had known it would be my last time tasting real Turkish food, I would have enjoyed every bite of it. I would have savored the taste of the fresh yogurt, the rich, saltiness of the red sauce, the flavors in the ground beef in my favorite dish Manti. I would have licked my fingers after eating baklava. I would have spent time smelling these foods because I can’t find their smells here.

If I had known it would be my last time seeing my best friends, I would have hugged them more. I would have done more crazy things with them. One of the memories that I will never forget was when we tried to sell a börek, a type of Turkish food that my friend’s mother made because we needed money to buy something from the market. We were selling it for two dollars, and we approached strangers and asked them to buy it. Everyone said no except a woman who said she was on a diet, but bought it from us anyway. If I had known it would be my last time seeing my friends and family, I would have said goodbye to them.

However, I never got that opportunity. While on vacation in America to visit relatives in July 2016, there was a coup in Istanbul, and my parents decided we wouldn’t return. My world changed dramatically. In Turkey, there was no language barrier, but here when someone tells me something I don’t understand, I make them repeat it and then I feel stupid. In Turkey, I was the one who had to ask for help from my parents, but now it’s my parents who have to ask me questions because they don’t know English, and helping them doesn’t mean that I know everything too. In Turkey, everybody pronounced my name right, but here people are creating new names for me when they try to pronounce it. In Turkey, I could eat food without worrying about whether there is pork in it.

Even though my life is good here, I wish I could have enjoyed the time I had in Turkey. I never got to say goodbye to my old life.

-by Berfin Mert


“My True Identity”

It was a sunny day in February. I was at home watching random YouTube videos, since we had Wi-Fi and a T.V. and since we didn’t have access to Netflix or other types of cable channels like P.B.S. kids or NBC to watch during our spare time on the weekends. The house smelled like popcorn that my brother microwaved 5 minutes ago. I had the taste of Sprite in my mouth that I had just finished. Finally I got bored and I wanted to take a nap in my room since my brother wanted the T.V. I walked towards my room, smelling wood from the doors because they were new. My head was down and I almost walked like a zombie because I was so tired. I entered my room and lay on the bed thinking about the videos that I watched and slowly I fell asleep.

When I woke up, I saw the sun was halfway set and I looked at my watch. It was 4:30. It was during the winter time so the sun sets earlier than in the summer. Then I got up and yelled, “Mom!”

There was silence for a moment. “Yes son,” replied my brother trying to sound like my mom.

I said, “Where is she?”

“In heaven!” he replied

“Just answer the damn question!” I said aggressively, although I wasn’t a mean or strict older brother.

Then he replied, “In the room sleeping.”

I finally got up, suddenly feeling energetic. I wanted to play some games on my ipad and read a book for a little bit. I entered my mom and dad’s room slowly because my mom was sleeping, and carefully I retrieved my iPad from the drawer. But I saw something. Something that reminded me of my homeland. Something that characterized me as an Afghan. It was a flag of my country, Afghanistan. I looked at it for a minute thinking about its colors and what they represent: black for the obscure past, red for blood shed for independence, and green for prosperity from agriculture. I moved on and began playing games and tried to ignore the flag. But I couldn’t. How could you ignore your homeland, how could you ignore the place where you born, how could you ignore your true identity?

I went to my bedroom and lay on my bed again putting my iPad on the computer desk next to my bed. Then suddenly a memory popped in my head. It was a memory from 2 years ago, when I left my family and came to the U.S. It was a memory of my homeland.

It was Saturday, 4:30 in the afternoon during the winter, much like today. My grandfather, uncle and I were going home after we closed our pharmacy store. It was cold but there wasn’t any snow on the ground. Suddenly there was a loud sound that terrorized everyone who heard it. It was a sound of a bomb exploding from about a thousand yards away from us. All of us were staring at the place where the sound came from, but it was all silent and nothing happened. So we continued our way home.

The next day we woke up, and we turned on the T.V. to watch the news. It said that no one got injured or killed because no one was near the bomb. We were all relieved that no one got hurt. We ate our breakfast and started walking to our pharmacy store. I looked around me at the typical street scene in Sheberghan. There was a crowd of cars moving like snakes in the road, constantly being stopped by the people walking everywhere, surrounding the cars like a swarm of flies. The sidewalk was full of activity. There were coats for sale on a cover sheet on the ground and the salesperson yelling “OVER HERE! OVER HERE! Buy your coats over here. The best coats you can ever buy!” People were lined up to buy potatoes, carrots, tomatoes, and all types of vegetables on wheeled carts. Sheberghan was an energetic and entertaining city.

It took about 3 minutes to remember the past but much longer to try and forget it. I continued reading my book and playing some games on my iPad.  After a few hours, it was 11 pm and it was time for me to go to sleep. So I went to sleep trying to ignore what happened today, but there was something I couldn’t ignore and it was stuck in my head.

When I opened my eyes, it was cloudy and the temperature was around 30 degrees Fahrenheit. My mom, dad and my siblings wanted to go to the park near our house since it was the weekend and my dad was off from work. The park was about 1 mile away from our house so my dad decided to drive us there. We took a soccer ball, basketball and two tennis rackets with a ball to play with in the park with my brother.  My mom usually sits there on her phone while we play, and my dad and my sister play with any ball that we don’t use.

On our way to the park I couldn’t help but remember my flashback from yesterday- my country.  I looked out the window at the streets and sidewalks. There was no one yelling to buy their vegetables or coats, there were no carts lined up next to the sidewalk interrupting the flow of cars and people on bicycles or motorcycles, and there was no one zigzagging through traffic to get to their destination because here in America there are traffic lights instructing them. But the most important difference was in the sounds that I heard, or rather, didn’t hear in America. There were no loud booming sounds to terrorize me, not even the sound of a firework without the permission from police at unexpected times. It was peaceful and less chaotic here in the U.S., and I will always appreciate this.

This doesn’t mean that I should hate my country and love the U.S.  This simply means that I should be thankful for having the opportunity to be in a place where there is peace because almost every day about 5 to 10 people, including children, are killed in suicide bomb attacks in Afghanistan. Forever I will be thankful that I am living in such a peaceful country. But I will never forget where I’m truly from.

-by Eqdam Sulaiman


“My Memories”

I am at my house. My house is an apartment, and my room is full of posters as if I were at home. Sacha, my dog, is asleep in the house but now my dad works a lot, and I only see him at night when I’m in bed. Things are not like before but I know it means a better life.

Things were different in Puerto Rico. I remember one night I was with my boyfriend. We were alone that night, and I remember that there was no light. Only the stars illuminated the sky, and it was beautiful. We were behind my house and we put a blanket on the cement. Then we looked at each other and promised to stay together. Even if there are conflicts, we can solve them together, and we hugged and kissed each other. The kiss felt like the first time. Then we went to my house and we watched a movie and ate pizza. After finishing the movie we went for a walk.

Now I am sitting in my room in the United States. I feel lonely and empty. Things are not the same as before. I miss visiting my grandmother’s house, running in the mountains and having adventures with my cousins.  I miss Puerto Rican food. But most of all, I miss my family.

-by Coralys Morales Garcia


“The Dark Side of Education”

Countries are different. People are different. Societies are different. There are hundreds of societies in the world, and each society has their advantages and disadvantages. Education has been one of the most debated topics in society and also in families. Competition appeared because of the population growth, so many people lost the chance to go to school and failed in their life. Now, lots of Chinese parents want their children to go to a good college and spend their whole life preparing for that, but, is this worth it? I don’t think so. Schools are not the only “school” for us. Society can act as a “school” for us, also.

In China, education is very different. Most parents in China have a psychological distortion about their child’s education- they dedicate their whole life to their children, their children is their only value.. In China, we all are busy. A really vivid example is a typical weekend in elementary school.

When I was in fifth grade, I didn’t have weekends. The competition between students is so intense. Everyone has so many classes outside of school. I remember waking up on a Saturday morning and asking my mom: “Mom, what time is it?” My mom answered, “It’s seven-thirty, really late.  Go to math class! Now!” When I heard “seven-thirty”, I jumped up from bed, got dressed in three minutes, and ran out of the door. I went to the cafeteria to buy some food and then to the subway station. When I finally got to the place where I learn math, I felt like a fish- I couldn’t even stand. Sweat permeated my T-shirt, and running used up all my strength. I limped into the classroom only one minute early.

Math is absolutely boring. The class was four hours and fifteen minutes. We sat in our chairs with forlorn eyes but we still wrote all the notes down like robots. This four hour torment was finally over. I went home and finished my lunch and went to my next math lesson. The good thing was that I had two hours between lunch and my next lesson. I could walk as slowly as I wanted and buy some food. The lessons were always hard because I was in the highest level, but it was fun. We only had nine people, and everyone was working really hard. After two hours, it was five pm and the class was over.  I went home with a very tired body and began to prepare for my next and final lesson- English. The English lesson was fine- better than my math lesson, because it was only one hour. I came home at nine-thirty and fell asleep in one or two minutes.

Because of the tough competition and rigorous schedules in China, many people want to avoid that, so they come to America. Is American education actually that good? Maybe, but people always think American education is the best. After all, why are there so many good colleges and good students in America? There are many people from other countries who blindly pursue what they think is the best and move to America for their children. I don’t want to say anything about that action, except that we can’t avoid natural selection or competition by moving to another society. However, I do remember hearing conversations between American high school students and their guidance counselors that have stuck in my head.

“Hello counselor. I want to take AP Chemistry and skip Earth Science. I don’t want to get behind. My friends are all in AP and Honors classes,” the student asked the counselor.

The counselor, unfazed by this question, replied, “Sure, I’ll change your schedule. Just don’t forget to take the regents.”

Or this one between a student and his teacher:

“Hello teacher, I have an average of 99 in all of my classes. That’s enough to go to a good college, right? What other things do I need to have to go to a good college?”

“Good grades, SAT, ACT, leadership, sports, clubs and volunteering.” The teacher said this very quickly and without thinking because so many other students have asked him this question.

The boy couldn’t hide his surprise. “What? School is so tough!”

School is tough, right? As we get older and older, we figure out that school can’t give us everything we need to survive, which is why 99s in every class is not enough, as the teacher explained. We need to learn how to survive by ourselves in society. The good thing about American education is the focus on not only academic knowledge but also skills needed to survive in society. People can have a wonderful and rich life if they are successful in school and have common sense. However, people also can have an adequate life with street smarts and without good grades. These are the lives people can have in the United States.

Students are so busy in China. Their parents or the pressure to get good grades force them to spend all of their time on academics. I don’t think this is a good thing for students because there is a cruel fact in China- there are lots of students who graduate from college, can’t find a job or find a low paying job. In college, all students learn the same skills and knowledge, but they don’t learn any survival skills. They think the world is beautiful and that good grades can destroy everything, but they are wrong. School teaches us about the experiences of others and what we need to do to be successful, but students don’t know how to apply that to their lives.

Now, students who have never stepped foot outside of a college campus and into the real world need five to ten years to practice the skills they learned in school. This is not the purpose of college.  In China, both society and school must be our teachers, and without both of them, you are not going to have the life you want to have.

-by Zheqi Zhang


“Chicken Fingers”

I was standing in the cafeteria line with my friend. I looked at the food in the display cabinet.

“Oh, Ziyu look at that nice burger,” my friend whispered next to my ear.

To be really honest, I couldn’t tell why he called it a nice burger, because from my sight, it looked like two pieces of bread with a piece of brownish-black meat clamped in between.

“Did you decide what food you want to get, babe?” my friend urged me.

I looked at the American “delicious food”- the brownish-black burger, and the spaghetti full of Hertz red sauce.  It reminded me of what comes out of my bunny after he eats too many radishes. The milky white pizza covered with red sausages and the flow of oil almost shocked my eyes.

I turned my face, and saw French fries and those meat strips. I had no idea if it was pork or beef.

“What’s that?” I asked my friend and pointed to the meat sticks.

“That’s chicken fingers,” he smiled, and told me, “you must try it.  It’s really good.”

I nodded my head even though I didn’t fully understand. “What a gross name,” I whispered to myself. I don’t know if my friend heard me; I didn’t look at his face.

I was still confused about what I should buy,  but it was my turn. The lady who was selling food interrupted me, “What you want, hun?”

I stared at the food, “Ummm, chicken finger please.” I tried to make my face look really happy, but I knew that didn’t work. I could tell that my face was kind of horrible. I probably scared her too, so I turned my face back to expressionless.

The lady handed me the food. “Here you go hun, have a nice day.”

“Thank you, and you too.”

My friends and I crossed the long hallway and walked to a table where we put our backpacks. When I got there, I sat down and looked at the “Chicken Fingers” on my plate and thought that Americans are really no good at making names. This fried meat is not like “fingers” at all. It should be called something like a strip. And I suddenly remembered my school in China.

My school often made sweet and sour meat sticks for us, which are not greasy at all. Although they are fried, they don’t have a greasy taste. The sweet and sour sauce is not too sweet and not too sour. This dish was once ranked in my mind as “the best food in school’ until I got tired of it after I ate it every day for three months straight.

Now, whenever I got hungry, I would think of it in a daze. My heart felt bitter. Even though I had tired of those sweet and sour meat sticks back in China, I would give anything to eat them right now because I felt even more tired of looking at the chicken in front of me.

“Try some babe, it’s really good.” My friend looked at the food in front of me and said, “You don’t wanna wait until it’s cold.”

I looked at him and nodded.  ‘I’m ready to die!’ I tell myself, and put the fingers into my mouth.

“Umm, it is not that ba……. Eww.” I don’t know how many days they froze this chicken. The meat of the chicken is as loose as wood residue, and it’s covered with oil. I couldn’t even think about the taste.

“OMG. Seriously, Ziyu?” my friend shouted loudly, “OMG, it’s not that bad.”

I controlled my desire to vomit and looked at my friend. “Oh, dear, please, that really makes me sick. It’s really that bad.” And I made a dying expression.

I miss China. I miss the food, I miss my friends, I miss my family, I miss Shanghai’s malls, I miss walking home with my friends after the long tiresome school day, I miss the time we spent two dollars on ice cream while we were walking home and we shared one single ice cream cone.  That’s what I miss the most- I miss the people I can tell every single thing to, and they are not going to get annoyed at me.

Pretty sure those people, and only those people, would understand my feelings about the chicken fingers.

-by Ziyu Tian


“My New American Life”

It’s been almost three weeks since I started my new life here in America, and I still don’t believe this is true. I waited months and months and finally I met my uncle and his family. My mom and dad found a job, and we have a house now. I found a good school for my sister and me. I waited a lot for this moment and now, I’m on the sidewalk, walking to school with my backpack on my shoulders. I can hear the noise of the cars and the sound that the squirrels make when climbing a tree. I almost forgot where I was going until I saw a big building. It was Bethlehem Central High School. In front of it were a bunch of school buses and students walking towards it. ‘Well…here’s my new beginning.’ I thought, while going inside the school.

The hallway was full of teenagers, and I could hear all their voices. I saw different faces: some happy, some tired and some of them I couldn’t even explain. I remember my face that day. I was scared and trying to find a place where I could be alone, like a scared, little kitten. I went to my homeroom class. It was B103 and my teacher was Miss Kennedy.

“Hi, sweetheart, come on in,” she said with a smile on her face. She invited me inside to see my classmates. I took a breath and entered the class with a smile.

“Hello, Miss Kennedy,” I answered. My smile froze when I saw all the different people and I felt afraid. ‘Who are they? Is it going to be easy to get to know these people? Am I going to be their friend? Will they like me?’ A thousand questions entered my mind. I met people from around the world, such as Rima the Indian girl, Eqdam from Afghanistan, Zheqi, Ziyu, and Neinei from China, Coralys, Thainis and Amanda from Puerto Rico, and Berfin and Dalya from Turkey. We all talked about ourselves until the bell rang and everybody had to go to their next class.

The teacher said that we have five minutes to find our class, otherwise we would be late. I took out my schedule quickly to see what I had that period. I had lunch and I had to go to the cafeteria. After that, I looked at the map of the school that Neinei gave me. It was like I had the map of the world, and I had to find my way home. God, it was so hard to find my way in this place. I eventually found the cafeteria and was standing by the door watching the others. Some of the students were hitting me when they were trying to go inside and some were saying, ‘’Excuse me, I have to get by.’’ Each one of them had a friend at their table. Some of them were talking, some playing and some were laughing. Others were walking to their classes together. And then there was me. I was standing there sad. I was feeling so empty. I thought to myself, ‘Now what? This is how I am going to spend the days at this school? Finding an empty table and staying there by myself? Being alone and missing my friends?’’

I was in America. I had a house, a school, a new life. I had almost everything I wanted, except my friends. I started to cry because I remembered my time with them at my school in Albania. It was the beginning of ninth grade and I was so excited to tell my friends my big news. After I met them and we talked a little bit, I said, “I am going to America next year. Can you believe it? I am so excited.”

“Haha, mos moj. C’mon, Uarda, stop joking, but anyways we’ll see,” they answered with an ironic smile. After that day, they kept asking me, “When are you going to America?”. It was the end of the ninth grade. We were sitting in the corner of the school’s garden talking about ourselves and our bright future.

Everybody had to choose their high school so mostly we were talking about making a plan so that we could all be at least in the same school or city next year.

We were standing at the school’s entrance and gossiping together.  “Most of us will go to Gjergj Pekmezi or Muharrem Collaku so we’ll probably be together,” Mateo said with a head-nod.

“Yeah, but you won’t have Venera though. She will be in Korca city far away from you guys,” I said with a grin on my face because I knew that they will need her to copy her homework sometimes.

“Eh, leave her… what about you? You will go to America. I am very happy for you but you know that we will miss you, right?” Paola said. She was the saddest about my leaving.

I was silent for a moment and then I answered, “Oh, I know that it will be so hard to be far away from you guys but I will be back.” I gave them a fake smile and I knew that inside, I was crying.

After more conversations, the moment to separate came. “Goodbye” I said while I broke into tears and hugged them.

I spent my last day in Albania doing the same thing as the other days-enjoying time with my siblings and at night crying and crying. I remember how difficult the drive to the airport was.  The first couple hours in the car I cried so hard remembering special moments with my family and friends. It was almost impossible to hold in my tears so I tried to sleep for a while. It didn’t help because I was crying in my dreams too.

 “Uarda, wake up!” My mom woke me up and gave me a hug. Then I felt a watery substance on my face. I realized that I had been crying in the cafeteria at school, and not with my mother, which got the attention of some students who seemed worried about me. The absence of the people I love the most was killing me day after day and now as I stood in my new school on the first day, it was even harder.

I was waking up every day crying, I was trying to connect with my family and friends in Albania, I would unlock my phone, tap on the pictures, scroll through hundreds of photos from Albania, put down my phone and start crying, and then five minutes later repeat the process. I was alone here. I was sad. “How am I going to face this? Why should we be apart? I miss you. I miss you guys a lot. I want you back. I wish I could see you now.” These thoughts haunted me as I walked to the empty table waiting for me. I had to accept that from now I had to be strong. I had to accept and live with this pain- my new American life.

-by Uarda S


“Folding Clothes”

One day, I was sitting in a coffee shop drinking a cappuccino with extra sugar. Suddenly, a conversation between two girls caught my attention. “Oh, is this your wedding invitation? I can’t believe that you are going to get married!” the one girl screamed across the table to her friend.

WEDDING. This word is like a festival for me, not just for me, but also for all of India. Weddings in India are no less than a festival that goes on for five or six days. It is such a big event and so different than American weddings. I always asked myself, “Which weddings are better –  Indian or American?” This is because I have never attended an American wedding but I have seen it in movies and it seems to go on for only one or two days where the bride is dressed up in a white gown with flowers in her hands and the boy is wearing a black suit. They marry in a big church where the priest says some words to them, they make an agreement,  and finally they are couple. After thinking about both for awhile, I answered myself, “Rima, obviously Indian weddings are better.” I know I only think that because I was brought up in India but if I had been brought up in America and had attended any American wedding, my answer would probably be different.

After thinking so much about weddings, I went home and opened my photo album. I looked at the pictures of my cousins dressed in beautiful bright red or white colored clothes, as it was the theme of the wedding. I was surprised looking at my pictures because I looked so different at that time.  As I was going through all the pictures I was feeling so happy but at the same time sad too, because I miss my cousins and even weddings.

My mom and I share a very special bond and we can even predict what we are going to ask each other. My mom was watching me as I was looking at the pictures in the album and she knew that I would ask her some questions. So I asked my mom while she was making dinner, “Mom, why are Hindu Wedding rituals so long and so popular?”
My mom finished making the food and told me to sit down on the couch. She started with a smile, “Let me give you some information related to Indian Hindu Weddings.” I was so excited to hear more about the unique rituals.

My mom picked up a basket of clothes and followed me to the couch. She sat down and began folding the clothes. She was also so excited to tell me more about arranged marriages and she started, “Weddings are the most solemn affair in India. Although the customs have been changing with the change in times, a common feature is the big marriage procession. Do you remember seeing this in India?” She looked at me and winked.

“Of course, I remember the marriage procession during my cousin’s wedding. The bride’s dress looked so expensive. Was it?” I asked my mother.

She laughed to herself, almost as if she knew a secret I didn’t. “Oh yes, very expensive. But so are the groom’s clothes. Let me tell you a little bit about the groom during an Indian wedding. Did you remember your cousin’s wedding where you danced a lot?”

“Of course mom. How would I not? That was the best wedding I have ever attended,” I replied with excitement. “I remember my cousin’s red and white colored sherwani, which is the type of dressing that the bridegroom wears. Right, mom?” I said.

Mom was laughing as if I had said something funny. “You are absolutely right dear, and then he was riding like a prince on the white colored horse. That horse looked so innocent and  cute didn’t he?”

Somewhere in my mind I told myself, ‘No, the horse was not innocent and cute, but rather it looked angry all the time.’ But I continued focusing on my mother’s story.

My mom picked up a t-shirt and started folding its sleeves as if she worked at a clothing store. She continued, “The procession is a very important part of an Indian wedding. Long ago, the bridegroom would ride a horse to the bride’s house, where the wedding would take place, and his sisters could sit with him, if they’d like.  He used to wear a sword buckled to his waist likes he’s coming to fight for and win his lady. Once he reached the bride’s house, there would be a sieve hanging, and if he could not cut the cord from which the sieve hanged in three tries then it was considered bad luck. If he could, it meant victory. The bride’s relatives would then welcome the bridegroom with ‘Aarati’- garlands and flowers. Her house was decorated as if it were Diwali Day with lots of lights to celebrate the wedding. The status of the bride is shown through these decorations and the dinner.  We don’t see these customs too often in the cities now, but some of them do remain in the villages.”

I asked her, “Why does only the bride’s side decorate and arrange the dinner?”

She replied, “That’s the ritual that we need to follow and that has been going on for so long.”

All of this information was making me so excited. “I want to attend another wedding again soon!” I blurted out.

My mom sighed and put the clothes down by her side and said, “Rima, just stop asking me questions. Ask me after I have finished telling you about weddings.” I don’t like interrupting her but I knew I’d forget what I was going to say.

She continued, “The groom is taken to the mandap where the marriage takes place in front of many people and there is also fire which is an important part of the marriage because all the rituals are done using the fire. If the family wants to do the wedding in a simple way they can arrange the marriage in the temple where the priest says some words and does all the rituals, and then finally the groom and the bride are a couple.”

I liked this conversation a lot because it is so nice to learn more about my culture and to know what is happening, so that I can enjoy each and every part of festivals, especially weddings, more thoroughly. I feel proud that I am in a culture where there are so many interesting rituals that have existed for so long. I had always thought that I would not marry but after listening more about traditional Indian weddings, I am definitely more open to the idea.

So now I say to you: “Kabhi toh ayye Indian mein,” which means come to India to enjoy the most bright and exciting festival- the Indian wedding.

-by Rima Shah


“Moments”

Sitting in the corner of my room listening to music on a cold winter’s day, I am deep in thought, thinking about how much I wish I had stayed a little longer, how I wish I wasn’t so young and immature, and how I wish I could remember those moments with her.

I was about 7 years old. I was at my great grandmother’s house. The sound of the faded music coming from the cars that were passing by my Abuelita’s house filled the air. My great uncle had just left for the store to get another pack of cigarettes. I was feeding the birds in her beautiful backyard filled with yellow flowers and mango trees while she was placing clothes in the washer and then hanging them to dry on a line stretching from opposite corners of the roof.  The birds were singing, the flowers were dancing, the sun was smiling, the sky was blue, and everything was perfect. Little did I know that in just a few years everything would change.

Once we were both finished, I was starting to get hungry when she asked, “Are you hungry?”

It was at that moment that I thought she could read minds.

I replied with a polite, “Yes.”

We walked inside and into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator, while I stood behind her, and she asked, “What do you want to eat?”

“I don’t know, what are you having?” I replied. I never minded eating whatever she made because I knew it would always be good.

She looked over her shoulder at me and smiled. “I’m having a sandwich. I don’t know if you’d like it. It’s a bit different.”

“I can eat anything. Don’t worry, Abuelita.”

I stood beside her at the counter and watched her make the sandwich. Her white hair was pulled back in a ponytail and her face was relaxed, while she casually began scooping the strawberry jelly from the jar and spreading it on the bread.  She washed the knife quickly and then dipped it into a jar of mayonnaise and also spread it on the bread. I looked at her with a puzzled expression, because I had never had this sandwich before. I tried it, and I loved it. We both sat on the small table eating our sandwiches in content silence.

I remember that scene like it was yesterday. I’m glad I appreciated those beautiful, happy moments.  If I hadn’t, then I wouldn’t have any memory of her at all, even though I can’t help but cry at the memory. Now she can slip away from my grasp at any second, the thing I have been most afraid of. Year after year, her condition has gotten worse, and she barely remembers anyone, except her daughter. And if she knew she was losing her memories, I know she would want to keep them, the same way I do.

Why didn’t I know that happiness wouldn’t last forever?  How could have I known that things would end up this way? I was just a kid who thought that everyone would stay with me forever. Now I know to cherish each and every moment with the people I love, because no matter what I do, I will never be ready for the moment she leaves me.

-by Amanda Gonzalez Gomez


“My Turkish-American Netflix Show”

I took a step for the first time in the school. An antique furniture smell filled my lungs. Suddenly I felt like I was in a Netflix show. I was the main character who’s new in the school. I was terrified and my hands were shaking. My inner voice was saying that I should calm down. I started to walk slowly to my class avoiding eye contact with everyone. I was looking at my shoes and thinking, “Am I going to find that girl who’s from Turkey too?”

I found the class and the first thing I saw were curious eyes staring at me. So many strange faces and languages. It was a small class with one rectangle and one round wooden table. It was crowded, more than I expected. I took a seat at a table full of girls. They asked me where I was from. After I told them, an awkward silence filled the room. Then a girl with a floral pattern dress and high heels came next to me and started to talk to me in Turkish.

“ Turk musun acaba?” she asked. I was surprised because I haven’t talked in Turkish to anyone besides my parents since I came here.

I replied, “Evet…” in an excited voice.

She smiled at me. It was obvious she had been waiting for a Turkish friend. Right after I thought that, she said,  “Benimle yasit bir Turk arkadasim olsun diye her gece dua etmistim,”  which means she prayed for a Turkish friend every night.  Even though I was happy to find a Turkish friend, I didn’t say anything back.

Time passed really fast because it was a great day. I made new friends and I liked my teachers, especially the art teacher. He was so different than my art teacher back in Turkey. My art teacher there was kind of scary. Usually she gave us projects and left us in the class alone. Of course everyone would start to talk. I can’t remember one time that we really drew or painted anything. Her class was more like free time, but we were stuck in a big room full of art supplies. I was the only one who worked on the projects. But it didn’t matter because no matter what, your art average would be 100.

But here, in my new American high school, our teacher really cares about our talent and what we do. He always tries to help us and always compliments our drawings, even if it’s the worst drawing but it’s all we can do. He likes the way I draw my characters. He always gives me new ideas on how I can add my characters to projects.

Slowly, my life was turning into a Netflix show.  Walking in the hallways with a group of friends and gossiping at lunch time, or what our generation calls “spilling the tea,” and of course talking about our cringy love lives. But everything has an end, like this school year. That’s when I’ll move back to Turkey. Back to my simple, black and white life.

It makes me really sad that I’m moving back, that I’m going to be apart from my friends for two years, maybe more. And I know people think all of this change is really hard for a girl who’s only 15. I’m a strong person, and have lost a lot of close friends. Instead of spending my last days being sad, I am going to treasure every day. Spending time with my two best friends and my boyfriend is the only thing that will help me with the changes that I’m going through.

There are only two primary emotions, love and fear. Every positive emotion comes from love and all the negatives come from fear. They’re opposite so you can’t feel both at the same time. Sadness comes from fear and happiness comes from love. I love my friends and they always make me happy. They’re the key to my happiness and the only thing that will make me forget the fact that in one month I will be moving back to Turkey. So I choose love.

I will always be thankful for all of my friends and the memories, especially the trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, or maybe just the part we got lost in Manhattan trying to find food. I’m glad that I met them and had the chance to make friends from other countries. And thank you to all of my teachers for helping me with everything, especially Ms. Kennedy for not just being a teacher, but also for being a mother and taking care of us. She’s the best teacher I’ve ever known. Thanks for the best eleven months of my life.

Stay tuned for the next season of my Netflix show when I try to convince my parents to move back to America.

-by Dalya