Moving to a new place is challenging, especially if it’s 8000 miles away from your old home. It’s been more than a decade since I moved to New Zealand from China, but that first day of school remains one of the scariest experiences of my life. Walking into my 5th Grade (it’s called Year 5 in NZ) homeroom was like crashing a Christmas party. All the kids were sitting cross-legged in semicircle, eagerly awaiting the fat, loving mother (in this case the teacher) to pass out the presents…then in walk me: this weird Chinese FOB who spoke no English and had only seen one Caucasian in real life prior to that day.
I felt like an intruder. More than a dozen eyes zeroed in on my face, dripping with naive curiosity. You know, that’s one of the things I miss most about childhood – those animated prepubescent irises, always seeking but never filled with malice. I didn’t know it then, but that was be the first and last time I would ever be greeted with a roomful of those eyes. Aging taints you: that’s just something we have to accept. Anyhow, on that first terrifying day everyone did all they could to make me feel welcome. Some girl helped me set up my desk and invited me to eat lunch with her, the teacher taught me how to play this weird game, and everyone smiled me at some point. Granted, they might as well have been talking to a potato because I never responded once to their questions, but I was pretty freakin touched by their kindness.
I made it through that whole day without speaking a word, and honestly it took me two years to start regularly conversing in English with everyone. Since that day, I’ve just never been that comfortable communicating with strangers, or anyone who’s not particularly close to me. Why that is I still don’t quite understand. Everyone was so nice. If anyone else were in my place, I’d have expected he or she to fit in real fast. I guess the reason I became so introverted is that I just didn’t want that nice crowd to turn on me once they realized how awful my accent was or how lame my personality was. That’s why I stayed quiet and kept to myself, because no one can judge you if you don’t do anything.
It’s been 10 years and many new starts since that day. One thing I’ve learned is that the dread upon starting a different journey never goes away, but you do get used to it. And you learn to accept if not love it, because dread is what keeps you motivated.