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Junior recounts her experience as an ESOL student who spoke no English

Soreya Adeline Djemene

Soreya Adeline Djemene

Soreya before coming to the United States

Soreya Adeline Djemene, Watkins Mill High School

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As I walked into class, I felt the “who the heck is this?” look from them. I made my way to a random seat in the back and listened as the teacher spoke a language I didn’t understand.

Whoever said starting school on another continent was easy lied to you. Terribly. Coming here from France at the age of 9 was anything but easy.

I’m originally from Cameroon, which makes my first language French. Growing up as a child was a breeze. I was always treated like the favorite child and things were fairly easy for me, but the day we left changed a lot of things.

At the airport, I bawled my eyes out. I was leaving people who I thought would be with me for the rest of my life, but I stayed strong and didn’t look back. Our plane landed in Atlanta, Georgia, and it seemed like we had landed on a different planet. Everything was so different…the clothes, the weather, the environment, even the way people walked!

I saw snow for the first time that day, and I was so excited. The weather was one of hardest things I had to adapt to. That winter was the coldest one I’ve experienced. My first day of school was complete hell; the only thing I had on my mind was going home. I knew those kids didn’t like me from the jump. I was a newbie who dressed differently, looked unfamiliar and didn’t speak English.

During class, a teacher walked in and asked for me. I turned around and looked at her, and she spoke to me in French. I went with her to her office and had a conversation. I came to find out she was my ESOL teacher, and man, was that a relief. Whenever I wasn’t with her, I felt as if I was fighting the world on my own, which is scary as a foreigner at the age of nine. I was so anxious at school; I wanted to talk to other kids too and make friends, so I knew I had to learn English. And I had to do it fast.

After a month, my ESOL teacher said I could take regular classes with the other kids because my English was good. I was thrilled, but sad that I was stepping out of my comfort zone once again. But it was also an opportunity to make new friends and start fresh. At first I only had “class friends,” but that was a start. I eventually made some friends whom I still talk to today!

I was relevant from the day I set foot in that school. There were some girls here and there who tried to bully me, but it never worked. Days later, they’d come apologize and ask to be friends. I used to come home and talk to my mom about being bullied, and she always responded with “You’re different, which is a good thing so don’t change yourself for anyone else.” From that day on, I never let anything get to me, but I can only speak for myself.

Its not everyone who has the ability to do that; everyone copes with things differently. A lot of kids who are going through the same phase I went through also need support to break the isolation–yes, here at Watkins Mill too! There are kids who walk these halls and feel excluded from the world itself, just because of the simple fact that they’re not from here. As a school, we need to do our best to make our recently arrived students feel safe and set a good environment.

ESOL teachers play a big part in this because they’re the ones whose job it is to make connections with them. As for us students, we need to do better and engage in conversations. Even if it’s just to say hi or ask someone new needs help, every little thing counts!

As for me, things got much better after my first year of school here. I was top of my classes, I won awards and brought home good grades. Now here I am in eleventh grade, still bringing home honor rolls and receiving awards/college letters. The seven years I’ve spent here sure have been a roller coaster, but the ride is yet to be over.

Read the original column here

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