My memories of stepping foot into my first-grade class are fuzzy. When I think back to that time, all I remember is seeing the tops of children’s shiny blond heads. I also recall that everyone in the class had light colored eyes.
I was standing behind my first-grade teacher in front of the class. I was on display as she said some words in English to the kids. I will never know what she said but imagine she said my name and where I was from. How did she describe me? That my family and I moved just a few months ago from a place called “Seoul?” That I had to start first grade all over again even though I completed it in Korea?
It was a defining point…that moment when I realized how different I looked, smelled and spoke.
I don’t know how long I struggled with learning English. The English language and it’s pronunciation tripped me up. Any word with the letter “L” was quite perplexing. The word “squirrel” was especially hard and it took me weeks of practice before I could pronounce it correctly.
I was determined to lose any trace of a foreign accent so I could blend in. I wanted to be accepted and liked. But during the assimilation process that spanned several decades, I temporarily lost the girl who was…inquisitive, playful, expressive.
Last night, I sifted through old photographs and found my class photo. In my memories, I was a strange foreigner, who didn’t speak the language. But when I look at the photograph now, I realize that each one of us in that class was different.
Maybe in their own ways, my “blonde and blue-eyed” classmates were trying to fit in too.