By Steven W.
Beijing was one of the most heavily polluted places back in 2015. Every day, you could feel the horror of breathing in thousands of tiny particles into your lungs. My family and I had just moved to Chicago from Beijing in 2016, since it was my parent's dream to study in America. Back in 2015, China didn’t have a lot of regulations for companies, which of course caused massive problems with lots of companies ignoring safety regulations. They also worked with tiny particles without any proper equipment. This meant that if a strong wind suddenly swept through, it would carry thousands or even millions of particles with it. Gone with the wind, spreading fear and diseases. The situation was so bad that when you looked out the window, you couldn’t see anything but a dirt cloud, covering the sun and the sky. We would then desperately open the news, begging in our hearts that the situation was improving. The evil school board still decided that the situation wasn't bad enough and we were forced to attend with our N95 masks. With tiny particles constantly flowing around us, scratching our skin, and blinding our eyes, we rushed to school with our clothes filled with dust.
Anyway, the transition from China to America was very smooth, since my mom worked nearby and had already bought a house. My parents also used to like to take my sister and me on lots of vacations to America, so we already liked it here when we moved. We also lived close to a school called Robert Healy Elementary School, and we lived in a tier 2 neighborhood, making the entrance exam to get into the high school of my choice just a little easier. My mom saved up enough money to buy an actual three-story house with a beautiful garden and a balcony looking over my neighbors. When I first saw it, I was so excited I started running around the house and almost ran, face-first, into a wall. The house was super big, considering I lived in a three-room apartment with my entire family with only the standard furniture: two super tiny beds, a bathroom big enough to fit at most two people at a time, two desks that were piled with books and writing utensils, and a kitchen with a leaking pipe in the ceiling.
When I started to attend school, I was a tall and shy teenager. Since I had just moved to America, I was not familiar with speaking the language and had a lot of trouble making friends. Now you might be wondering, why am I shy? The answer to that is, I was heavily bullied by just about every guy in my class. I had no idea why I was always getting picked on. If I had to guess, I think it was because I get upset very easily, and the bullies found it funny because I didn't have a friend that I could rely on. I had even talked to my teachers, hoping to get some sympathy and stop the bullies. They looked at me, incredibly bored, and asked: "What's the matter, Steven?" "I'm getting bullied again. Can you please tell them to stop?" "Ok," she said with a scowl on her face, as if I was taking up too much time. I rushed out of the room, feeling more embarrassed as I ran to the bathroom to wash my face. As if I had never existed, the teachers went back to their casual conversations. In truth, they never really cared about bullying unless it caused a huge scene, damaged school equipment, injured a student, or damaged their reputation as teachers.
Later, I found out that most of the kids in America are quite nice and most teachers do care if their student is being bullied. Since I tend to feel that everyone is bad-mouthing me behind my back because they used to do so at my old school, I never really talked to anyone unless they opened up to me first. This was the point when I realized American kids were way nicer. I was overjoyed that I had finally made real friends for pretty much the first time of my life. I should mention that I still tend to feel that everyone is bad-mouthing me behind my back since they used to do that in my old environment.
The differences between the two countries' teaching styles are also very hard to get used to. In China, the class was a lot bigger, there were lots of rules to keep students in check, and students feel shame when teachers call them out. In America, the teachers are more chill and there aren't nearly as many rules. One of the main differences that got me into quite a lot of trouble was the fact that in China, lowering your head is viewed as showing regret to your actions, but in America, it is a sign of disrespect. Another thing is that when I’m just playing around, the teachers always think I’m “fighting;” we have very different understandings of what is appropriate and what is inappropriate. One example of this is when one of my friends held up some of his books and challenged me to kick them. I accepted his challenge and completed the task, but a nearby teacher yelled at me and sent me to the office for “kicking another student’s head.” Any kind of physical contact with another student was considered a fight in the teacher’s eyes and they seemed to always target me as the offender. I have tried to explain, but they viewed it as excuses, discouraging any further explanations.
As I have mentioned before, I am not used to speaking English fluently yet. The fact that I was still shy didn’t help at all. My beloved and caring mother would always help me when I was in trouble and teach me how to communicate with other people, though I was still too shy to put her teachings to good use, especially in front of my teachers. The only things I could say were “it isn’t my fault,” but I could provide no evidence that it wasn’t my fault. Finally, the teachers had enough with me, and my teachers decided to call my mom to discuss the current situation. I was scared out of my wits and kept muttering "I'm going to die." When I got home, I hid in the bathroom, sobbing my heart out, waiting for the inevitable truth that my mom was going to burst through the door, howling with rage, destroying every piece of furniture in her path. Surprisingly, my mom walked not in rage, but was concerned about what was happening in school. Now I should explain, in China, teachers use shame as a rule enforcer, and having your parents come to meet with the teacher was just about the worst thing that can happen.
When we met the teacher, my mind went completely blank, and I just sat in silence, thinking of my doom when my mom heard all the bad things the teacher was about to say to my mom. My mom and my homeroom teacher talked about my behavior; my mom explained the best she could for me. It was at this point that I realized that not all teachers were big scary monsters that I thought of them to be. They discussed what would be done to stop me from acting rash when being provoked by the “funny” guy in class. We concluded that I should try to be calm, count to 10, and don’t do things without thinking. I remember after the meeting I was so relieved that I didn't even have a word to describe it. I still have a problem with acting without thinking, as you can probably tell from class. It's better to control myself when we are doing online classes because I can just mute myself.
From this experience, I learned two very important lessons. First off, communication is very important and you should always ask teachers for help. Teachers are there for you and will most likely support you if you are having some trouble. Teachers are not the scary monsters waiting for a chance to laugh in your face. Secondly, don’t be shy, there’s nothing to be scared of. Not everyone is wearing a mask, concealing their true intentions. Finding a friend that you trust and share the burden when it is too hard for you to carry alone.