From “There and Then” to “Here and Now”

Payal Ahuja, 1st Place
6th Grade
Mountain View

It is almost noon, the graduation ceremony is over and the crowds have nearly dispersed. I, however, linger on for a few extra moments to visit all my favorite haunts in the school grounds for one last time before finally heading home. The swings, the monkey bars, and the basketball courts have all been a part of my academic journey from grade 3 to grade 5 at Landels Elementary School, a journey which started when my family moved to the U.S from India in Fall 2007.

Like any other 8-year old, the idea of moving to a new place excited me. I did not realize that this move would involve losing so much of what I held dear in my life. I did not understand it then that it would involve making major adjustments, accepting, and letting go of a lot of things. However, it was not long after settling here in the Bay Area that reality quickly set in. My childhood had taken an unpredictable turn and the impact of this experience manifested itself in many ways in the coming months.

On my very first day of school, I was horrified to learn that I could barely follow what the teacher was saying. Despite being fluent in English, I was not used to the American accent. Nor was I used to the argumentative method of teaching as I came from a system that laid emphasis on rote-learning and did not encourage self-expression and individual initiative. Hence, I not only had to learn a lot of things, I also had to unlearn many things. There were other minor challenges too, such as, writing the date differently. Also, some of the words were spelled another way, like color.

Yet, the major challenges I faced were not academic. My biggest losses were personal. I had lost almost all contact with friends back home, whom I had known all my life. I had no friends here, and it seemed as if for months I inhabited a no-man’s land. I no longer belonged to the place I had left, nor did I belong here yet. I felt as if my identity had been completely fractured. My confidence and self-esteem had all but vanished. I was miserable and would question my parents endlessly why I had to be here. Their reassurances of everything being fine soon did little to console me. The promise of a better future and the unlimited opportunities, which had brought my parents to the U.S. held no meaning for me.

I felt that life in the U.S. was completely different than the one in India. As with all Asians, I came from a close-knit, boisterous, and vibrant community. Privacy and quietness are nowhere to be found. By contrast, here the silence in my apartment complex was unbearable. Neighbors, even though polite, generally kept to themselves. I longed for the everyday noises of my neighborhood in India. All these seemingly trivial issues added up to an overwhelming loss and I had no idea how to deal with it. Even though my family was supportive and loving, I felt that I would never feel happy again.

Hard as it is to believe today, things did change for the better eventually. Looking back, I cannot pinpoint exactly when or how the reversal began. Sometime after those initial few months, I somehow understood that we were here to stay. Or maybe I just grew weary of fighting the change. Gradually, one day at a time, I began to let go of the “then and there” and began to live in the “here and now”. Once I changed my attitude, things began to quickly fall in to place. I was able to appreciate the various opportunities that my community here in Mountain View offered, especially the public library. I have always been an avid reader and the library proved to be a constant source of joy. I looked forward to the Farmers Market every Sunday and also began to participate in whatever activities I could. I began to surf the Internet and go through the Bay Area Parent magazine to find interesting things to do. I found out that there was just so much to do and discover. Slowly feelings of boredom and pessimism were replaced by the sheer joy of living my life fully.

I also made many new friends at school and gradually became more comfortable in the environment at school. However, it would be wrong to say that I did not feel homesick anymore. I still missed India, my grandparents, and friends, especially on occasions such as festivals and birthdays. Yet, I was now able to handle these feelings in a more positive way.

I sometimes wonder what sort of a person I would have been if I had not had to go through this experience. Surely, my personality would have developed in a very different way. I realize that moving to the U.S has taught me many important life lessons. What I considered to be a big loss has eventually brought so many blessings into my life. Today, I am perfectly happy to be where I am, and I’m thankful for all the unique opportunities which the U.S offers to everyone to develop and flourish.

Sometime soon, it may be time to relocate again. I do not dread this change anymore, as I have learnt that moving does not mean loss of friends, it means an opportunity to make new ones. It does not mean severing old ties, but forging new ones, while retaining the old.