Pushed Into the Deep End

school The First Day of Kindergarten

It was the first day of school, and there stood a little girl, roughly three feet tall dressed in denim overalls with her curly hair neatly combed into two pigtails, arms wrapped tightly around her mom’s legs as though she was holding on for dear life. Tears were pouring down her face as her mom rubbed her back and whispered to her in an unrecognizable language. All of the other kids stood in line against the red brick of the elementary school, jumping around and laughing. Moments later, a teacher walked out and assembled the students, leading them inside the school. The mom gently unraveled her daughter’s arms from around her lower body and gave her a gentle push towards the line as she waved goodbye and smiled reassuringly at her daughter. The little girl waved back as she hesitantly joined the end of the line and followed the rest of the students as the door closed to her first day of kindergarten.

Two weeks later, the same little girl sat at a table with some classmates as the teacher walked around the classroom and passed around a worksheet. As she wound up and down the aisles, she announced some words that sounded like pure gibberish. Carefully observing the student sitting beside her, the little girl picked up a blue crayon and copied peer, letter by letter,  until she also had McKenzie written across the top of her paper. As the teacher came around to check on the students’ work, she stopped in front of the two McKenzies. Kneeling down, she took another crayon and shook her head as she took the little girl’s worksheet, crossed out McKenzie, and wrote Lisa along the top in big, red letters.

If you haven’t guessed already, I was that little girl who started kindergarten without knowing a lick of English. As the months came and went, I learned the English alphabet, along with basic numbers and shapes. By November, I was reading on my own and by the time kindergarten graduation came around the corner, there was not a sign that I was anything different from the other students. Everything I could do in Russian, I could now do equally well in English.


Moving forward throughout elementary school and middle school, I grew both emotionally and intellectually, and quickly surpassed any preconceived expectations for a student whose second language was English. To this day, I am not sure what about the experience had such an impact on my life. That specific moment surpassed any stressful situation I have ever been in, all the late nights and crazy projects in college combined. Maybe it was the first time inmy life I was so deathly scared, day and day again before going to school terrified felt normal. Maybe it was the first time spending 7 hours in an unknown place, surrounded by strangers, without an idea of what people around me were saying. Maybe it was the first time getting weird looks from kids as I tried to make friends, but didn’t have the ability to communicate.

When people ask me about the biggest challenge I overcame, or a moment I felt most vulnerable, this situation comes to mind. For such a young age, it taught me to work hard and persevere even when I reached and surpassed my goals. It taught me to be kind to others around me and accept people for their differences, because I knew what it felt like to be left out for mine. It taught me patience, both with myself and those around me. Most importantly, it taught me to take on challenges head on, no matter how big or small.



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