How reading became my biggest strength

September 30, 2020 2:47 PM

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Writing Through the Distance logo. Photo courtesy of WriteBoston.

Writing Through the Distance logo. Photo courtesy of WriteBoston.

When I was a little girl, I spent many afternoons watching my grandfather's date tree. The tree, replete with birds flying around its lively branches, fascinated me, especially a family of birds building a nest for their new family. When the baby birds were old enough, they were prompted to jump out of the nest and take flight for the first time. Seeing this, I admired how courageous these little birds were and wondered what it would feel like to make that leap. As time went on, I would find myself facing a very similar challenge when I moved from Sudan to the United States. I felt just like a baby bird leaving the nest, only I did not feel like I was ready to take flight.

A few weeks later, when we moved, I felt shocked and unprepared. I quickly realized the culture, the language, and even the sense of humor was different in the United States. Everything was new to me and I felt like an outsider that would never fit in. Since English, not Arabic, was the primary communication mode for so many students, learning became an uphill battle for me in all my classes. Even math class was a challenge since I was used to writing and solving equations from right to left in Arabic. I quickly realized that knowing the language was necessary for success and, even though it would not be an easy task, I was motivated to make that switch in my brain.

Even though it was really difficult for me at the beginning, I desperately wanted to improve my English and develop as a student. Everything began to change when I was placed into an ESL program in 8th grade. Motivated to improve my language outside of the classroom, I read books at the Somerville library to improve my vocabulary. I started checking out books below my reading level to solidify my knowledge and grow in my confidence in the English language. Watching television and movies in English helped me understand the manners of speaking and slang. Most of all, talking to friends at school and getting involved as a member of my community forced me into having conversations and dialogue with others. My confidence soon grew, not just as someone learning English, but also as someone who wanted to be more actively engaged with the world around me.

In my first year in school, I used my newly-developed English language skills to step outside of my comfort zone and get more involved in my school community. I became a member of the student council, got involved in a fundraising program for our graduation, and joined the recycling team. Without realizing it, everything finally felt normal. This maze to me finally became home. The people who were strangers to me became my friends and family, classes became easier to understand, and the jokes that were once confusing became funny. All of a sudden, I found myself calling this place my community, my neighborhood, and my home.  

Like the birds in my grandfather’s nest, I finally gained the courage to leave and learn to take flight. While working hard to develop my skills as a bilingual student, I also grew in confidence as a person. After only two years of learning English, I was placed into English Honors 10 as a sophomore, I took AP Language as a Junior, and I am now taking AP Literature as a senior. In a few short years, I was able to transform from a shy and reserved girl that struggled to understand and speak English into an empowered and motivated student and person. I’ve been able to come so far, going from A-Z Scholastic books in the 8th grade to analyzing Shakespearean plays in the 10th. As I continue to spread my wings, I am more confident in classes, I am engaged with my school community, and I am an outspoken member in class, in the NHS, and in my own community. I even started to help in a program where young children learn Arabic. This allowed me to develop and share my skills as a bilingual person while understanding the point of view of students who are going through similar challenges that I went through. All these challenges became strengths, and even though it took time, I’m finally ready to build my own nest.

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