By My Nguyen
I was 13 years old when my mom told us we would move to the U.S. I was surprised because she told me many times before, but this time, it was true. We joined my aunt, who already lived here many years, and she told me we would have many opportunities in the U.S. She also told me moving here was my mother’s plan; she wanted this since she was pregnant with me, so my whole life I knew I would move someday.
When I arrived in the U.S., language was my biggest challenge. The first year in school, I only drew in class and I quickly lost motivation to go to school. I asked my mom if we could go back to Vietnam, but she said, “No, we waited so long to come here, 13 years.” Sometimes, I went to school but stopped outside the building and decided to go home. If you saw my grades and attendance in middle school, you could tell I didn’t like school. Sometimes I thought to myself, “This month I haven’t skipped school, so maybe today I will.” I ended up not going to school or going in late for 19 days. My mom works at night and would be asleep when I got home. And when my teacher asked me where I was, I’d say I was sick. It was true because I was homesick for Vietnam.
My behavior was really different in Vietnam. I only missed school when I was really sick and only had to study for four hours a day. In Boston I have to study for more than six hours.
In Vietnam, I would bike for 15 minutes and it was so fun. After school, my friends and I would bike down the street where people would be pushing food carts throughout the small city. We would buy street food and sit at tables outside and eat. It’s a lot more friendly and safe. Here in the U.S., you sit inside a restaurant and eat and you feel a little bit lonely inside. I miss my favorite Vietnamese street food. It’s difficult to find here but I do enjoy bubble tea.
By the time I got to high school, I didn’t miss school like before because I made Vietnamese friends. The first two years of school, I felt uncomfortable speaking English because I didn’t understand what people were asking me. However, I could talk to my friends during breakfast and lunch and it gave me the energy to study all day. I participated more and made new friends from other countries like Bangladesh and Haiti.
When the pandemic hit, I suddenly felt like I was back in the first day of school in the U.S. Virtual learning made it difficult for me to communicate and participate. In class, nobody participated and all the cameras were off. I wasn’t seeing my classmates and we weren't connecting like we would in-person. I would only ask them what they had for lunch.
When I heard someone I know was positive for COVID, I got really scared. I went to the doctor for a COVID test and it was negative but, the doctor said I needed to be quarantined in my house for two weeks. I asked what I could do and the doctor said I could drink water. Before, I only drank one bottle a day but I started drinking so much water. Every night, I’d worry I’d give COVID to my neighbors. They are elderly and older than 70 years old.
Sometimes when I got a cold, I was really scared someone would take me away from my mom. What if I can’t quarantine near my mom and can’t go back home? I don't want to be separated from my mom because she's nice and doesn’t yell at me. My favorite things to do with her is take photographs and paint.
About two years ago, I really got into painting but because I learned so much in school, I didn’t have time. During the pandemic, I had a lot of time. But I can only paint when I’m happy, and I was really stressed because of the pandemic so I couldn’t even paint.
Things got better when I entered 11th grade. I still have to do online learning but there is less stress and I’ve started thinking about my future. I'd like to go to Rhode Island School of Design and be an illustrator. I want to learn in person again because when I see my friends working hard and being successful, I want to be like them.