I think most people look back on their teenage years with a bittersweet sense of nostalgia. They wish they could go back in time. Well, I don’t.
Our neighborhood was white and my skin….Well, my skin was certainly not white. I was one of the few non-white students at a predominantly white school in a post-Soviet country. Schoolchildren would call me names, the N-word, and it was almost every day that I came back home in tears. I felt what I experienced was unfair. I felt I did not belong to my neighborhood. I wished I could leave that place for good.
One day I started thinking of travelling to the US. From the outside, the country seemed perfect for people like me. That is how I started learning English. If only my English was fluent enough, perhaps, I could find an easier way to immigrate.
Little by little, I started reading about America and American history. I took to watching movies in English and listening to American songs. Then I knew I had to endure five or six hours at school, and I would not need to hear the voices of hatred for the rest of the day. I would be all by myself dreaming of a better life and I would feel safe and secure.
Learning English was no easy task for me. Words eluded me, people spoke too fast and seemed to mumble all the time, and sometimes I wished I understood more. I wished I could get rid of my Russian accent. I never embraced my accent (after all, I was not even Russian) and I tried as hard as I could to get rid of it. After a while things seemed to have worked out for me.
It is ironic that I never went to the US. I lived in Germany, and I visited France, the Netherlands, Austria, the Czech Republic and Italy. I spoke English and German most of the time. And I lived in the United Arab Emirates for 7 months.
The thing is, if it was not for my decision to immigrate to the US, I would not even know how to deal with racism and bullying my public school was offering me. I would feel depressed and devastated. Learning a foreign language gave me hope. A hope that a better life was possible. That it didn’t have to be that way.
Then I made it my mission to help people like me to find meaning in their lives. If you feel lost just like I did. If you feel rejected. If you feel stuck and it seems like there is no end in sight. If you are being bullied for your looks, for the things you wear, for your love preferences. For being different. Please remember.
There is always a hope. You don’t have to conform to communities where you don’t fit in. There are always other communities where you will find acceptance and understanding. Learning a language can help you find those other communities and improve your life in meaningful ways.