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Adapting

This is my first year in an American high school. The last 6 years I've lived mostly in Europe--in big cities like Paris and Vienna. Of course, I've lived in America before, but I was only 6 at the time--kindergarten to third grade. While overseas, I never had any real problems with the way school was taught, and I went to two completely different schools. I went to a strict Catholic school that had roughly 400 kids--from preschool to eighth grade. After 5 years there, I went to an American international school (AIS). I thought that the AIS was pretty much what an American high school would be like. About 1,000 kids went to AIS, which went from kindergarten to the 12th grade. After only one year in that program, my family was transferred back to Washington DC, permanently. My school, Walt Whitman, has 3,000 kids, and it's only a high school!

Every new freshman in Walt Whitman is assigned a counselor for the next 4 years to help him or her adapt. Not only was my counselor confused about how to treat me, she asked me if I would need to go into an ESOL class (English Speakers of Other Languages). While overseas you think of yourself as American; in the school system here, I'm thought an oddity. It was embarrassing to have to explain to the counselor that even though the slip I held said I was coming from Austria, that I was not Austrian and would not need any special attention. But afterwards, she happily placed me into my requested classes, one of which was Honors U.S. History. On my first day in this class, the teacher gave us a test on everything we were supposed to know about the "Original 13 Colonies." When I got the test I looked it over and practically cried; not only did I not know which of the 13 colonies was based around fishing I didn't even know we had 13 colonies. My teacher excused me, and I went straight to the guidance office to be switched out of the class. The next day I switched to a less advanced class. Unfortunately, the teacher didn't know my situation and yelled at me in front of the entire class about how fickle it was of me to change classes after only one day. He finally signed my switch slip, and I took it to my counselor.

My second big horror was seventh period Honors English class. I'm very good at English, and the first few days were great. I learned that we would be reading a few of my favorite books. The only problem was that in the class there were three other girls named Sarah, not much of a surprise since it is one of the most popular names. But all of us sat right next to each other. In a fit of irritation the teacher decided to give us all nicknames so that he wouldn't annoy himself. Sarah 1 became "Pale," Sarah 2, "Taco", and I became "Goofy". It wasn't that bad for the other two, but my name stuck. After a few days people would call "Goofy" in the hallway to get my attention. The boys on my bus called me "Euro Goofy," and I even received the original nickname, "Goofball."

My first few weeks were hard; everyone in Walt Whitman has grown up together and are closely knit. Though no one minds saying hello or being nice during classes, they aren't prepared to let anyone into the "close friends" group. People also were so stupid about the Foreign Service. They are positive that when I say my Dad worked for the "government," it meant he worked for the CIA. After all, isn't that the kind of thing the government does overseas? Then I say that he worked with ambassadors they ask, "He's an ambassador?" Then I try to explain by saying that he's a nuclear physicist and that he worked with other scientists. Then they're still confused thinking that my dad was teaching them how to make nuclear bombs. After all this I get so fed up with their attitude that all attempts to make friends are ruined, and I walk away in a huff. There also are questions like, "When you lived in Austria, did you have a kangaroo as a pet?" It's difficult to explain to these people without being mean that Austria's in Europe, not "down under." Then there are the annoying people who talk about France and how snotty and fashion-stupid the French are and how prejudiced they are toward Americans. This kind of behavior almost makes me want to cry; it's like they're making fun of my friends because a lot of them were French and almost makes me see how prejudiced against everyone else Americans are. I'm always getting the line, "The French should love us because we saved them from the Germans." How can you explain in one conversation how many French lives were destroyed before the Americans showed up, more than halfway into both World Wars?

"Doing sports is a good way to make friends," is one of the classical adult pieces of advice to kids who are having trouble fitting in, but I'm not much of a sports person. In fact, I don't do much of any sport besides track. Walt Whitman has a great sports program; they're almost always the county's best in every single sport where they have a team. So, of course, they had a wonderful track program that runs year round in three sections. Cross-country starts at the end of summer and runs until winter;  indoor track begins and goes until March when outdoor track starts. But to get on the cross-country team you have to be at the first track meet, which is before the first day of school, and I didn't know that. So for the first section I waited for indoor track. When that began, I was ready to try out. But to get on the team, health forms are required to prove you are able. I went to get the papers the day after the first practice and was welcomed by a man who yelled at me for not getting the papers before the practice. I filled them out during lunch, but before I turned them in my friends told me how horrible the coach was and scared me out of it. By the time indoor track started, I had already joined a dance group which met the same days as track. I really had fun dancing, so I decided to wait until next year.

Now, more than halfway through the year, I've learned to turn around when people call "Goofy" and even introduced myself as that sometimes. Most of the annoying people know not to bother me any longer. I'd say that although I may not be completely happy with my new school, I've come to accept it and adapt back into American society.


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