Finding a community in the United States

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(Illustrated by Kendal Foreman/ Warrior Life)

I stood in the middle of the parking lot surrounded by hundreds of kids that were getting dropped off by their parents on the first day of school, not knowing what everyone was saying, what to do, and where to go, just a week after I left my home country pursuing a different future but with no idea of what it was going to be like.

Everything started almost five years ago. After the political, social and economical situation exploded in Venezuela, my parents decided that their oldest son needed to move to The United States to seek a good education and safety.

On Aug. 31, 2016 after two flights of four hours each, I arrived at Los Angeles International Airport from Valencia, Venezuela with the sadness of leaving my entire family and life behind, but with the excitement of starting a new journey.

I was now one of the millions of people that moved to America each year chasing a better future.

My uncle was standing outside the airport waiting for me, grateful I told him that it is great to see him again.

“Espero estes listo para la escuela, empieza en 7 dias, chamo.”

I hope you’re ready for school, it would start in seven days, kid, he said laughing and then hugged me.

Thinking that school was around the corner and that I didn’t know English let fear consume my nerves.

“School is going to be something different this time but you got this, just make people laugh as you always do,” my conscience constantly repeated while I struggled to get some sleep.

Nervousness took over my head, but the idea of a new challenge gave me a lot of motivation.

The next morning, I set up my phone in English, downloaded Duolingo and also read the newspaper two or three times to get used to reading in English, even though I couldn’t understand a single word.

I had seven days to learn as much as possible before my first day of school, but seven days never felt so short until this week.

It was the first day of school, and while my uncle was driving me to school, confidence was all I was thinking about until my uncle dropped me off.

At this exact moment all my confidence flew away. While walking across the parking lot, I realized that I was a stranger and that Duolingo was not helpful at all.

First, second and third-period classes lasted an eternity each, or at least that’s how it felt when the teacher explains something and you don’t even know what class are you in until fourth-period class came around.

The teacher made me sit at the back, next to a guy who seemed to be quiet. He looked at me and in Spanish said:

“You really don’t know English?” And laughing he added, “Me neither bro, let’s be friends.”

His name is Kevin, and he moved to California a year earlier than I had. We spent the rest of the day talking about our experiences and the reasons why we moved here.

He said that I was his first friend here and he explained how hard it had been for him not only in school but also outside school.

It was significant for me to know that I wasn’t alone, there was someone who understands my situation because he was going through the same.

Kevin and I went to the closest Walmart after school to buy a soccer ball, it was frustrating not understanding what the cashier was saying when we were about to pay. Once we got out of there, I told my friend that it is shameful to not be able to speak or communicate as normal people do.

“The only thing that we have in different with the rest of people here is that they know English and we don’t, we have to work on this by ourselves because no one else would do it for us, and if someone laughs because we have an accent he’s a fool,” Kevin said laughing. It was at this point when I knew that being afraid to try or keep asking for help wasn’t an option, if I wanted to learn how to speak English I had better stop getting nervous and try my best.

Since my early childhood, my favorite thing to do was playing soccer. It was an everyday thing. Playing in a soccer club in California was one of the things I dreamed about during both of my flights. Every night when my Grandmother and I had a phone call she asked about soccer and if I joined a team.

My grandma always supported sports and watching me playing soccer was her joy, it made her proud. Having her away from me was cheerless, she always motivated me. One night while talking about how difficult it has been she told me:

“Listen, kid, if there is one thing that would make you happy right now is playing soccer. You better try out for your school soccer team, just imagine I’m there watching you, also, I’m sure it would help you make more friends.”

Once again she motivated me to play, even though we were 3,617 miles away.

I tried out for the team, and the coach wanted me to be part of his school team. It was by far the best thing that happened until that point. Joining the team helped me emotionally and socially, yet I was the only one who didn’t know how to speak English, but it didn’t matter because when I started to play there was no language barrier or shame, it was just me, the ball and 20 other guys playing.

Within time, and listening to my coach and teammates, my English understanding improved to the point that I was able to understand everything and also speak the language.

After almost five years, now I could say that the only obstacle I have is myself, nervousness and fear are nothing, and if you ever need something, call your grandmother. They are always right.