Leaving my comfort zone — It’s OK to feel different in a new country

The Channels Opinion Pages | STAFF COLUMN

Paula Rodenas, Staff Writer

As I look up to see Bryant Street, my mind starts to wonder: I know I’m not supposed to turn right yet, but what would happen if I turned now and “got lost?”

I was running out of excuses to skip school, but this new plan would definitely work. 

It was the perfect plan: get lost, call my dad to pick me up, cry on the phone and go home.

So, I proceeded to walk right and immerse myself in the unknown streets of Palo Alto, California.

I was just 12 years old when I was left at a school where I did not speak the language, know the culture or anybody here.

Little did I know of all the experiences and fears I was about to overcome by just stepping one foot in the hallway of my new school.

My family and I first moved to Palo Alto back in 2013, a small city in the Bay Area. 

I spoke no English at all. 

I’d taken a few English classes back home, but my understanding was so low I could barely ask where the bathroom was. 

I benefited from the English as a second language program and was put in different English and history classes. I also had a teacher assistant who spoke Spanish for me in all my other ones. 

Her name was Ana. I was grateful for her patience and kindness, and was relieved to know that she would be by my side for the whole year. 

But as I sat next to Ana on my first day of class, everyone’s eyes turned right at me. 

I was the center of attention.

It was like forgetting the lines while performing on stage in front of some big Hollywood directors.

I saw their curious facial expressions, but I felt frustrated since I could only communicate with those who spoke at least a little Spanish.

After school I realized the long journey I was about to experience — an adventure filled with frustration, stress, and tears.

I was the only one not catching up with friends about my summer or taking group selfies. I would just walk to my bike and go home.

But as the days went by I met amazing people who tried their best to communicate with me.

Making friends was a big challenge, and to this day I’m grateful for everyone I met in my first year in an American middle school. 

But I was frustrated that I felt so scared.

I was scared of raising my hand in class or starting a conversation with someone. I stopped stating my opinion because I knew I wouldn’t be able to express my feelings as strongly as I wanted.

I felt weak.

To this day, I still feel weak sometimes.

It’s been seven years since I first moved to the United States and I still have moments where I feel like I don’t fit in. 

But I realized it’s OK to not fit with the standard. It’s OK to look, speak and act differently. 

It’s not a matter of fitting in, but rather of taking full advantage of the experience and the learning opportunities.

I’ve learned to ask, to wander and to improvise; and most importantly, I learned to get out of my comfort zone. 

I’m no longer purposely getting lost through new streets and crying to my dad to come get me.