My name is Nan. It’s not an English name. It’s a Chinese character that means “wood.” My parents said it was “the only type of wood the emperor would build his palace with.” But in my perspective, my name does not represent royalty, but rather the struggles I endured to adapt to a different culture.
Nobody in my hometown of Dandong ever considered moving out of the city, as there were no opportunities. My family, however, had much different plans.
At five years old, I was plopped onto a train to Beijing to apply for a U.S. visa, or to interview for a U.S. visa, or to do something for a U.S. visa. When we finally got it, my parents immediately booked a flight, and we left our lives in China behind.
When I moved to Alhambra to start school, it was apparent that nothing was as picturesque or effortless as it seemed. I had an ESL instructor who would pull me out of class to show me flashcards that depicted simple objects, but rarely did she do much to progress my learning. Day after day, the instructor would come over with flashcards, and I would study them while the other students laughed and spoke in a language I didn’t understand.
I had no chance of making friends. My mother, with whom I studied English with for hours every night at the local church, was my only friend. Life in this foreign country seemed almost unbearable. There was no time to relax, to give ourselves a break from the joyless life of not being able to understand our surroundings or speak to a person in a common language. Night market runs with my friends in China turned into nights of flipping books with my mother.
This went on for most of the school year, and it seemed like it was a rut I wouldn’t be able to escape from. But after a few months of countless nights of studying I began to speak a form of broken English that got me by. Slowly, in the next few years, I caught up to my peers in language skills. I remember having my first simple conversation about Spongebob and Beyblade.
Coming to America has changed my perspective forever. Being able to speak the “language of the world” and live in a first-world country full of opportunities has been a blessing. Learning English has led me to learn Spanish and write in the school newspaper, things that I would never have thought of doing in China.