Wenhong Ren (1st place. Creative Nonfiction. Spring 2011 Writing Contest)
Ding! I picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Mom, the competition is finished and the ceremony will start in half an hour. Are you coming?” my daughter asked, excitement in her voice.
“We’ll be there in 15 minutes. How can I find you?”
“I’ll be at the front entrance of the school.”
“All right. See you.”
The annual Houston Science Engineer Fair was held at the downtown Convention Center. Two years ago was the second time my daughter had attended the Science Fair. Her project focused on how sunlight and gravity affect plant growth. We had discussed the details of the experiment over dinner every night. How many trials did she need? What methods could she use? What kinds of results should she expect? After consolidating the entire plan, she started the experiments without any trouble. Before the Fair I had helped her organize all the information and checked her board. Everything looked perfect, but winning depended on her presentation skills.
“Hi! There you are. Weiting did great today,” said my daughter’s science teacher whom we had met a couple of times before. “She will definitely win a big prize,” he said.
By this time, the ceremony had started. Winners went to the stage one by one, accompanied by cheers from their family and friends.
“Botany, junior division: third place…, second place…, first place goes to Weiting Ji, from T.H. Rogers Middle School.”
“Woohoo!” her friends cheered when she stood up.
“Congratulations!” I said to her.
She went to the stage, took the trophy, and stood there with a big smile on her face and confidence in her eyes.
I watched her. She had matured so much. It was hard for me to connect this girl full of confidence with the shy little girl of her childhood.
When we moved to the U.S. she was seven and had just finished the first grade in China. The first day, on the way to school, she sat beside me, entirely speechless.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“Fine,” she answered.
I knew that she felt uncomfortable. She was always like that when she moved to a new environment. She was a timid girl. It was very difficult for her to make new friends.
I still remember the first day I sent her to the day care center. She did not say a single word after we left home. As we neared the gate of the day care center, she held me tight and started crying.
“Mommy, take me home. I don’t want to stay!”
After one week, everything started getting better. She stopped crying, but was still unhappy.
The same thing happened when she entered elementary school. A couple of days after school started the teacher told me that she was too shy. She neither asked questions nor answered questions in class. She did not even talk to the other students during recess.
Entering a new school in the United States was the biggest change in her life so far—a different school, different teachers, different classmates, and a different language—the biggest challenge until now. I could do nothing but try to comfort her before she entered the classroom.
“Don’t worry, sweetie, everything will be fine. The teacher will find a Chinese student to help you.”
However, I really worried about her. How would she understand others without knowing a single word of English? How would she allow herself to be understood without saying a word?
“Bad,” she said when I asked about her day. “There is only one Chinese student in my grade and she is not in my class. I did not understand anything in class, and the worst thing is I didn’t know where the bathroom is.”
“You are doing great!” I said happily. At least, she did not get into trouble. “Do you have homework?”
“I don’t know. I only got a folder from the teacher.”
I checked the folder after dinner. There was a note from the teacher. It said that Weiting was a good student. She had no problem with math. She was taking the same classes with the other students except for English, for which she had a special ESL class. Attached to the note was a list of twenty vocabulary words for a quiz at the end of the week.
“Let’s start with these words,” I said to her.
“I don’t want to go to the school,” she said, lowering her head, with tears in her eyes.
“Why?” I was worried.
“I didn’t understand anything. I sat in the classroom the whole day just like an idiot, nobody to play with, and nobody to talk to.”
“Don’t worry. Everything is difficult at the beginning. You already had a good start, and you will be fine.”
The following days, we worked through the vocabulary words, one by one. I taught her how to pronounce the words and explained their meanings to her. She learned to spell the words and memorized them. By the end of week she could remember the whole list.
“How was your test?” I asked when I picked her up.
“Guess?” she gave me a bright smile, with a sense of pride in her eyes.
I was happy too. I knew she had gotten a perfect score on her test.
After a month, she was able to talk a little. After one year, she had no problem with the language—listening, speaking, or reading.
“The grand prize for Junior Division is Weiting Ji, from T.H. Rogers Middle School.”
I could not believe my ears.
“I told you she would win something big,” her science teacher said. “Her presentation was impressive.”
“Were you nervous when you presented your experiment, or answered the questions?” I asked her on the way home.
“Because we do it every day in school.”