Fighting to hold the tears back, I sat restlessly in my seat with a cold blanket hiding my face. A long eighteen-hour flight lay ahead of me, during which time I could absorb the fact that I had just left my friends, my family, my country, my home. I was torn between sadness at leaving my whole life behind and a feeling of anxiety and excitement at starting a new life in an unknown world.
For twelve years, South Africa had been my home. By attending a private Catholic school with only seven hundred students from kindergarten through grade twelve, I grew up with the same friends and classmates in each grade since the age of five. We knew each other so well that we were like family, and I blossomed in this sheltered environment.
This sheltered environment was shattered on the 22nd of July 1997, when my family received a large, white, official envelope from Philadelphia that changed our lives forever. After reading the contents, my parents informed me that we won green cards to the United States in an international lottery. â€œIt is a chance of a lifetime,â€ they said, â€œan opportunity to leave a crime ridden country.â€
Within a month of landing in the United States in August 1998, I started public school as a tiny eighth grader in a monstrous building. I felt overwhelmed by the fact that there were more than three hundred students in my grade alone. For the first time in my life, I felt an outcast like an alien from an unknown place. My classmates just viewed me as this strange small Asian girl with a â€œBritishâ€ accent who emigrated from Africa. I yearned to return home, hoping that this was simply an unpleasant dream. The realization that this was my new life felt like a hard slap in the face. Immediately, I was faced with the challenge of finding new friends, adapting to a public school system, and a whole new different culture.
I quickly learned to embrace the challenge, knowing that I