I remember my father telling me about the long yet interesting stories of his travels to the US. One night my parents came in to talk to me, their expressions looked happy and excited. I was curious to hear what they had to say to me. My mother’s voice was soft as she was breaking the news that they were planning to send me to spend time in the US with a host family and attend a new high school in Palo Alto, California. I immediately had a bittersweet feeling about the big news. I was excited to experience the new culture in America, everyone always talks about the weather there… Ahhh sunshine and beach days. I had a stereotypical view of the US. I knew I was going to be staying with a host family that was close with my father and despite knowing I would be safe, I still felt a sense of insecurity.
My mind was overwhelmed with questions and nerves. As I was approaching the airport, my palms were sweaty, and my heart was beating rapidly. I was trying to relax while practicing deep breathing. Right when I heard the engine turn off, I opened my eyes and was mentally preparing myself for the long flight. I was dreading this plane flight, I am an extremely nervous flyer. My parents embraced me in their arms, uncomfortably tight, I felt like I could barely breathe. Finally saying my last goodbye it was time to board the plane.
It felt like I was walking in mud, I was so nervous to get on to the plane because that made this travel so real. The plane was filled with faces I didn’t recognize… What happens if something goes wrong? I am all alone… breathe, everything will be okay. Finally, the flight was almost over excitement rushed through my veins. My throat sank to the bottom of my stomach as my eyes met the host family. My stomach was churning with nerves, I was wondering what they would think of me. “Pauline, welcome to the US! We are so happy for you to be here with us!” Mr. Aalami yelled.
The first few days of school felt slow, I felt like I was just going through the motions of life with no real purpose. But, as the bell chimed loudly, I had an ear to ear grin on my face… cross country tryouts. Coach Davidson was intimidating, athletic looking, confident with a firm facial expression. I have never done cross country before but I was eager to try. All of the students around me looked lean, muscular, and fast.
As the season continued the first meet approached and I was terrified. My feet planted firmly in the grass, my arms were set and ready to run. The final gun boomed, my feet dug into the grass as I propelled my legs forward. All I was thinking about was making the next step. Out of the corner of my eye, all I could see were the green trees passing, the sun beating on my forehead and I couldn’t feel my chest. For some reason the discomfort pushed me harder, I was determined to finish this race and do this for myself. Crossing the finish line all my teammates were screaming my name, I felt so accomplished because I logged hours of sweat and perseverance to get to this very moment. My time was not the best, but I finished, I found my team, my place, and that was all that mattered.
I was starting to feel content with my life, starting to fit in and finding new friends. As I was walking through Paly, my eyes were wide, noticing all of the differences around me. People have pink hair, nose rings, cartoon themed shirts and more. Palo Alto offers diversity that is different from Germany. In Germany, it sounds like a big city, honking, and people talking and walking fast all around you. The food in Germany includes grease and unhealthy deliciousness. Here in Palo Alto, everywhere I look there is an abundance of expensive vegan food like green salads and overpriced juice. My body felt clean and energized when I feed it with foods that nourish me, I love the foods here in California.
Skipping down University Ave with my friends, all of the different restaurants were filled with various aromas and colors. Which one do we go to… I have no idea what some of this food is! After minutes of bickering between my friends, we decided to go to a place called Sweetgreen. The building was modern, with white walls and an open seating area. I customized a salad with fresh vegetables of all the colors of the rainbow, my dressing was a Thai spicy dressing. I had never tried any foods of this complexity before. The first bite I took, my taste buds tingled with new flavors bursting in my mouth. I was in awe of the new food and culture I was just starting to experience.
When I first came to the US, I was confused, I didn’t know what to expect or how I should act. Now I have come so far, I have met new people that make my life fun and exciting. My knowledge of new cultures has grown. I yearn for my friends in Germany, but I am appreciative of this opportunity.
This story is based on an interview by Ella Henry, a student at Palo Alto High School.