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While my classmates were eagerly participating in a discussion of The Grapes of Wrath, their hands constantly raised, I looked down, avoiding eye contact with Mr. Colgate, and pretended to jot down notes. I wanted to say something, but my mouth would not open. Trembling, my hands became cold and my heart started beating fast. “Will people understand my English pronunciation?” I sighed, nervously, thinking, “will I say something irrelevant because I misinterpreted the question?”
During my first year studying in the United States at Loomis Chaffee, transition to life in such a challenging educational atmosphere was harder than I ever expected. Like many other non-native speakers of English, I had found the expectations of English at my previous schools undemanding, allowing me to perform well without much pressure. At Loomis, however, I faced a major challenge with the language barrier.
Though I had been studying for four years at schools where teachers taught in English, I realized quickly that my language skills lagged behind those of my peers at Loomis. I felt lost every time the teacher spoke too quickly or used sophisticated words. The sound of his voice flew by my ears; rarely was I able to translate or comprehend what he said. While my peers laughed at the teacher’s jokes, I remained nonplussed because I did not understand. In my attempt to write essays, hours of unproductiveness passed as I struggled to express complex ideas in succinct and articulate writing. With so many words and idioms from which to choose, I found it hard to decide how to write the best sentence. Each night I moaned, as I spent hours reading Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, homework that usually took my classmates merely forty-five minutes.
Despite the language barrier, living in such a focused intellectual community did provide me the opportunity for personal growth and progress. The educational atmosphere at Loomis – a school so far away from my home in Thailand – forced me to communicate only in English, though I sometimes could not resist the temptation to speak Thai with the handful of other Thai students at school. The school’s library – the place for group studying with my friends and a resource for intellectual readings – soon became one of my favorite getaways on campus. I always carried a dictionary; despite my slow pace, I strove to read more in English as I sat, ducked away in a corner of the library. I devoured Lance Armstrong’s It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life, TIME magazine, and Chicken Soup for the Soul when I was not hard at work on physics, math or German.
The boarding experience also allowed me to establish relationships with people of different views and backgrounds, and to immerse myself in American culture. I finally enjoyed and understood watching baseball and American football – sports that almost do not exist in Thailand. Having friends, both American and international, not only helped me to survive in a foreign culture but also boosted my confidence in socializing and communicating in English.
In retrospect, my two years at Loomis Chaffee – though not always easy – have made for quite a valuable, nurturing experience. I have discovered self-confidence and perseverance. My optimism reassures and prepares me for any future challenges in life. In my English class today, I raise my hand and state my ideas clearly, confident in my pronunciation, without a dictionary.
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