I moved to the United States at the age of eleven from Russia, bringing with me a severely limited English vocabulary. The only conversation I was able to hold had to include pictures and hand signals. My parents decided that the fastest way for me to learn English was to put me in an environment where it would be necessary to speak the language in order to operate. So, there I went to a regular, public middle school.
As many people do in the beginning, I held an optimistic view for the new customs, people, and language. And as for many people, it faded away soon. I began to come home frustrated with the fact that I did not understand the material being taught, and being an honor student in my native country, I was not accustomed to the slipping grades. I had difficulty communicating with my peers, because of the inability to express my thoughts and opinions in words. The new lifestyle was difficult to embrace at first as well, and it was not long before I wished I was back home.
After a couple of months of the same routine, I was appointed to eight grade English teacher, Mrs. Wilhelm. She was a middle-aged woman who taught regular and honors English, and her new task was to teach me English. Every day I would come during my study hall and she would hand me an elementary level English book, and would give me the task of matching the pictures with the right words. While I was grateful for having her take her time and teach me, I felt embarrassed and humiliated in presence of others when I held the books I thought were childish.
After a few weeks of no significant progress, Mrs. Wilhelm confronted me personally. She said if I wanted to progress my understanding in English I had to try harder, because the only way to get better at something is to practice and practice. Her statement was simple and clear, yet it made me question whether the reason I was not learning was because I did not try hard enough or simply was not smart enough. When I thought about it in the evening I decided that it did not matter whether I was smart enough or not, because if I would never try and practice I will never be able to achieve my goal. I still maintain this philosophy to this day, because I learned that practice makes everything better and intelligence just helps along the way.
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