This I Believe

Kelly - Briarcliff Manor, New York
Entered on June 1, 2007

I stood behind him, struggling to balance on my back his heavy luggage, filled with clothes, photographs…all things he could bring to remind him of his home.

Zhang Shenghao, in turn, did not turn around, make eye contact, or show any sign of willingness to strike up a conversation with my dad and me. The first car ride Zhang had with his host family was an awkward silent one. Right away, I knew, as I resisted the urge to shift uncomfortably in my seat next to Zhang’s that this was not going to be an easy experience.

My mother told me that had she also had to travel from her home in China all the way to live with a strange family in America, she would also be quiet. She told me to be patient and wait for him to “come out.” Meanwhile, she would fire questions at the nervous fifteen year old boy to try to “lighten up the mood.” By the second month, when Zhang was still quiet as he arrived, even my mother was frustrated. My mother, a self proclaimed expert at getting people to “come out,” was frustrated. My dad, a native born Taiwanese man, was also unsuccessful.

Yet, no matter how many times I blamed Zhang for not even bothering to talk with his host family, I could not suppress the voices in my head telling me that I had a responsibility to help him. It was three months since his arrival when I realized that he needed a fellow teenager to help him. In a completely different country, Zhang was alone, afraid, and in need of someone to talk to him patiently.

Until that moment, I have never taken the time to understand how lonely and vulnerable Zhang must have felt in a new place. I was selfish. I used my shyness as an excuse to stay away from him helping him to adjust. This realization gave me the courage to talk to him. And really talk to him by asking questions such as, “How are you feeling” and “have you been adjusting to this country well?” To my relief, he started talking. Before I knew it, I gained a friend.

He is leaving in less than a month. In the five and a half months he has stayed with me, I have seen him grow into a more outgoing, braver person. He had also been able to successfully learn the “American ways.” Most importantly, Zhang is more easygoing when it comes to talking to other members of the family. I know that this was a successful learning experience for the both of us.

This I believe…setting aside my feelings of insecurity and shyness to help someone grow so much was well