My yellow lunch tray

Sinh - Columbus, Ohio
Entered on April 5, 2009
Age Group: 18 - 30
Themes: humility
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I believe in humility…..

My experience began 10 years ago when I embarked on my journey to the United States. It was truly a cultural shock- the cold snow, the big buildings, box-like houses, and ghost-controlled automatic doors. In that instance, I understood that I was foreign in a foreign land.

I was very fortunate to attend a middle school with an ESL program for newly- arrived immigrants. In my class, there were Laotians, Thais, Hmong, Nigerians, Vietnamese, Bosnians, and Germans; we learned the basic fabric that makes up the American culture. My first significant experience began on a Tuesday in the 6th grade during lunchtime; I still remember it quite clearly since it was the first time I tasted pizza. It was the first week of school, and my ESL teacher Mr. Koly assigned two of my classmates to sit with me so I did not feel overwhelmed in this new environment. As we were eating lunch, it was very hard to carry on a conversation since I did not know any English. However, I hatched a plan: as they were finishing their lunches, I picked up their lunch trays and put these in the trash for them. They smiled and gave me the universal thumbs up and I happily replied the same way. Whoever invented the thumbs up mechanism deserves the Nobel Peace Prize. By picking up their lunch trays, my action showed my willingness to be their friend. To show them my humility, my uttermost wishes to get to know them even though we could not communicate to each other. It worked. They became my first friends in this new land. Learning English became a much easier process: we talked about our countries, our houses, our ESL teacher, our new classmates, and our favorite girls in the class. By the end of my 6th grade year, I had my own clique, my own table at lunch and Ohio did not feel so cold anymore.

This experience still brings a smile to my face. A little sign of respect activated a cascade of events that led to many beautiful friendships. I learned two golden rules of making friends in an unfamiliar environment. A good meal will tone down the harshness of the language barrier, and humility is the ultimate tool to penetrate the invisible barrier of ignorance and fear. People often mistake humility for weakness. Let them: do show your weakness, your vulnerability, your humanity. These human characteristics are the unspoken languages that unite us as beautiful human beings.

Throughout my life, my most cherished skill has been humility. As I become more educated, it becomes increasingly difficult to practice this but whenever I become bigheaded, those yellow lunch trays in the 6th grade remain a constant remainder of the beauty of humility.