Of tears and transitions… and what 8th grade taught me

The day had started out on a promising note. On that bright, fall morning, I stood on the school grounds, nervous and excited for my first day in a new school. My parents and I had just dropped off my cheerful sister outside her 3rd grade room and we were now walking across the yard heading towards my classroom, when I felt the nerves kick in…

Before I knew it, I was begging my parents to take me back home! I tried to be logical… surely the first day of 8th grade could wait another day, I asked! But once that argument failed, out came the waterworks and I was swiftly transformed into a sobbing mess!

Here I was, a painfully shy girl in the midst of figuring out this thing called adolescence, and who had recently relocated from an entirely different continent where everything was warm and familiar. As is, 13 is not an easy age for any girl around the world. But at that moment my Indian clothes — a light blue colored, two-piece salwar suit — were not helping my case either. The more I wanted to blend into the background, the more I stood out in that Canadian elementary school.

My parents had not expected their elder child to fall apart quite like this, for even though I had always been a shy and reserved kid, I had been socially well adjusted in India, excelled in academics, and had been active in music, dance and sports.

Having moved across multiple cities and schools over the years, I had experienced change many times before. But none of those had felt as hard as this temporary, 2 year family relocation to Canada was proving to be. I had a life in India that I had to give up, to be some place where I only knew 3 other people: my parents and my sister.

I missed my school in India terribly — a tightly-knit community with teachers who had all gotten to know me and my family well, deep friendships built over many years, and many familiar faces who had traveled across grade levels with me over the years.

So there I was, determined to go back home that day no matter how much my parents tried to gently coax me, when Mr. K came looking for me. He had been expecting a new foreign student in his class who had failed to show up!

Mr. K was friendly and he had a reassuring smile. He also had magical reasoning powers which made me realize that running away from my ‘situation’ that day was not going to make it any easier the following day…

Eventually, after some careful thought, I wiped away the tears, said goodbye to my much relieved parents, and entered the classroom.

Thanks to Mr. K’s intervention, not only did I survive that morning, but I went on to enjoy the school year, and lived to tell many stories, some that I am able to better appreciate in hindsight! ☺

Lessons I learnt that year…

-Kindness and Friendship can be lifesavers!

Danielle, I recall starting my day sitting next to you in class on that first day, feeling safe and welcome. I always looked up to you with a mix of awe and relief ☺ Thank you for your support and for your understanding during the school year, and I can’t think of a better choice for class valedictorian that year!

Angela, beyond your easy smile and the baggy T-shirts, I remember you as one of the few people in class I could really relax around. Thank you, for YOU!

Pam, I remember you as one of the most approachable and friendly girls in class, and that counted for a lot! ☺

Naveen, so glad to have had another Indian kid in class, and an Indian family that went on to become our extended family! Thank you for your friendship, and for your family’s love and warmth!

Overall, while I mostly kept to myself, most kids were kind and friendly, and it was a good year! ☺

-Being an ‘outsider’ was a gift!

It is hard to fit in when you feel, look, and communicate differently. The newly picked up Canadian-English accent was only so much help, although it was fun! ☺

For the first time in my young life I felt like a complete ‘outsider’! But knowing how hard it was, I have since made an effort to carry that lesson in empathy with me, and to pay it forward. I only hope that I have succeeded…

-It’s OK to fall apart sometimes!

What 8th grader cries on the first day of school?!!! I was mortified then, and it took me many more years to no longer feel embarrassed about it! ☺

I was afraid of not being able to fit in within my new surroundings, a new culture, and new people. It turned out that I didn’t really NEED to fit in. Once I relaxed into the rhythm of my life, I discovered the JOY of learning and MANY new experiences!

-“Bonjour! Je m’appelle Swati!”

While this might be the extent of what I remember from French class, I loved learning French!

I also enjoyed sports that were new to me, such as basketball & softball. I taught myself swimming, and apparently it was enough to have survived the unintentional trip to the deep end of the pool! (I’m back to taking lessons now, by the way)

While I never quite got the hang of ice-skating beyond the basics, and tumbled way more than I skated, one of my favorite memories is being mesmerized by a huge fireworks display, with my ice-skates still on, all bundled up on a cold wintry night…

Being part of music choir, learning to play the recorder, reading Tolkien, a dance performance with classmates, listening to Paula Abdul & NKOTB, and even attending my first school dance — these were all bright spots in my life that year! ☺

-13 is a tough age to cultivate a sense of humor… at least for some of us

Steve made up a song that nearly made me cry! “Swati and Naveen sitting in a tree… K-I-S-S-I-N-G!”. It was Mr. K to the rescue! … resulting in a warning for Steve, and death stares from Steve to me!

Hey Steve, I see it now… and it does make me chuckle ☺

-80’s style bangs are everything!

Heather, thank you for styling my hair for school picture day! I now have an EPIC school picture as a memory, and what girl wants to miss out on that!☺

And Heather, it was nice of you to make that effort for me ☺

-Teachers have superpowers!

Mr. K — you were, and are awesome! ☺

Thank you for your encouragement, for your guidance with navigating ‘day 1’ and all the days that followed, for always looking out for me, and for making the time and effort to write back to me once I returned to India. I still have some of the letters you wrote back to me ☺

I will, forever, remain grateful…

Here I am on Graduation Day — in the first row, second from right, in the burgundy dress ☺

That reminds me of the next big transition to High School… this one without the tears!

We’ll save that story for another day ☺