734: Language and Looks
My name is **** **. I’m Chinese but I was born in the Netherlands and that is where I lived for the first 11 years of my life.
I remember the time when I was 4 years old and had to go to school for the first time. I was already scared to leave my mom but then it got worse, I couldn’t understand anything the teacher said and I wasn’t able to communicate with my classmates. I couldn’t speak Dutch. I felt like I didn’t have any friends.
At home, I spoke Cantonese with my parents, sisters and everyone around me. Cantonese was my first language and it was the only language I knew. I thought everyone talked like me.
At school things were different. My classmates made fun of me. They laughed at how I looked, asked me where I came from and when I couldn’t respond they teased me about not being able to talk at all. My parents told me to ignore them and that my sisters had also had a hard time when they first came to the Netherlands.
One day my mom told me that a new family was moving into the neighborhood. I didn’t really care about the new neighbors (I was only four), until she told me that they were Chinese like us. Then I was interested. The next day, my parents invited them to my home. I was very excited. When heard the doorbell ring, I ran to the front door and opened it and standing there were two little boys who looked like me.
I was a little shy at first because my only experience with other kids was at school and they were horrible. The boys introduced themselves. The older brother’s name was Leung Tin and he was 5 years old. His little brother’s name was Ho Tin and he was 3 years old. After the introductions were over, we went to the backyard and played together. We played and played until their mom picked the boys up and it was time for me to go to bed. I was very happy that I finally had friends.
The next morning, I had to go back to school. When I walked into the classroom, the first thing I saw was Leung Tin playing with the boys. I soon found out that Ho Tin was also at the school, he was just in a younger level. I was so surprised and happy that they were going to the same school as me. We played every day and we always helped each other when needed.
6 years later it was time to go to another school. I begged my mother to let me go to the same school as Leung and Ho and finally she said yes. I was so relieved.
By then I could speak Dutch pretty well. This time, I made a lot of friends. Sometimes, I played with the boys and sometimes with the girls. I tried to be kind to everyone because I remembered how it was for me in pre-school and I would think that maybe some of these kids had a hard time too, when they were young. My experiences helped me to learn that to make friends it is very important to try to communicate with different people and to understand their feelings and situations.
The very next year, my parents wanted to move back to Shenzhen. I was very sad that I had to leave my classmates, my friends, and my home. I also knew that this move would mean another new school, and another new language, English. I had studied a little English, so it wasn’t so bad as when I was four. I also have had to learn Mandarin at school because that is what most Chinese people speak. I have been able to make many new friends and somehow we figure out how to communicate in whatever language we need to.
It feels different living in a place where people look more like me. In the Netherlands I looked very different from those around me. Now I know what it’s like to be an outsider as well as feeling almost like a native. This dual perspective has made me realize that there will always be people around you that you don’t know and then you say , “Hello” and you start to get to know them and then you become friends and neither language nor looks matter anymore.