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Valeria Alkomos: “The Start of Something New”

Tomorrow's Voices Today

The Start of Something New

I came home from swim practice one day to my parents calling a family meeting. My sister and I sat quietly on the couch and listened to what they had to say.

“We’re leaving Egypt; we decided to move to the United States.”

My sister looked at me with the same surprised look I had and asked, “Why?”

“Well as you can see, the revolution wasn’t the biggest success and the people just elected a new president and he’s not a very good one.” My dad added, “We just want you to be safe, have a good education and grow up in a country where you’re not going to get killed because of your religion.”

I was 12 at the time. It was summer and I was so happy because summer is my favorite, but after hearing this, my whole body became cold and the only thing that was on my mind was that I had to leave all my friends, family, teammates and go to a country that’s halfway across the world and start a brand-new life.  

Saying Goodbye

We only had 2 months to pack everything and leave so we could catch the beginning of the school year there without missing any days. From the day I found out and started telling my friends, I was out almost every single day saying goodbye to somebody or invited to someone’s house for a last get together. Those two months were filled with parties, hangouts, hugs and tears, but the only thing that kept us in one piece without breaking down is knowing that we would all meet again someday.

I spent the last three days before our departure date with my best friend, who is actually my second sister since we’ve been besties since preschool. We had a sleepover at her house first, then my house, then she came with me to the airport for our final goodbye. We’ve been together pretty much all of our lives; we’ve never left each other’s side. We were inseparable; her family was my family and mine was hers. We shared everything. She came to my competitions and I love her so much. The thought of us going our separate ways and growing up away from each other really broke us, but again, we knew we would meet again someday.

We finally arrived in the United States. My cousin and her husband, who are our only family here, came and welcomed us. They gave us a ride to our new apartment which was nothing like our house in Egypt, but at least it had a pool so that made up for it.

The First Few Months

The first couple of months were terrible and very tiring. Neither of my parents had a job so we used money from our Egyptian banks which meant we had to multiply everything by 10. For example, if something cost $1, it was actually 10 Egyptian pounds. We also did not have a car so we walked everywhere, and I’m talking everywhere. I am thankful to our church who gave us furniture, pots, pans, silverware and mattresses. They told us to save our money for more important stuff like buying a car and paying rent.

The first day of school came and I was so excited to see what schools in America looked like, but all this excitement went away the moment I stepped foot inside my new middle school. It felt like everyone just paused for a minute and took a glance at me. I started walking and I could feel their cold stares and it felt like knives stabbing your body. I compared their clothing to my own and immediately realized that this outfit was a bad idea.

I was put in the 8th grade which didn’t make any sense because I left Egypt after 6th grade but apparently that was the appropriate grade for my age. The buildings were all shaped and numbered in a weird way, every subject had a different class number next to it which was so unusual to me since in Egypt you just sit in one classroom and the teacher comes to you, and they gave me a little piece of paper with the words “Locker Number” and “Locker Combination” written on it and I had no idea what I was supposed to do with it since we didn’t have lockers in Egypt.

I asked my mom to come with me inside since I was so scared, nervous and had no idea what to do or where to go. I looked at my first period: PE, location: black top.

“Mami, what’s a black top?”

“I don’t know, sweetie, let me ask this teacher standing over there.”

We started walking towards the black top and I sat on the floor with the other students. The teacher took attendance, everyone stood up for the National Anthem and to say the Pledge of Allegiance —which I didn’t really know what they were at the time–and my mom was still standing next to the teacher because I didn’t want her to leave. But of course, at some point she had to go and let me figure out middle school on my own.

I met this girl that had second period with me and we walked to class together. My second period was Social Studies, my least favorite subject of all time. For starters, the teacher was pronouncing my name wrong and he was so scary that I did not even have the courage to correct him. He would talk to me so fast and I would just stare at him because I did not understand a word he was saying and then the class would laugh because they thought I was dumb.

In Egypt, I was in an English school, which basically meant English was my first language and French was my second language. Arabic did not count as a language but of course you had to take it. But my school was a British English school, so we had different pronunciations, different ways of saying things and we definitely spoke way slower than Americans.

Apparently after second period there was something called “Snack” where you could go to the cafeteria and grab something to eat, another thing I did not know. In Egypt, if you were hungry you had to sneak your sandwich in your shirt, ask to go to the bathroom and try and eat it before you get caught. Ahhh, those were the days.

Third Period, English. Everybody walked in, sat next to their friends and I just stood by the door till the second bell rang and my teacher told me to take a seat anywhere I wanted. This teacher was one of my favorite since he was so nice, understanding and let me use my phone for translation. He said he wanted a three-ring binder for his class and I, being the new girl from across the world, of course had no idea what that meant.

I raised my hand to ask what it was and again. I was laughed at because who in America doesn’t know what a three-ring binder is? The answer is me.

Fast-forwarding to lunch. The bell rang, everyone went to their usual spots where all their friends met, ate and hung out. This was the worst 45 minutes of the day. I had no idea where the cafeteria was, I had no friends to help me and I was too scared to ask someone. My mom made me sandwiches but I was too embarrassed to get them out and eat them in public, thinking people would look at me and judge my Egyptian looking sandwich. I was even too scared to sit on a table because I had a fear of other students kicking me off the table and saying, “This is my seat.”

After going home that day, I cried to my parents and said, “I don’t wanna go back to this school.”

My parents sat me down and explained to me how this is our new life now and how I had to adjust and I understood. I understood that this is what I had to do because it was the start of something new.

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