During my high school years I found myself going out with my friends almost every night of the week and staying out from sunrise to the later hours of the night. I had many different types of friends that all came from extremely different backgrounds. Some were honors students, others were athletic, some very cultured, some extremely religious, and a few were barely hanging on to their 1.0 GPA on the verge of dropping out of high school. I was able to engage in full conversations with complete strangers and gain an interest about their upbringings and what had shaped them into the person that I saw standing in front of me. I made friends at the snap of a finger because I knew that being my genuine self and simply connecting my life to the lives of others through communication wasn’t that hard at all. As a matter of fact, it was easy for me. I had a loud voice that resembled confidence, a smile that radiated from within, and a heart that covered enough ground to love everybody. The problem is, socializing and making friends was not always this easy for me.
The day that permanently altered my perspective on change and how it affected my day to day life was my very first day of kindergarten. I showed up to this place called Etiwanda Colony Elementary School and I was directed to an isolated building labeled “K1.” I showed up with an oddly shaped pouch on my back filled with items that were foreign to me at five years old. “What was a wide ruled notebook and why did every page have three holes in it if I hadn’t even began destroying it yet?” was one of the questions I asked myself when searching through this mysterious bag on my back. I remember standing in a line consisting of about twenty-five kids that I had never seen previous to that moment. There were tall kids, short kids, loud kids, hyper kids. Some children had tears pouring down their faces while others were already becoming best friends. All the while I was standing quietly at the end of the line more confused than I had ever been in my whole entire life. Yes, I know this sounds dramatic due to the fact that “my whole life” had only consisted of five years at that point, but essentially this is what had furthered my confusion. Where was I? Why are there a ton of random kids here? Why are my parents about to leave me? Who is this lady standing at the front of the line talking like she is one of our parents when she isn’t?
During the five years that I had lived up to my first day of kindergarten, I rarely met kids that were unlike myself. My average days consisted of playing with my toys or watching televison shows just feet away from my parents. The times that I did go to the park or go on playdates, I was always with my cousins who were raised with the same morals and beliefs as myself. So, I simply didn’t know any different. I had never really been around children that had beliefs countering mine, or children that viewed the world differently than I did. I guess it’s safe to say that I was pretty sheltered as a young child. It’s not that my parents didn’t want me around other kids, it’s just that I probably wasn’t as exposed to other kids as much as I should have been. Due to all of this, I was a very quiet and reserved child during most of my kindergarten year. “Make new friends today honey,” was a line that would echo from my mom’s car frequently and sadly I always knew in the back of my mind that it most likely wasn’t going to happen. I can still recall that for most of my kindergarten year I felt like I was just observing other kids interact rather than actually making friends myself. I would sit alone and avoid conversations with other students at all times. The thought of speaking to other children intimidated me, and standing up in front of the class to present any type of projects gave me anxiety that some people may never understand.
This all changed when a new student entered the class at about a month into the school year. Her name was Maria and when she walked in the classroom I saw the potential opportunity to finally make a friend. The problem was, right off the bat I could tell that we were two completely different people. She had just moved to America from Greece and was still adapting to her new lifestyle in this country. This had caused her to be a little reserved just like I was. She would also play by herself and never really talk to many other students. I noticed that she would just quietly color in the classroom and avoid conversations with other students or our teacher all together. Essentially, her mannerisms in the classroom reminded me of myself. After observing Maria in the classroom I then realized that although we had completely different backgrounds, we had very similar emotions. We were nervous, shy, and this whole concept of kindergarten didn’t make much sense to us. I took it upon myself to introduce myself to her and although I was super nervous, she seemed so relieved to now have a friend to talk to at the school. Little did she know, I was relieved to finally have a friend as well.
After a couple of months of playing with Maria every day and learning more about each other, I realized that change doesn’t always have to be a negative occurrence at all. As a matter of fact, for me it was the complete opposite. Once I recognized that this place called kindergarten wasn’t as scary as it seemed, I was able to make many more friends in my class and school was a lot more enjoyable for me. Being exposed to so many diverse children in school taught me at a young age that not everybody thinks of the world the same way that I do. It taught me that people are not always going to agree with each other and that was okay. To this day I believe that the key to peace between individuals is understanding. Understanding other perspectives allows us to learn and grow from each other each and every day. If I had not gone through this change in kindergarten I feel that it may have been more difficult for me to understand this lesson. Ever since realizing how this change affected me, I have become a person who loves to socialize and meet others that are both similar and different than myself. I enjoy conversing with others whether they are my next door neighbors or complete strangers in the grocery store. The overall message here is simply that change can be a good thing. Although it may be intimidating at first, change must occur for us to learn more about ourselves and those around us. Change is a gateway for new learning opportunities and gives us the chance to understand others. The next time you find yourself facing a huge change, take a deep breath and take the challenge head on as you never know what lies ahead of you.