Culture Stories

The New Girl (Part Two)

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“Rachel, why don’t you help her translate English.”

Me? Help Jin Park with English? Why me? I was bewildered. My English wasn’t that good. I had to take a year of ESL (a program designed to teach non-native speakers English) in kindergarten, because I only spoke Chinese at home. In comparison, Joanna and Emily are much more suitable for the job. Joanna could read an entire book by herself, and Emily could sing the alphabet song backwards. The longest word I could spell was “mouses”(yes with the “s”). So why not them? Why me? Did I do badly on my homework yesterday and Ms. Robinson wanted to punish me? Or was it because I came to school early today and this was some sort of reward? Ideas flew through my mind as I struggled to come up with a plausible explanation. Maybe she saw me in the hallway waving to Jin and thought we wanted to be friends. That was the most reasonable answer I could think of.

I got up, walked to her, and took her hand. Dragging her to the seat next to me, I began to tell jokes hoping to cheer her up. I saw Joanna roll her eyes as she had heard them a million of times before. But it did have an effect on Jin. She wiped off her tears and sat down.

My six-year-old self couldn’t grasp the reasoning behind Ms. Robinson’s weird behavior. However, I didn’t take this incident too seriously, and soon it was in back of my mind.

Jin and I seemed to have a natural bond. We got closer and closer over the school year, and soon she was one of my best friends. It was always easy to spot her in a crowd, since her magnificent black hair stood out among the other light colors. We did everything side by side, from having lunch in the cafeteria to reading picture books in the library, even going to the bathroom together. I could hear the jealousy in Joanna and Emily’s words every time they told us that: “You two don’t just look like sisters, you act like sisters too!”

It wasn’t until I learned the definition of “translate” did I begin to ponder what had happened on the first day Jin came to school. “To express something in another language”, Ms. Robinson told the class when we were working on vocabulary. A jolt of recollection came back to me.

“Help her translate English.” Ms. Robinson had said. “Help Jin Park translate.” I didn’t know the meaning of this word at that time, so I had merely interpreted it as “help Jin Park with English”. Now, I understood. A shiver ran through me. Why did Ms. Robinson think I could speak Korean? It is on the list of top ten hardest languages to learn in the world!

As harsh as the truth may be, I had to find out. The first thing I did after I got home was digging up my school picture from my drawer. Studying the picture closely, I gasped. My fingers brushed over the image of all the blondes and light brunettes that belonged to the pale faces, and stopped when I reached me and Jin sitting together. We were different from the others. That was when realization hit me. Ms. Robinson didn’t think I spoke Korean. Rather, she assumed I spoke the same language as Jin did.

To her, and the others, we were alike.

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