The youth-written stories in YCteen give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Even Loners Need Friends
Wensley Sterling
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When I moved here three summers ago, I thought New York City was the perfect place because I could watch as much TV as I liked and we had electricity all day. In Haiti, we only have electricity for a couple of hours each day. Or some days you don’t have it at all. So living here felt like heaven.

But heaven ended when I started school. My first day of 10th grade was strange; it was nothing like school in my country. Early in the morning there were hundreds of people hanging around outside. At my school in Haiti, there aren’t crowds of people like that. I felt lost and confused following a line to get into the building. I did not have an I.D. and I had no idea what it was anyway. I was scared and nervous.

I crossed my fingers hoping someone who spoke my language, Haitian Creole, would be there to help me. When I got to the front, the principal said “Hi,” typed my name into a computer, and told me to put my backpack in the metal detector machine. I didn’t understand a word but it was obvious as I saw the preceding kids take off their belts and walk through.

Every day, for four months, I longed for those seven hours to pass quickly. I was stressed from sitting in class listening to the teacher talk without having any idea what he was saying. One girl was trying to be friendly to me by struggling to say “hello” which is “bonjour” in Haitian Creole, but it kept coming out like, bonnn jooo. And then I’d say bonjour back and 30 seconds later, she’d say it again.

New, Loud, Strange

A lot of kids here talk loud and it was annoying to me at the time. I found this loudness stressful at first. They talk like they’re angry. But now that I’ve been here for three years I understand it’s just their style.

Lunch was also loud, and messy. Kids didn’t throw out their trash; they just left it on the tables and there were food fights. Then I had to stand on line for food I didn’t like. Foods like chicken nuggets and pizza were new and strange. So I didn’t eat any lunch for a long time. In Haiti, we’d eat outside on the playground and it wasn’t chaotic like it is here. I was used to eating banana and peanut butter sandwiches. In Haiti, we bring our own lunch. Now I know they have peanut butter sandwiches so I get those.

I usually sat at a table in a corner, where it was calmer and I wasn’t surrounded by people. There was a quiet kid there who was into anime books and two Haitians who were both seniors, but they left early to go to a college-related activity so I never had much chance to talk to them.

School felt like a huge society that I wasn’t part of. Some people made me feel like if I didn’t fit in with their circle, I didn’t belong anywhere.

I wished I was one of the cool kids who was born in the U.S. It was so easy for them because they spoke English. Still, even though I didn’t understand English I could spot the kind people by their body language—which is universal. They waved “hi!” to others and gave thumbs up or down for good or bad when trying to communicate with a student who doesn’t speak English. They shake heads for yes or no instead of saying the words. (Mean people stare straight at you, and make you feel uncomfortable, or laugh at you when you have no clue why.)

For the first year I only interacted with teachers. I didn’t know which way the world was moving; I always felt like I was moving the opposite way.

Missing My Old Friend

About a year after I moved here I began to figure out that my loneliness wasn’t just because of the language barrier. I am also really shy. In Haiti, my friends were people I’d known since I was a baby. From kindergarten to 9th grade we all moved up in the same class together. We’d hang out together after school. So I never had to make new friends.

In Haiti, I had one good friend named Zinio who lived near my house. We’d walk together to school and talk. During weekends and vacations, I would help him run errands for his father or we would just sit on his rooftop and talk. I had someone to tell what I was thinking.

Here I’m friends with kids in my classes but I never do anything with them after school. We get to know each other by working in groups and making presentations. But we never walk to the subway together.

image by YC-Art Dept

I try to set a goal every day, like: I will go to lunch and try to make a good friend. But then I am too shy to do it. There’s a girl who I often run into, mostly in the elevator. I always want to talk to her. I imagine it going something like this:

“Hi!”

“Hi!”

“Are you from the volleyball team?”

“Yep!”

“I think you are a really nice person and I just wanted to say Hi.”

“OK.”

I set these expectations for myself, chasing my imagination, but I never do it. Part of the reason I’m afraid to speak is because people tell me they don’t understand my accent. But I also don’t want people to talk to me just because they feel sorry for me.

Avoiding Rejection

Another reason I haven’t made friends and become more comfortable here is because I’m afraid of being either rejected or ignored. I think being ignored is one of the worst things that can happen to me.

After almost a year, I was still getting lost on my way to school when I took public transportation. I remember taking the 2 train instead of the 5 train and I ended up on 42nd Street instead of 14th Street. I had to go back to Atlantic Avenue and find the 5 train. I felt really annoyed, nervous, and I was late for school. All of that could have been avoided if I had asked for help, but I didn’t because I thought people would either walk away or ignore me.

Every day I had ESL classes with teachers who were generous and patient. They used simple methods, like little kids’ books, or other books with pictures, and they made lists of basic words with definitions and translations they thought were important. It has helped a lot.

Even though I am getting better at understanding the language, I am just as lonely as I was in the beginning.

I would like to make one good friend like I had in Haiti. I just have to figure out how to do that in a way I’m comfortable with. I’m not about to go up to someone and say, “Hi, I spend too much time alone and I need a friend.” That would make the person feel sorry for me.

I’m really friendly in class. It’s only when the bell rings that I go back to my loner self. But it’s not what I want. Sometimes I want to make plans like going to the movies, but I’m too shy to ask. So for now I will just try to put more effort into it and get up the nerve to ask someone to see Avengers: Age of Ultron. And hopefully they will say yes.

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(NYC-2015-05-21)

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