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

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Moving Again—Now I’m Good At It
Ruiwen Zhang

When I heard that I was moving again, a sense of dread settled like a heavy rock in my stomach. It was too soon. I didn’t want to leave my friends. I had been living in Bonn, Germany for six years. Plus, I wasn’t just moving to a new apartment in the same city, but to a country thousands of miles away, with a totally different culture—Beijing, China, where I was born.

I was 5 when we moved to Bonn from Beijing. I learned English and German, and my Chinese started fading away. I didn’t remember Beijing at all. Now I would have to adjust to a new language and new surroundings once again.

The first thing I noticed when I started school in Beijing was that the kids seemed uptight about their studies, and their body language was robotic. No one was friendly toward me. The classmates I had in Germany were more open to both ideas and people, and they were not so single-minded about schoolwork.

On the playground or at lunch, the kids in China huddled closely in their own little groups, yet they didn’t interact with each other much. The good thing was no group appeared more popular than the other. But it still felt stiff and cold, and no one was willing to let me into their circle.

I also felt like the kids were more judgmental. For example, if you wore makeup, kids whispered that you were either insecure or trying too hard to be flirty or cute. Also, I’m not great in math, and I often stutter awkwardly and avoid answering questions because I think I’ll get them wrong. Maybe because of that, kids assumed I wasn’t as smart as they were. Once I asked a girl what the homework was and she didn’t answer; she just turned to me and subtly straightened and tilted her chin upward, looking down her nose at me.

Of course, there are judgmental people in every country, but the Western society I had grown up in felt more friendly than Beijing.

Friends, Finally!

My parents know it’s difficult for me to adjust to a new environment because I’m an introvert and I’m uneasy interacting with others at first. They were worried about me when we first moved, helping me with my homework and listening to my complaints, but there was only so much they could do.

Then, after about a year, I did make some friends thanks to my mom’s help. She invited a few of her friends for dinner at a café, and asked them to bring their kids along, all of them from 6th grade, like me.

At first, it was awkward and quiet, but finally the stares of the parents pressured us into talking, mostly about homework and classes. Then someone blurted out, “The language teacher is super scary,” and we all burst into debate on whether she was crazy or not. We slowly warmed up to each other, diverting to other topics. Thinking back on the robotic similarity I believed all the kids had, I saw they weren’t clones of one another after all.

All of a sudden, I had new friends.

A Sense of Belonging

I remember the first time I felt welcome in Beijing was underneath a smoggy night sky, running the perimeter of a large outdoor shopping mall with my new friends, breathing wildly, cheeks flushed. It was a few days after that dinner. We were playing tag, despite the bad air quality and freezing weather.

I turned the corner and immediately bumped into three of them. I jumped in fright. Then we all collapsed into a giggling mess, conversing like we’d known each other forever—not like awkward strangers who had just met and didn’t speak the same language, which was the case when I first got to Beijing.

Perhaps it was the excitement-charged atmosphere of playing tag, or my own high spirits that made me feel the warmth of finally belonging somewhere. I felt that same protective warmth coming from these people.

“Were you caught?” I asked some of my friends, stumbling backward. After another fit of giggling, imitating me dramatically, they said, “No, we were running from Alice,” and proceeded to shriek in surprise as Alice turned the corner and missed us by an inch, skidding into a wall as we turned and ran, laughter echoing into the night.

But when my mom picked me up, the euphoria evaporated as soon as I got in the car. It was replaced by the familiar sense of loneliness. As I stared out at the colorful shop signs that were so rare in Bonn, I was reminded that this wasn’t Germany.

The unfamiliarity weighed me down, as though telling me that this wasn’t my home and I shouldn’t be here. As soon as I left the small circle of friends I would be overcome with the memories of my friends in Germany, and how my friendships here weren’t as close. It was uncharacteristically Gatsby-like of me, obsessing over a past that was long gone. I was annoyed with myself at how much I still compared the two places.

image by YC-Art Dept

Another Move

About five months later, just as I was finally feeling happier, more comfortable, and less lonely, my parents told me that we were moving to the United States. My father works for the United Nations, and it was time for him to relocate again.

I spent the last few weeks meeting up with friends and trying to let go of my attachments to them. It was important to me to see each of them in person.

A few days before we left, I met one of my friends at the mall. We watched a movie and took a walk in the park together, trading sentimental jokes and reflecting on the past year. While I was waiting for my mother to pick me up, my friend said, “It’s not the end, you know. I’m going to see you again.”

I smiled and hugged her. “Then I’ll see you. No goodbyes.”

“No goodbyes,” she echoed. “See you!”

I knew I might not see her again, but I nodded and smiled brightly to mask the hurt in my heart.

As my mother drove me away, I looked back and waved at my friend through the blurred glass of the window. “’See you?’” My mother echoed curiously. “Why would you say that? You do know you’ll likely never see her again, right?”

I hadn’t expressed my feelings about moving to my parents. They know I don’t like it but that was about it. I knew my mother didn’t mean to be harsh, but it still hurt to hear her say those words.

New York Drama

New York felt bright and welcoming. It was a big change from the colder Chinese culture, where people don’t speak as freely. In fact, I was surprised by how blunt (and a little rude) New Yorkers can be. I remember a lady asked my dad for directions one day on the way to school, and when he said he didn’t know she called him a retard.

I tried to convince myself that I didn’t care about making friends. I didn’t want to get attached to people here. It would only hurt more when I had to move again.

On the first day of 8th grade, I walked into the classroom and asked a girl if I could sit next to her. “Yeah, go ahead,” she replied, and after an awkward silence, I blurted out, “You were at the orientation.” She nodded, and I slapped myself mentally for starting a conversation. “You don’t want to make friends!” I reminded myself.

But another part of my brain urged me to make friends, to be more accepting of the change that happened, to just go with the flow and not worry about moving again.

And to my surprise, making friends in New York City ended up being a whole different experience than in both Bonn and Beijing.

Despite my initial shyness, I was quickly dragged into the crazy social whirlpool of the New York City high school world. To my delight, and often annoyance, too, the drama was non-stop.

Being involved in friends’ drama helped make me feel like less of a stranger, and my school soon became the place I felt most at home. The more friends I made, the easier it was to let go of Beijing. And as my social circles got larger, I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.

I also realized that New York City people made this move easier. So many are good at making small talk and asking simple questions to open me up like, “What class do you have next?” Their extroverted nature encouraged me to be friendlier and more confident, which led me to being in the social group I feel the most comfortable with now.

After living here for two years, my parents recently told me we are moving back to Beijing in June. I will be sad to leave New York City but also excited to go back to Beijing. This time, since I knew I might be going back to the same school, I kept in touch with some of my friends and teachers in Beijing. This made me feel less detached from them, and I will be sure to do that from now on whenever I have to move. I’ll also be able to maintain my relationships with friends all over the world this way. Despite knowing that I may have to leave the friends I care about again, I’m no longer resistant to making them.

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