The Stories Behind the Numbers*

The following collection consists of excerpts from autobiographical sketches presented by three students. It is hoped that through these selections we better understand others and in doing so that we better understand ourselves. For as Scout Finch says in To Kill A Mockingbird (after she learned not to fear Boo Radley just because he was "different"), "Folks is folks." *Numbers = Culture Survey

Being Vietnamese in America

By Phuong

Subtle Discrimination

Discrimination is something Asians always face, whether it is in school or at work. Sometimes, I even feel the hurt of discrimination from my own friends. I know it is probably unintentional, but it still hurts. For example, when the teacher says to pair up with a partner, it seems that Iím always alone Ė or last. While I donít find that boys show as much prejudice as girls do, they do treat me differently than they treat American girls. Boys have a hard time flirting with me because of my accent, body language, and the misconception that grades are everything to me. That stereotype aggravates me. Yes, I do work hard and study hard; Vietnam has taught me that life doesnít meet people halfway. America has given me an opportunity to get an education that I would not otherwise have had; while I need to grab that chance, grades are not everything to me.

Some Lessons from Vietnam

I was taught never to insult or talk back. Sarcasm is also not allowed in Vietnamese schools but in American schools, I have faced a lot of those experiences. I donít agree with students who use sarcasm or who insult others. Get your point across without deprecating the other person; if the other person proves to be too stubborn to listen, forget the whole thing. Whatever you do, donít insult people! Swearing is another issue. Iím not a saint but hearing people walk through the hall swearing at each other (in fact, some swear every other word) is just not "school-like." I guess some people must think that it is "cool," but it is wrong! Personally, I think it is more attractive when a person acts and talks politely. That may not be "cool," but it is right!

A Teenager in Spain

By Lisa*

I love to travel, to experience other cultures. I have been to Poland a few times to visit family. I have been to England once. This past fall I lived in Spain, where I went to school. It cost me $4,000 Ė of my own money Ė it was worth every penny. There are many lessons to be learned, both in the classroom where I took nine subjects and outside the classroom where I got to learn so much about myself, my values, and my priorities. Let me share a piece of that experience with you.

Let me tell you about the teenager I met in Spain. For one thing, Spanish teenagers take education seriously; there is a lot of homework and from what I saw, they not only do it, they legitimately do it. Teens donít work at part-time jobs while in high school, but then they donít need gas money because they donít have cars. Fortunately, the public transportation system is excellent. Their weekdays consist of school, study, sports, and a nightly stroll with their family. Actually, high schools do not offer sports; athletes participate in park and recreation programs. Soccer is king, but teenagers also spend time at museums, plays, ballet, and they travel to other countries. (Europe is small when compared to the United States.) TV? They donít seem to watch much and they definitely donít talk on the phone as much as their American counterparts do, but when they do, itís on a cell phone. There seems to be more togetherness in families; for instance, teens donít shut bedroom doors. And then, every day at 2:30 the country "shuts down." Thatís dinnertime, and the whole family eats a leisurely meal Ė together. Mom prepares everything fresh.

On weekends itís time to go to one of the many dance clubs with friends. (Clubs feature " techno" music, both American and European.) Spanish teenagers start late (leave at 11:30 p.m. for the club) and finish early (leave the club about 6:30 a.m.). The late hours Ė safety? No problem. While the drinking age is eighteen, age enforcement is lax but excessive drinking seemed minimal. However, male chauvinism is still evident. Although Friday-night-out didnít end until early Saturday morning, Saturday is not to be slept-away; the family (everyone!) goes to eat at their grandparentsí house. The extended family also seems to be popular: a trip to the beach may include cousins, aunts, uncles, dogs, neighbors, and friends.

I certainly learned a lot more than just Spanish; Iím a lot less judgmental of people now. I appreciate things more. I canít wait to go back. Iíll be looking for you.

*Lisa is a senior DISCOVERER (grade 12); our motto: once a DISCOVERER, always a DISCOVERER!

The Long Road to Freedom

By Muharrem (Ray)

When I was seven I saw an army tank run over a man Ė on purpose. The communists were fighting the democrats for control of the government. I lived in Tirana, the capital of Albania, one block from the embassy compound. There were a lot of demonstrations, a lot of fighting. I left in 1991 with my parents when I was eight years old. They wanted a better life for me.

For the next two years we lived in Hanover, Germany. I went to school; my parents worked, it was a good life, but then our refugee visa ran out and we had to leave. So, we went to Greece, where one of my two older, married sisters had settled with her husband when our family left Albania. With both parents working, I was left alone all day; I could not go to school because we had no visa to be in the country. When I wasnít at the beach, I watched TV Ė in Greek, which is how I learned the language. Then in 1995 my motherís best friend informed us that she had been able to get us a warranty (sponsorship) that would allow us to return to Germany, so we had to return to Albania to pick it up; the warranty turned out to be no good. Eventually my dad did manage to get "papers" (warranty) to go to Germany Ė but only for himself. After he had been gone a month, my mom and I moved to Czechoslovakia because my dad had been able to arrange "papers" (warranty) for us through a friend to go there. After being there two months, we simply walked across the border into Germany where it had been arranged for a friend of the family to meet us and drive us to Dad, six hours away.

But, after only three months in a German refugee camp, Mom and I had to escape. Since three years had not yet elapsed from our first "visit" to Germany, we were not entitled to legal "papers." The officials were after us; we saw my father get "detained" one day as he was returning to the refugee camp. Three months later they sent him back to Albania, but in the meantime, Mom and I "escaped" to Holland; she had "connections" there. We spent the next four months in a Holland refugee camp that we were allowed to enter because we had passed ourselves off as Kosovars, and that made us refugees. (Kosov at one time belonged to Albania, which is predominately Muslim, but it had been "sold" many years ago to Serbia, which is predominately Catholic; the Kosovars were fighting for the right to reunite with Albania.) It was while we were in the camp that my second, older sister (married and also living in Greece with her husband and son) notified us that my mother had won the LOTTO. No, it wasnít like the Connecticut LOTTO where you win millions; ours was worth much more Ė freedom! In Albania there is a lottery system to determine who will be allowed to legally go to the United States. My mother had entered the lottery one-and-a-half years ago. Finally, her name had been picked. (The LOTTO winner may take his/her family.) First, we had to return to Albania for one year to get all of the paperwork complete that would give us a green card, a visa, a passport.

Our first stop in the United States was New York City. That was a bad stop. There I got involved in an Albanian gang; I had to get "involved" in order to protect myself from the other four ethnic gangs. While I did finish eighth grade our first year there, my freshman year found me in increasing trouble. That is why my parents moved to Bristol Ė to find a better life for me. We think we have found freedom Ė finally.

P.S. Now, if you want to know more, you will need to buy the novel I intend to write.


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