I still vividly remember how nervous I was as a child in that alien classroom fidgeting in my chair with a blank gaze, struggling desperately to decipher what had suddenly become an impossible puzzle of alphabets. The only image that came to mind was my English tutor, Anita’s face. I hopelessly needed her help to solve the mystery of the “letter after F.” Unfortunately, I had bid her farewell when I left Korea for this strange and distant India. It was with this sudden revelation that my English tutor would no longer be by my side that I was struck by a bolt of panic. I then proceeded to place my pencil on the table, took a deep breathe, forced my head up and offered the examiner a crooked smile, as if to signal the white flag. She knew, for she returned a sympathetic smile that illuminated her olive-brown face and walked me outside the stuffy exam room.
Once in the hallway, I was instantly reassured by my parent’s familiar faces. I was overjoyed to finally be able to communicate with someone. Strangely enough, the examiner started speaking to my dad in a bizarre language that I only later discovered had been English. I tried my best to be involved in the conversation by laughing when they laughed and imitating their facial expressions. As their dialogue came to an end, the examiner with the rather disproportionately high nose, turned to me and said, “You’re a good girl. See you on Monday!” ‘Ah ha!’ I thought I was finally able to pick up on their language. You see, I hand mistaken the “good girl” for good-guri, which in Korean, meant “soup ingredient.” I questioned why the examiner had accused me of being “soup material.” It was only after a prolonged hearty laugh that my father assured me that she had just complimented me.
This was my first real encounter to meet a foreigner and experience a different side of the world. I remember being filled with terror, curiosity and angst all at the same time. Now 22, I carry the habit of being nervous and intimidated when I am exposed to new environments. And I am pretty sure I’m not the only one like this. A new academic year has just begun. New people, new classes, and new professors await us, let’s just not forget the magic phrase, “Don’t panic and keep it cool.”