November 14, 2014
When I first landed my feet on this foreign country, I knew I would face challenges. As my fears escalated, I looked for ways to avoid these challenges, so I would avoid problems and embarrassments. At times when I had to face the task that I was reluctant to do, I just simply gave up, then moved on. But after a significant incident in seventh grade, I realized I would never move forward if I cannot challenge myself.
My teacher signed me up for an in class ESL reading contest. Despite having practiced numerous times beforehand, my spoken English was still a work in progress. When my turn came, I stood in front of the whole class, alone, with a churning feeling in my stomach. I was afraid that my classmates would laugh at my strong Chinese accent, that I would pronounce the words wrong and that something, anything might go wrong. The feeling instantaneously seized my entire body, and my legs began to tremble. I was horrified, and my head was swelling. I tried to open my mouth, but all that came out was a squeaky sob that immediately triggered in tears. I hastily ran out the classroom in shame. I swore I would never do public speaking and make a fool of myself.
Four years later, I found public speaking skill to be a necessary skill for success, but I could not speak a word in front of crowd. I realized that public speaking is the challenge I must overcome. So I volunteered to make a speech in front of the crowd. I found myself in front people again, this time I stood on a big stage, as a speaker giving an icebreaker speech at New York City’s Toastmaster’s Club ceremony. However, once on the stage, I felt a great uneasiness being the center of attention. I could feel my cheeks getting hot and my palms starting to sweat. I was waiting for the host to finish his introduction. However, I could barely hear anything because my heart was beating like a fist banging on a locked door. What if the audience could not understand me? I could already picture myself walking down the stage with embarrassment and humiliation. Finally, the moment came and my name was called. While approaching the center of the stage, I took a nervous glance at the audience. They seemed to expect a lot from me; my mind immediately went blank.
Suddenly, I felt like as if I was watching myself from a distance. I saw my face was flushing, and I was breathing rapidly and trying to calm myself down. I thought, “I am a coward.” I was too afraid of making mistakes. I was too afraid people would judge me negatively, just like when I was in the seventh grade. I gradually moved my eyes to the index cards in my hand. I realized the words were already stuck in my head. I had rehearsed my speech many times in front of the mirror, and I was well prepared. I remembered myself smiling and looking confident in the reflection. At that moment, I felt this was the time I could fully express myself in English and overcome my fears.
I took a deep breath and my body began to calm down. I began, “Good morning, ladies and gentlemen...” My voice was shaky, but once I opened my mouth, the words flew easily. Suddenly, I felt I was accomplishing something with every line that I delivered. While in seventh grade, I cried and ran away from the challenge, and four years later, I made a speech in front of crowd of people. I realized I do have the ability to handle the challenge. I have to stand against the fear.
“Thank you,” I ended with a confident smile. A huge round of applause broke out as I slowly walked down the platform. I knew the Chinese-American language barrier was my scariest challenge, and once I took the necessary step to overcome that fear, the experience shaped me and prepared me for even bigger challenge ahead. Here I am, a college student in Hamilton College.
“From Where I Sit” is a column dedicated to the international voices of Hamilton’s campus. If you are an international student and are interested in contributing a column, contact Sarah Rahman (email@example.com).