On the final day of the ESL series, I’m happy to share a picture of the Chicago students meeting on Zoom (a few were absent). What a wonderful group! I thank each one of them for sharing their stories, hopes and struggles openly and honestly. You’ve given me (and surely my readers) cause for reflection and inspiration. Thanks also to my big sister Ceci for collaborating on this project and for being a great teacher to her students and, as ever, to me.
Merci, gracias, 감사합니다, Спасибо, ありがとうございました, 谢谢. (Apologies if my translation is off!)
by Lin from China
My Chinese isn’t enough.
I remember how I was happy
staying with my friends,
enjoying each time we got together,
the same values, same hobbies, same goals.
But that was in China.
Now I am in America.
And I’m learning English.
Back at my hometown
my friends attend a variety of events,
hang with one another.
But I stayed at my new home and felt dumb, alone.
I registered for many classes to learn more.
My husband always encourages me.
He said, you’re excellent!
Follow your heart!
I’m more confident now,
Inspired by Chicken Soup words,
Inspired by the understanding of my friends,
my parents, my tutors.
So, I am getting used to living in America
I push myself to walk out to face the challenge,
to be positive.
For if I stop trying, I will be depressed
when my friends need my ideas.
** Chinese for “Good friends are pursuing their ideas in different places.”
by Jenny from Korea
My Korean isn’t good enough,
I remember how I’d grin
Listening to my little one,
Her jokes, her whines, her tricks.
Teasing each other
But that was in Korea.
Now my daughter goes to an American high school.
She chats in English. At night she Face-Times with friends, laughing.
I listen by her door and feel excluded, alone.
I turn on the radio when I drive, I turn on the radio when I cook,
My husband laughs at my accent.
I’m embarrassed at not understanding what others say,
Sometimes I read the Bible line-by-line, recording my voice and listening and listening again.
Repeating again and again.
For if I stop trying, I will be deaf
When my grandchildren need my help.
* Korean for, “Mom, since you are an adult, you are supposed to play with me, aren’t you?”
by Natalia from The Ukraine
My Ukrainian isn’t enough.
I remember how I laughed and chatted with my friends.
I understood their jokes, their songs, their thoughts.
І щоразу це були неймовірні зустрічі! *
But that was in Ukraine.
Now I live in America with my husband and children.
My new friends are here.
They are so different. We speak different languages,
We have different cultures, values and faith . . .
We have different childhood memories.
Often, I do not have enough words to tell about something.
It is difficult to describe my feelings.
I cannot be open with my new friends.
I work on my English every day,
I want to remember more new words,
I want to understand more. . .
For if I stop trying, I will be deaf when my friends need my help.
*Ukrainian for “Every time it was an incredible meeting.”
These Imitation Poems express the deepest and most profound feelings of my students as they strive to make new roots in a new country with a new language. The poem Elena, by Pat Mora was the inspiration. Writing poetry is an unfamiliar and challenging task for most of us, but writing poems in a second language is even more difficult. I applaud their efforts and congratulate them on challenging their minds and thank them for sharing their personal struggles of learning English while trying to make a new life here as they search for their “second soul.” The poetic images of floating alphabet letters, blurry worlds, birthday songs that are no long uproariously sung, and so many more touch my heart. I am so proud of their determination and persistence to never stop trying, like Elena.