I have lived in the same neighborhood since I was an infant. I’ve gone to school and grown up with the same people since preschool.
Being the “new kid” is a title I have never worn.
The few times where I meet a big group of new people is at camp, but no one knows each other so it doesn’t make you stick out like a fly in a cup of milk as much.
I have always been pretty good at meeting new people; I’m very outgoing and can strike up a conversation with almost anyone. Knowing all this still didn’t make the butterflies in my stomach disappear.
Anxiety is another trait of mine.
The longer I think about something, the more nervous I get. For example, my visits to the doctor’s office are never good because I always spend the entire morning thinking about it and worrying about sharp tools the doctors might use to stick me.
Don’t think about it, I told myself. You are going to be fine.
Sixteen students attend Green Shoots International School in Hoi An, Vietnam. Sixteen! That’s about half the size of any of my classes at home, and my school is on the small side compared to neighboring schools. Apparently, Green Shoots is about to lose four kids, too.
We were riding our bikes to Green Shoots where we were going to shadow the students learning what it was like to go to an international school in Vietnam. The entire ride there all I could think about was how much I would hate going to a school this small.
Riley, however, was thrilled. It was her idea to attend an international school for the afternoon in the first place, because she was itching to be in a classroom again. Go figure. Like I normally do, I just went along with the plan. I thought no school would want to host a couple of American kids for the afternoon just for fun, and the idea would die.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. My mom has a way of making things happen.
So here we were pulling up to the tiny school. There were no more than three classrooms and a room for the students’ lockers. Across from the classrooms was a small grass pitch with two soccer goals on either side where the students could play during their free time.
We wandered toward the back of the “campus” where lunch was being served. An Australian boy about my age named Max approached us and led us to the lunchroom where the few teachers and fifteen other students were.
Mr. Stan, the principal from New Mexico, introduced us. It wasn’t like we needed much of an introduction since they all knew we were coming, and I’m sure it’s hard to miss two new faces when they don’t even have two dozen students.
We sat down on two empty stools at the bamboo table and instantly students swarmed to us like moths to a flame. The kids ranged from maybe seven years old to fourteen, and all of them seemed equally intrigued by the two American newbies.
One eleven-year old girl named Asia (pronounced az-ee-ah) instantly jumped into a conversation with us. We learned most of the students were Australian or French with a few others mixed in.
After lunch we followed Asia back to the grass pitch at the front. We had kicked off our shoes when we first arrived, seeing piles of shoes lying around. It was nice being able to walk around barefoot because at home teachers hate it when you take your shoes off.
On the field, Asia tried to explain the game they were about to play and we learned that the students spend any time out of the classroom outside playing around. The game made no sense to us, but we went along with it, trying to not stick out more than we already did.
By the time the game was over, everyone was sweating and covered in dirt. More than a couple had bleeding legs from getting so into the game.
Not knowing what to do, we followed the kids into one of the classrooms. There were three tables pushed together to form a U shape and about ten chairs set up around it. At the front of the room was a giant plate of glass used as a whiteboard and fans spun on the wall cooling down the tiny room with open doors and windows.
It was, by far, the most interesting classroom I had ever been in. Mr. Stan soon came in and assigned both Riley and me a buddy to work with. Since there was only one eighth grader, I was paired up with Max to work on math. Riley worked with a boy named Sean.
It soon became very clear that we weren’t going to get much work done, because Max, Asia and I were too busy discussing the differences between my school and theirs. When I told them my school of about 500 students was small compared to most in our area, they were shocked and horrified, not able to imagine going to a school that big.
All the students seemed intrigued by our Southern accents and laughed every time we said “y’all,” which was quite often. Riley and I were in love with their Australian accents and I laughed every time they used an Aussie term like “mates,” “barbie,” and my personal favorite “good on ya.”
Max told me about how he wanted to become a herpetologist and talked about all the wild snakes he had caught which impressed me. I get the heebie-jeebies just from looking at snakes through glass.
The end of the day came too quickly and I was sad to go. This school, that I was sure I would never want to attend in a million years, had changed my perspective. All that evening I wouldn’t shut up, wanting to tell every little detail from my time at Green Shoots. I had loved it so much I even begged to move to Hoi An, which pleasantly surprised my parents because I was the hard-headed one of the family who never wanted to move out of the comfort of our neighborhood back home.
I learned so much more during those three hours than I ever could have in a typical classroom, and my time at Green Shoots is something I will never forget.