I have been an international student studying in America for almost three years now and it is a delight to say I have grown to become a confident and social person –something neither I nor anyone who knew me when I was a freshman would believe.
I remember how socially awkward I was that getting two words out of my mouth used to be a struggle. I remember my first time in the classroom when I tried to participate in the class so I would get points to increase my grades
“Welcome to your leadership class, I’m going to call out your names for attendance so make sure you reply when you hear your name so I can check it over here on my register” Mrs Anderson, my leadership teacher said.
“Tu-Tumiywah” she called out, struggling to pronounce the name.
“Here”, I replied. I knew it was my name she was calling because she wasn’t the first person that had decapitated my very Nigerian name.
She looked at me and said, “You have such a pretty name, where are you from?”
“Wow, quite a distance from home. Are you new here?” she said, starting the usual small talk Americans liked to make when they realize that I’m a foreigner. She continued to ask questions forgetting that she had other names to call out. I answered as cheerily as I could manage though, I just wanted to get over the small talk because I was embarrassed of my accent and I was not sure she actually understood what I was saying.
Whenever I used to go out with my cousins, I always waited for them to order something so I could listen and mimic them when it was close to my turn. That is how deeply I was embarrassed by my accent at the time.
There was a time when I was buying a subway sandwich and I had to pick toppings, Lettuce was ‘Lettice’ and Onion was ‘Onyan’ in my voice so, to save myself and the person behind the counter, I ended pointing out the things I wanted because I felt as though I was butchering the pronunciation of the vegetables.
The culture shock lasted for about a semester before I began to get used to the way Americans run their things and pronounce their words. I don’t feel embarrassed about my accent anymore and even though I can now pronounce clearly in a way my American friends can understand, I still have my off days where talking in my African accent is the only way to express myself clearly.
Studying as an international student is basically a new experience every day but with time and growth, it has gone beyond embarrassment and transitioned into the beautiful pride of being a diversity and experiencing newly, what the average American would take for granted.
It only gets better!