Growing up away from home

How I struggled through the English language

I regularly visit the place I call home to see my family and friends.

Growing up in a different country than the one you were born in is not something many people have experienced, especially when your home country is 4,635 miles away.

But for me, that’s the case.

I was born in Germany, grew up with the German language, speaking it, breathing it, living it. Imagine the challenge I faced when I moved to the United States, trying to learn a whole new language, a language that I’d spend the next years of my life using.

At the age of 10, I was forced to start writing in English, something I had never done. Choppy essays and bad grades graced my homework and report card. I thought I would never be able to become fluent in the language that had surrounded me sind 2006.

Even though I lived in the United States, I rarely spoke English at the German School of Washington. In school, I was completely immersed in German.

After fourth grade, my journey continued on to the British School of Washington:the place where I would learn the English language, but did not speaking.

Somehow, I ended up in an English-speaking, American middle school my eighth grade year, and immediately,  I had to start writing properly. It was as if I was thrown into a whole new world.

For many kids in America, middle school might seem like just another phase of life. For me, it was a revolution. Lockers, bells and multiple choice tests had suddenly become something I breathed and lived. Everything about this school system fascinated me.

I was fascinated by the whole American school system. Everything I had seen in the stereotypical movies had been true. The cliques of kids, the drama and the classes that changed with every bell. It was a incredible experience.

Yet my life was about to become a living hell with American literature. Writing essays had never been my strong suit so imagine my first English essay. “Incorrect grammar, wanky sentence structure and inaccurate use of language” were the comments my teacher scribbled in the margins.

At 14 years old, that can hurt your ego. More dreaded essays were to come. Somehow I managed to survive, but school that year was the struggle of a lifetime. By the end of that school year, I was able write choppy but legible essays.

My writing had improved. I was able to form coherent thoughts within my essays, and I conquered the topic of American Literature.

Fast forward a year and a half, and I’m sitting in an editing bay in a journalism class writing about the fact that learning a new language can be so incredibly hard, for me, it is the longest experience of my life.

The constant comparison between you and your classmates can kill a child. The neighbor gets that A plus while you’re hanging in there with a low B or high C.  To this day, I still struggle with English. The continuous essay writing has helped me get through most of the obstacles, but it is still an everyday struggle.

In the end, I will continue to learn every day. The struggles I had to go through were the ones that shaped my knowledge and understanding of the English language.


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Photos by Sophie Koenig